This dissertation focuses on the landscape context of the archaeological record in the Transbaikal along the Chikoi, Khilok, and Menza rivers. Of the 13 study sites, Studenoe 1 and 2, Ust’-Menza 1, 2, 4, and 5, Kunalei, Melnichnoe 1 and 2, Chitkan, and Priiskovoe sites are associated with fluvial environments, while Tolbaga is associated with a colluvial environment. Cultural components range from approximately 30,000 years old at sites like Tolbaga, to about 1130 years old at sites such as Studenoe 1.
Preservation and context are best at Studenoe 1 and 2, and Ust’-Menza 1 and 2 where occupations post-date 19,000 years ago and low-energy flood deposits quickly buried cultural material. In contrast, sites such as Kunalei, Melnichnoe 1 and 2, and Priiskovoe, where initial occupations occurred prior to 19,000 years ago, are in much worse shape. At these sites, it appears that permafrost activity linked to the last ice age had major effects on their geological contexts. An exception to this, however, is Chitkan, where greater than 19,000-year-old cultural material remained relatively undisturbed by freeze-thaw action. Although not as prone to damage from cryogenic processes, the context of Tolbaga is poor because of the site’s position on a 10° slope, where post-depositional movement of some of the artifacts is obvious.
This research also focuses on how human land use changed through time. For example, during the early Upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 27,000 years ago), humans chose locations above and away from major rivers. Later sites are found closer to the rivers, and by the end of the Pleistocene (ca. 10,000 years ago), humans camped as near major streams as possible. Moreover, site selection may have been related to environmental and behavioral factors. More sedentary early Upper Paleolithic foragers, for example, chose sites for long-term occupation on slopes several dozen meters above the major streams. Later, as mobility increased and camps were changed more often, occupation surfaces were located within a few vertical meters of the active channels. What is more, these apparent differences likely do not result from preservation as intact culturally-sterile sediments more than 27,000 years old exist at some locations adjacent to the rivers.