December 7, 2017

Alternative Spelling: Kutur-Bulak, Kutur Bulak (Russian: Кутурбулак).

GPS Coordinates: 39°53’5’’N 66°2’55’’E (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

The following measurements were taken using Google Earth.

Elevation: 518 meters

Distance to Kattakurgan (nearest town): 19.2 km

Distance to the Samarkand city: 82.1 km


Geography and Borders

Kuturbulak is an archaeological Middle Paleolithic open-air site situated near the modern day village kishlak in the Samarkand Region of south-eastern Uzbekistan. Located south of Karadaria river that flows northwest (a tributary of the Syr Darya), the site lies in the southernmost part of the densely populated Zeravshan River valley and on the northern foothills of Utch-airy mountain where waters flow into gorges meridionally leading to formation of springs. About 19.2 km to the east of Kuturbulak situated a large town Kattakurgan. The Samarkand city, capital of the region, is situated about 80 km southeast of the site. Moreover, Zirabulak, another Middle/Upper Paleolithic site, lies about 1 km to the West of Kuturbulak (Tashkenbaev, 1975; Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Fig 1. General location of Kuturbulak (KB, annotated by the black triangle), the open-air Middle Paleolithic site in Zeravshan River valley (figure from Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000, drawn by D. Baginska, after T. Madeyska)



Kuturbulak site is abundant in archaeological materials, many of which were preserved intact in the duricrust fossil layer. Two major archaeology expeditions were conducted, providing a comprehensive analysis on the Kuturbulak’s geometrical structures, stone artifacts and faunal remains. N. Kh. Tashkenbaev and R. Kh. Suleimanov first excavated the site during field seasons of 1971 and 1972. Then in 1996, archaeologists from Warsaw University and Uzbek Academy of Sciences in Samarkand, in collaboration, enlarged the excavation area and published a monograph which includes the first record of absolute dating of the site (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Stratigraphy and Absolute Dating

The stratigraphy of the trench walls showed five distinct layers with Middle Paleolithic materials corresponding to different cultural phases, according to the interpretation of Tashkenbaev and Suleimanov. Numerous stone artifacts were found in layer I and III to V; animal bones and dark burning spots interpreted as the use of hearth were discovered in layer III. However, analysis by visiting geologists and the archaeology excavations in 1995 agreed that layer I to IV with secondary materials were disturbed and represented cultures much later than Middle Paleolithic, and only the artifacts in layer V had their original provenance. The number of cultural layers and their implications could not thus be ascertained. The hearths examined in a wider context were re-interpreted as historical ones rather than belonging to the Middle Paleolithic settlement. U/Th method dated a poorly preserved bone 85-90cm below the surface to 32.91.1 ka, while the result wasn’t reproduced and the sample might subject to geochemical processes (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Stone Artifacts

The lithic artifacts recovered in the 1970s reached 7800 pieces, mostly made of quartz or river quartzite pebbles of different colors. Only a small percent of the assemblage was made of various flints, although natural flint materials were found in continuous layers among limestones near the site and were easily obtainable. During 1995 field season, researchers recovered 1114 stone artifacts from the trench. Due to strong evidence of secondary disturbances of the stratified layers (such as intense human activity), they divided the layers into the upper disturbed layers and lower undisturbed layers. However, even the lower layers might subject to duricrust activity caused by the variations in spring outflow. The stone artifacts were classified into flakes (with irregular retouch traces), flake cores (multiangular or of one-sided discordal shape), blades (with irregular or well-marked retouch), and other retouched tools (side-scrapers, points, end-scrapers, etc.). Only two backed knives, a characteristic type of tools of Middle Paleolithic settlement, were found in the disturbed layers. The proportion of retouched tools was remarkably high, around 41.3% in the upper layer and around 39.0% in the lower layer, while the researchers pointed out the possibility of psuedoretouching of the stone materials caused by temperature, humidity change or carbonate crystallization, as evidenced by the irregular and discontinuous traces of retouch on some of the tools. Nevertheless, a great number of retouched tools showed evidence of intense resharpening, including some heavily reduced cores and some very small flakes without any clearly defined shape. The intense and economic use of materials that produced delicate small tools, along with Kuturbulak’s location (near the mountain with abundant water resources, such as the Kuturbulak spring), indicated long-term inhabitation of the area (Vishnyatsky, 1999; Dani & Masson, 1992). Moreover, produced by lithic reduction (a dominant technology in Upper Paleolithic epoch),  blade and blade tools accounted for a high proportion of the lithics inventory (16.9%). Three complete burin blades, another Upper Paleolithic characteristic tool type, were found in Kuturbulak, two of which were slim and of distinct angled form (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).

