As far back as 8000 years ago, hunter-gatherers in Siberia constructed complex defense structures which challenge our understanding of how early human societies developed.
Amnya I, structures in the surface relief (locations highlighted). Photo: E. Dubovtseva
In a groundbreaking archaeological discovery, an international team led by archaeologists from Freie Universität Berlin has uncovered fortified prehistoric settlements in a remote region of Siberia. The results of their research reveal that hunter–gatherers in Siberia constructed complex defense structures around their settlements 8,000 years ago, making them the oldest known fortresses in the world.
The team conducted detailed excavations centered at Amnya, one of the sites located in the taiga of western Siberia. They found evidence of wooden palisades, ditches, and watchtowers that surrounded circular dwellings made of logs and clay. The fortifications were built on elevated terrain and had strategic views of the surrounding landscape.
Between 1987 and 2000, earlier research identified remains of wooden palisades at the site, indicating the likely presence of a defensive wall around the fortress. Additionally, the discovery of ten house pits just outside the fortress implies a hierarchical structure with a fortified inner area and an unprotected outer section. Radiocarbon dating estimates, based on one of the palisades and charcoal from a ditch, suggest the fortress was initially built in the final century of the seventh millennium BCE. However, evidence from the house pits’ stratigraphy suggests repeated burnings, indicating potential violent conflicts in the region around 8,000 years ago.
Top: aerial view of the Amnya river and promontory. Bottom: general plan of Amnya I and II, showing location of excavation trenches and features visible in the surface relief (illustration by N. Golovanov, S. Krubeck & S. Juncker). Source: E. Dubovtseva/Piezonka et al
“Through detailed archaeological examinations at Amnya, we collected samples for radiocarbon dating, confirming the prehistoric age of the site and establishing it as the world’s oldest-known fort,” Tanja Schreiber, archaeologist at the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology in Berlin and co-author of the study, explained in the statement. “Our new palaeobotanical and stratigraphical examinations reveal that inhabitants of Western Siberia led a sophisticated lifestyle based on the abundant resources of the taiga environment.”
The discovery of the fort and nine other known Stone Age fortified sites in the region challenges our understanding of early human societies and their social organization. It shows that hunter–gatherers in Siberia were not only capable of building sophisticated structures, but also of maintaining collective security and cooperation, well before farming societies emerged.
The findings in Siberia, as well as other worldwide examples such as Gobekli Tepe in Anatolia, call for a reevaluation of evolutionary theories that propose a linear progression of societies from simplicity to complexity.
Outer defense line at Amnya I site with bank and ditch. Photo: E. Dubovtseva
The rich natural resources in the Siberian taiga, including annual fish runs and migrating herds, likely played a vital role in the development of hunter-gatherer forts. These fortified settlements along rivers may have strategically controlled and exploited productive fishing areas. These prehistoric constructions reveal a competitive dynamic related to resource storage and growing populations, challenging previous assumptions that conflict was absent in hunter-gatherer societies.
The team plans to continue their research and explore other sites in the region, hoping to learn more about the culture and history of these ancient people. They also hope to raise awareness and preservation of these unique archaeological sites, which are endangered by natural erosion and human activities.
A sociologist and English major by degree, I’ve worked in the area of civil society & human rights and have been blogging in the fields of travel, nature & science for over 20 years.