December 7, 2017

By Jack Leddy

Alternative Spelling: Kul’Bulak

Coordinates: 41°00′31′′N, 70°00′22′′E (Flas, 2010)

Elevation: 1044m asl


Geography: Kulbulak is an open-air Paleolithic site in the Tashkent region of Uzbekistan, lying at the base of the Chatkal range of the Tian Shan mountains. The Tashkent region is in the northeast of Uzbekistan and contains its capital, also named Tashkent. Kulbulak is not particularly remote, as it is only a few kilometers from the town of Angren (Flas, 2010). Kulbulak was also a prime location for prehistoric inhabitation, having all the resources necessary for their way of life, including a nearby source of flint at Kyzyl-Alma, evidently used to make much of the tool assemblage at Kulbulak. Additionally, Kulbulak is close to the Dzhar-sai and the Kyzylalma rivers (Vandenberghe, 2014), along with several smaller brooks and streams which would have provided a source of drinkable water to Paleolithic peoples.

Excavation and Dating: Kulbulak was first discovered in 1962 by M.R. Kasymov, and has been excavated several times since. To date, the total area that has been excavated is about 600 square meters (Flas, 2010). In this area, close to 70,000 artifacts have been recovered (Vandenberghe, 2014). Much like many other open-air Central Asian sites, the dating at Kulbulak is quite complicated, especially due to the remarkably complex stratigraphy. The excavated artifacts were initially relatively dated, as the bladelets found are quite similar to those at another Uzbek site, Dodekatym 2, which has been dated to about 23ka (Flas, 2010). More recent attempts, however, employed luminescence dating, a method which examines when sediments were exposed to light, revealing when they were deposited. The dating resulted in a range of about 39ka to about 82ka. This suggests an Upper Paleolithic origin of more recent layers, and a Middle Paleolithic origin of the deeper ones.

Lithic Analysis: As indicated by the luminescence dating, the tool assemblage of the site has been separated into two main categories loosely based on their stratigraphic layers, representing the technology of either the Middle or Upper Paleolithic. Kasymov originally thought there was a third layer, consisting of Lower Paleolithic Acheulian tools, but there is no evidence to support his hypothesis (Dani, 1999). The entire tool assemblage at Kulbulak is overwhelmingly flint-based, with a few instances of limestone, diorite, and quartzite (Vishnyatsky, 1999). The Upper Paleolithic tool-kit consists of cores, bladelets, and debitage, as is to be expected of an Upper Paleolithic assemblage in this region, but the stratigraphic layers also contain several tools indicative of a Middle Paleolithic core and flake industry.

A sample of the tool assemblage at Kulbulak, image from (Flas, 2010)

Another interesting anomaly of the Kulbulak artifacts is the presence of several “Pseudo-tools” (Vandenberghe, 2014). These pseudo-tools take the shape of denticulate blades, but they have been discounted by some as having been made naturally by alluvial processes rather than deliberately by humans. This is supported by the fact that much of the sediment where the tools were excavated is attributed to flood deposits from the nearby rivers (Vandenberghe, 2014). Kulbulak is also made distinct by the presence of bifacial Middle Paleolithic hand-axes. These bifaces, shaped into leaf-shaped points, differentiate Kulbulak from nearby sites, as it is the only site at which such tools are found. In fact, there are no other bifaces at all in the general area. Most of the other sites were limited to core and flake industries in the Middle Paleolithic.

Anthropological Analysis: Unfortunately, due to a lack of organic material found at Kulbulak (with the exception of a single human molar and a few assorted animal bones), any understanding of human activity must rely on mostly conjecture. Furthermore, the complex stratigraphy makes it difficult to make assumptions about the technological progression of Kulbulak’s inhabitants, but it lends credence to another theory regarding the cultures of the area. Analysis of multiple nearby sites has resulted in the idea of a ‘Kulbulakian’ culture existing throughout the region (Kolobova, 2014). The Middle to Upper Paleolithic tool assemblage indicates that this culture was present for a long period of time, as was the site itself, though perhaps intermittently. Despite the nomadic tendencies of Upper Paleolithic Central Asian people, the allure of a source of abundant flint could have convinced the Kulbulakians to maintain a more sedentary community than most of their contemporaries.

Single human molar found at Kulbulak, image from (Flas, 2010)

The site’s proximity to water also makes Kulbulak a prime location for a settlement, but despite these facts, there have been no hearths or fire pits discovered (Vishnyatsky, 1999). This of course does not mean that hearths and fire pits did not ever exist there, but it contributes to the enigmatic nature of the site. Another discovery pertinent to anthropological analysis of Kulbulak is the Kyzyl-Alma site. Kyzyl-Alma is only about one kilometer away from Kulbulak, and the two sites seem to have been home to one group of people (Kolobova, 2014). The first piece of evidence for this hypothesis is that the tool assemblages of the two sites are remarkably similar. The second, and more compelling, piece of evidence is the proximity of Kyzyl-Alma to flint outcroppings (Kolobova, 2014). This is relevant because of the overwhelming number of flint tools unearthed at Kulbulak. It is likely that Kyzyl-Alma served as an excavating point for the raw material. Due to the fully formed tools found there (Kolobova, 2014), it can be inferred that the crafting of the tools took place at this site as well. The completed tools would then have been transported to Kulbulak. This hypothesis can be corroborated by the lack of cores in recent stratigraphic layers at Kulbulak, meaning they probably were not making new tools there (Kolobova, 2014).

As is the case with many Central Asian sites, the anthropological implications of Kulbulak remain clouded by uncooperative stratigraphy and lack of reliably datable artifacts, but through inference and examination of available data it is possible to form a vague picture of the lives of the Kulbulakians.



Dani, Ahmad Hasan., Masson, V.M., Harmatta, J., Litvinovski, B.A., Bosworth, C.E. History of

Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 1, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1999.


Flas, D., Kolobova, K., Pavlenok, K., Vandenberghe, D., De Dapper, M., Leschinsky, S., Bence,

V., Islamov, U., Derevianko, A., Cauwe, N., 2010. Preliminary results of new excavations at the Palaeolithic site of Kulbulak (Uzbekistan). Antiquity. 325.


Kolobova, K.A., Krivoshapin, A.I., 2014. Кульбалбекская культура в контексте

ауриньякского языка в Азии. Publishing Department of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography.


Vandenberghe, D.A.G., Flas, D., De Dapper, M., Van Nieuland, J., Kolobova, K., Pavlenok, K.,

Islamov, U., De Pelsmaeker, E., Debeer, A.E., Buylaert, J.P., 2014. Revisiting the Palaeolithic site of Kulbulak (Uzbekistan): First results from luminescence dating. Quaternary International. 324, 180-189.


Vishnyatsky, Leonid, 1999. The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory. 13, 28-



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