Some researchers categorize the technology of Kuturbulak as the Levallois-Mousterian variant due to the great proportion of Levalloisian flake stone tools (Krakhmal, 2005), and the distinct quartzite products reflect the raw material availability in Kuturbulak rich in river pebbles (Vishnyatsky, 1999). The Mousterian culture with flake tools is usually associated with Middle Paleolithic, the epoch that marks the rise and extinction of Neanderthals who were then replaced by modern humans during the late stage. According to an unauthorized Russian website, Neanderthals who inhabited Kuturbulak were the most ancient population discovered in the Samarkand region (Mikhailovich, n.d.). On the other hand, the unbelievably high abundance of retouched tools shows a technological continuity or directional shift of lithic reduction techniques, marking a significant local evolution, the Middle Paleolithic/ Upper Paleolithic transition (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000; Biagi, 2008; Soffer, 2014).

Fig 2. Some stone artifacts found in Kuturbulak. Tools (1-7, 9-12, 15, 17) and cores (8,13,14,16). (Tashkenbaev & Suleimanov, 1980)

Faunal Remains

The animal bones were poorly preserved in situ and those recovered were in the form of small fragments, so only a general description of the identified faunal remains was provided. Horse (Equus caballus) was the most dominant species and accounted for almost a half of the identified bones (49.3%). Ox (Bison), wild ass, deer and elephant remains were also identified during the excavations in 1970s. The researchers then argued that remains of elephant in layer III, a species indicative of middle Pleistocene epoch in Central Asia, showed evidence that the stone artifacts were preserved in their primary provenance in the undisturbed layer. Indeed, assemblages of large mammals from various sites in Eurasia show wide distribution of elephants and even some evidence of butchering activities by human in middle Pleistocene (Pushkina, 2007; Anzidei et al., 2012). Based on the assumption that the assemblages were all in their primary position, these researchers further conjectured that the prehistoric landscape was an arid steppe land. However, the expedition team in 1995 only recovered horse remains, including a mandible fragment and some teeth, in the undisturbed layer V. Nonetheless, some researchers concluded that the prehistoric inhabitants of Kuturbulak were Neanderthals chasing after dangerous herbivores including horses and elephants (Szymczak & Gretchkina, 2000).



Kuturbulak is an important open-air site in the Zeravshan river valley region, in that the tool types, including Mousterian flake tools and blade flake tools, mark a technological continuity from Middle to Upper Paleolithic, and an unusually high proportion of small, heavily reduced cores shows long term inhabitation of the area, possibly by Neanderthals.



Anzidei, A. P., Bulgarelli, G. M., Catalano, P., Cerilli, E., Gallotti, R., Lemorini, C., . . . Santucci, E. (2012). Ongoing research at the late Middle Pleistocene site of La Polledrara di Cecanibbio (central Italy), with emphasis on human–elephant relationships. Quaternary International,255, 171-187.

Biagi, P. (2008). The Palaeolithic settlement of Sindh (Pakistan): A review. Archäologische Mitteilungen Aus Iran Und Turan, 40. 1-26.

Dani, A. & Masson, V. (1992). History of Civilizations in Central Asia. Vol. I: The Dawn of Civilization: Earliest Times to 700 BC (A. Dani, Ed.). Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

Krakhmal, K. (2005). On Studying of Historical and Cultural Processes of the Palaeolithic Epoch in Central Asia. International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 10, 119-129.

Mikhailovich, R. O. (n.d.). List of sites of primitive man. Retrieved from http://arheolog.su/kamen_vek/stoyanki/

Soffer, O. (2014). Pleistocene old world: regional perspectives. New York: Springer.

Szymczak, K., & Gretchkina, T. (2000). Kuturbulak revisited: a Middle Palaeolithic site in Zeravshan River Valley, Uzbekistan. Warsaw: Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw University.

Tashkenbaev, N. Kh. (1975). Ob issledovanii paleoliticheskoi stoyanki Kuturbulak (On the investigation of the Paleolithic site of Kuturbulak). Istoria materialnoi kultury Uzbekistana, 12, 5-15.

Tashkenbaev, N. Kh., and Suleimanov, R. Kh. (1980). Kultura drevnekamennogo veka doliny Zeravshana (The Old Stone Age Culture of the Zeravshan Valley), Tashkent.

Pushkina, D. (2007). The Pleistocene easternmost distribution in Eurasia of the species associated with the Eemian Palaeoloxodon antiquus assemblage. Mammal Review, 37(3), 224-245.

Vishnyatsky, L. (1999). The Paleolithic of Central Asia. Journal of World Prehistory, 13(1), 69-121.

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