Research project: Ancient obsidian exchange in Far East Russia


Start date:
Robin Torrence relaxing in the field in Far East Russia

Robin Torrence relaxing in the field in Far East Russia
Photographer: Hugh Watt © Hugh Watt

Museum investigators

External investigators

  • Trudy Doelman, University of Sydney
  • Nikolay Kluyev, Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, Russia
  • Igor Sleptsov, Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, Russia
  • Vladimir Popov, Far East Geological Institute, Russia

Funded by

  • ARC, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, University of Sydney, AINSE


Our international team of archaeologists is investigating how and why obsidian was transported as much as 800 km from two major source areas in Far East Russia beginning about 18,000 years ago. As one of the earliest examples of long distance movement of resources, the research contributes to an understanding of the origins of trade and exchange in this region. Combined with geological and geochemical research, archaeological techniques are applied to find out how, when and why particular obsidian sources were preferred over others.

Analyses of the chemical composition of tools recovered from archaeological sites using PIXE-PIGME and relative density methods trace the transport of obsidian across the Primorye region of eastern Russia. Next, analyses of tool manufacture and use indicate the importance of obsidian for the consumers. By putting together the spatial patterns of obsidian movement with studies showing how the raw material was valued, ancient social networks and trading patterns are reconstructed.

Archaeological excavations conducted at late Paleolithic quarries and campsites near the major obsidian sources at Tigrovy in Primorye yield information about how raw material was acquired and then made into tools. Research to date has revealed the importance of flexibility in the acquisition of raw materials and in the manufacture of tools. Developing multiple strategies was important for ensuring a constant supply of the tools required for survival in these harsh environments.

Relevant publications

  • Popov, V., Kluyuev, N., Sleptsov, I., Doelman, T., Torrence, R., Kononenko, N. and White, P. 2010. Gialoklatic Shkotovo plateau (Primorye): an important source of archaeological obsidian in the south of the Russian Far East. In N. Kluyuev and Y. Vostrestsov (eds.), Lifting the Veil of Millennia: for the 80th Birthday of Janna Vasilyevna Andreeva. Vladivostok: Institute for History, Archaeology and Ethnology of the Peoples of Far East Russia, pp. 295-314. Paper (in Russian).
  • Doelman, T, Torrence, R., Kluyev, N., Sleptsov, I., Popov, V. Innovations in microblade core production at the Tigrovy-8 late Palaeolithic quarry in eastern Russia. Journal of Field Archaeology 34: 367-384. Abstract
  • Doelman, T., Torrence, R., Popov, V., Ionescu, M., Kluyev, N., Sleptsov, I., Pantyukhina, I., White, P. and Clements, M..2008. Source selectivity: an assessment of volcanic glass sources in the Southern Primorye Region, Far East Russia. Geoarchaeology 23(2): 1-31.Abstract
  • Doelman, T., Kononenko, N., Popov, V., Summerhayes, G., Torrence, R., Bonetti, R., Guglielmetti, A., Manzoni, A. and Oddone, M. 2004. Acquisition and movement of volcanic glass in the Primorye region of Far Eastern Russia. Russia and the Pacific. Humane Problems of the Asian-Pacific Region Countries. 4 (46): 112-124. Abstract


Dr Robin Torrence , Senior Principal Research Scientist
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