Oldest Fortresses in the World Discovered

Spectacular Discovery: Archaeologists in Siberia have unearthed the world’s oldest fortified settlement, constructed approximately 8,000 years ago. Multiple trenches and wooden palisades encircling a number of substantial structures protected the Stone Age fortress. What is remarkable about this find is that the builders of this complex were not sedentary farmers but rather Stone Age hunters and gatherers. This revelation sheds new light on the origins of complex societies, portraying the Siberian Taiga as an innovative center of the Stone Age world.

Whether it’s the cult site of Göbekli Tepe, monumental hunting structures in the Arabian Desert, or mysterious ring structures made of bones, such monumental constructions from the Stone Age demonstrate that our ancestors were evidently capable of significant achievements even before the advent of settled living and agriculture. Hunters and gatherers built these structures, refuting the idea that societies considered to be too primitive and disorganized were incapable of carrying out such intricate and significant construction projects.

However, the extent of the logistical and architectural capabilities of Stone Age hunters and gatherers remains a subject of debate. “Traditionally, archaeological narratives associate the formation of socially and politically complex societies only with the emergence of agriculture,” explain Henny Piezonka from the Free University of Berlin and her colleagues.

Settlement With Trenches and Wooden Palisades

Structure of the fortified Stone Age settlement Amnaya I and its unfortified "outpost" Amnaya II.
Structure of the fortified Stone Age settlement Amnaya I and its unfortified “outpost” Amnaya II. Image: Piezonka et al./ Antiquity, CC-by 4.0

The findings in a remote region of Siberia shed new light on the abilities of Stone Age hunters and gatherers. Piezonka’s team discovered several settlements from the time of Stone Age hunters and gatherers in the Taiga region between the Ural Mountains and the Yenisei River. The archaeologists report, “Among these pioneering sites are some of the earliest fortified settlements in northern Eurasia. So far, eight different Stone Age settlements of this kind are known.”

One of these fortified settlements is Amnaya I, a locality situated on a sandstone promontory above a swampy river plain. Excavations revealed remnants of a wooden palisade, at least three moats, and the foundations of ten buildings. Piezonka and her team report, “These pit houses are rectangular and range in size from 13 to 41 square meters. The largest of these buildings was located at the top of the promontory.” The construction of these houses suggests that they were long-term dwellings. The relics of at least 45 pottery vessels discovered in Amnaya I support this.

The Stone Age Fortress Is Already 8,000 Years Old

But how old is this Stone Age fortress? To clarify, archaeologists conducted a reanalysis of radiocarbon dating on samples from Amanya I. The result: “The datings confirm the Stone Age age of the site,” says Piezonka. According to the dates, Amnaya I is already around 8,000 years old. “This makes it the oldest known fort in the world,” adds the researcher. According to the datings, the wooden palisade and one of the moats are among the oldest components of the Stone Age settlement. Later, larger buildings in the interior, additional ditches, and a second palisade were added.

Also interesting: About 50 meters from the headland with the Amnaya I fortress, there was a second, non-fortified settlement. This facility, named Amnaya II, also comprises around ten houses and dates from roughly the same time as the preceding fortress. “The datings suggest that this complex was structured into a fortified ‘citadel’ and an advanced ‘courtyard,’” report the archaeologists. This indicates a hierarchical structure, similar to what is observed in other Stone Age settlements in this Taiga region.

Stone Age Innovation Boost in the Taiga

Location of Stone Age settlements in the Siberian taiga and their cultural context.
Location of Stone Age settlements in the Siberian taiga and their cultural context. Piezonka et al./ Antiquity, CC-by 4.0.

These findings collectively demonstrate that the hunters and gatherers in the Siberian Taiga constructed complex defensive structures around their settlements over 8,000 years ago, well before such constructions existed in Europe or elsewhere. According to the research team, the Amnaya settlement complex marks the beginning of a distinctive and long-lasting phenomenon of hunter-gatherer defense structures in Northern Eurasia, fundamentally altering our understanding of early human societies.

According to the discoveries, this part of Siberia experienced a sudden surge in cultural and social development around 8,000 years ago. This led to the establishment of more advanced, fortified settlements earlier than in other regions. Additionally, there were other innovations, including advancements in pottery technology, ritual practices, resource utilization, and socio-political organization. The archaeological findings suggest a comprehensive package of Stone Age innovations in this region.

Trigger Still Unclear

The causes of this developmental surge are still unclear. A possible trigger could have been climate change around 8,200 years ago, altering the availability of resources in this region. Subsequently, increased competition for fishing grounds, wildlife, and other food sources, or the influx of people from other areas, might have transformed societies. Possibly, heightened competition and territoriality prompted the construction of fortifications.

“The fortified settlements overlooking the rivers may have served as strategic locations for controlling and exploiting abundant fishing grounds,” explains Piezonka. “The competitive nature arising from resource storage and population growth is evident in these prehistoric structures, refuting earlier assumptions that there were no major conflicts in hunter-gatherer societies.”

Source: (Antiquity, 2023; doi: 10.15184/aqy.2023.164)