Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Radiocarbon dating from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov cemetery reveals complex human responses to socio-ecological stress during the 8.2 ka cooling event


Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov in Karelia, northwest Russia, is one of the largest Early Holocene cemeteries in northern Eurasia, with 177 burials recovered in excavations in the 1930s; originally, more than 400 graves may have been present. A new radiocarbon dating programme, taking into account a correction for freshwater reservoir effects, suggests that the main use of the cemetery spanned only some 100–300 years, centring on ca. 8250 to 8000 cal bp. This coincides remarkably closely with the 8.2 ka cooling event, the most dramatic climatic downturn in the Holocene in the northern hemisphere, inviting an interpretation in terms of human response to a climate-driven environmental change. Rather than suggesting a simple deterministic relationship, we draw on a body of anthropological and archaeological theory to argue that the burial of the dead at this location served to demarcate and negotiate rights of access to a favoured locality with particularly rich and resilient fish and game stocks during a period of regional resource depression. This resulted in increased social stress in human communities that exceeded and subverted the ‘normal’ commitment of many hunter-gatherers to egalitarianism and widespread resource sharing, and gave rise to greater mortuary complexity. However, this seems to have lasted only for the duration of the climate downturn. Our results have implications for understanding the context of the emergence—and dissolution—of socio-economic inequality and territoriality under conditions of socio-ecological stress.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Site location and plan.
Fig. 2: Human and comparative faunal δ13C and δ15N data.
Fig. 3: Human and faunal dates plotted against climate record.
Fig. 4: Palaeoenvironmental data.

Data availability

All of the data used in this paper are included in the Supplementary Tables. The OxCal codes used for the Bayesian modelling are provided in the Supplementary Information.


  1. Alley, R. B. et al. Holocene climate instability: a prominent, widespread event 8200 yr ago. Geology 25, 483–486 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Matero, S. O., Gregoire, L. J., Ivanovic, R. F., Tindall, J. C. & Haywood, A. M. The 8.2 ka cooling event caused by Laurentide ice saddle collapse. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 473, 205–214 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Renssen, H., Goosse, H. & Fichefet, T. Modeling the effect of freshwater pulses on the early Holocene climate: the influence of high-frequency climate variability. Paleoceanography 17, 1–16 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Vellinga, M. & Wood, R. A. Global climatic impacts of a collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. Climatic Change 54, 251–267 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  5. von Grafenstein, U., Erlenkeuser, H., Muller, J., Jouzel, J. & Johnsen, S. The cold event 8200 years ago documented in oxygen isotope records of precipitation in Europe and Greenland. Clim. Dyn. 14, 73–81 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Wiersma, A. P. & Renssen, H. Model–data comparison for the 8.2 ka bp event: confirmation of a forcing mechanism by catastrophic drainage of Laurentide Lakes. Quat. Sci. Rev. 25, 63–88 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Budja, M. The 8200 calbp ‘climate event’ and the process of neolithisation in south-eastern Europe. Doc. Praehist. 34, 191–201 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Flohr, P., Fleitmann, D., Matthews, R., Matthews, W. & Black, S. Evidence of resilience to past climate change in Southwest Asia: early farming communities and the 9.2 and 8.2 ka events. Quat. Sci. Rev. 136, 23–39 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Pross, J. et al. Massive perturbation in terrestrial ecosystems of the eastern Mediterranean region associated with the 8.2 kyr b.p. climatic event. Geology 37, 887–890 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Weiss, H. in Environmental Disaster and the Archaeology of Human Response (eds Bawden, G. & Reycraft, R. M.) 75–98 (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, 2000).

  11. Weninger, B. et al. Climate forcing due to the 8200cal yr bp event observed at Early Neolithic sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Quat. Res. 66, 401–420 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Breivik, H. M., Fossum, G. & Solheim, S. Exploring human responses to climatic fluctuations and environmental diversity: two stories from Mesolithic Norway. Quat. Int. 465, 258–275 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Blockley, S. et al. The resilience of postglacial hunter-gatherers to abrupt climate change. Ecol. Evol. 2, 810–818 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gerasimov, D. & Kriiska, A. Early-Middle Holocene archaeological periodization and environmental changes in the eastern Gulf of Finland: interpretative correlation. Quat. Int. 465, 298–313 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Griffiths, S. & Robinson, E. The 8.2 ka bp Holocene climate change event and human population resilience in northwest Atlantic Europe. Quat. Int. 465B, 251–257 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Manninen, M. A., Tallavaara, M. & Seppä, H. Human responses to early Holocene climate variability in eastern Fennoscandia. Quat. Int. 465B, 287–297 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Robinson, E., Van Strydonck, M., Gelorini, V. & Crombé, P. Radiocarbon chronology and the correlation of hunter–gatherer sociocultural change with abrupt palaeoclimate change: the Middle Mesolithic in the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt area of northwest Europe. J. Archaeol. Sci. 40, 755–763 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Schulting, R. J. in Hunter-Gatherer Resiliency and Adaptation: A Bioarchaeological Perspective (eds Temple, D. H. & Stojanowski, C. M.) 65–84 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018).

  19. Kelly, R. L. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  20. Bicho, N., Umbelino, C. U., Detry, C. & Pereira, T. The emergence of Muge Mesolithic shell middens in central Portugal and the 8200 cal yr bp cold event. J. Isl. Coast. Archaeol. 5, 86–104 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Jørgensen, E. K., Pesonen, P. & Tallavaara, M. Climatic changes cause synchronous population dynamics and adaptive strategies among coastal hunter-gatherers in Holocene northern Europe. Quat. Res. (2020).

  22. Wicks, K. & Mithen, S. The impact of the abrupt 8.2 ka cold event on the Mesolithic population of western Scotland: a Bayesian chronological analysis using ‘activity events’ as a population proxy. J. Archaeol. Sci. 45, 240–269 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Gurina, N. Oleneostrovski Mogilnik (Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR 47, Materialy i Issledovaniia po Arkheologii SSSR, 1956).

  24. O’Shea, J. & Zvelebil, M. Oleneostrovski mogilnik: reconstructing the social and economic organisation of prehistoric foragers in northern Russia. J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 3, 1–40 (1984).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Clark, G. A. & Neeley, M. in Mesolithic North West Europe: Recent Trends (eds Rowley-Conwy, P. et al.) 121–127 (Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, Sheffield Univ., 1987).

  26. Jacobs, K. Returning to Oleni’ ostrov: social, economic, and skeletal dimensions of a boreal forest Mesolithic cemetery. J. Anthropol. Archaeol. 14, 359–403 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hedges, R. E. M., Housley, R. A., Bronk Ramsey, C. & van Klinken, G. J. Radiocarbon dates from the Oxford AMS system: Archaeometry datelist 11. Archaeometry 32, 211–237 (1990).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Mamonova, N. N. & Sulerzhitskii, L. D. Opyt datirovaniia po 14C pogrebenii Pri-baikal’ia epokhi golotsena. Sovetskaia Arkheol. 1, 19–32 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Price, T. D. & Jacobs, K. Olenii Ostrov: first radiocarbon dates from a major Mesolithic cemetery in Karelin, USSR. Antiquity 64, 849–853 (1990).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Cook, G. T. et al. A freshwater diet-derived 14C reservoir effect at the Stone Age sites in the Iron Gate Gorge. Radiocarbon 43, 453–460 (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Meadows, J. et al. Potential freshwater reservoir effects in a Neolithic shell midden at Riņņukalns, Lativa. Radiocarbon 56, 823–832 (2014).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  32. Wood, R. E. et al. Freshwater radiocarbon reservoir effects at the burial ground of Minino, northwest Russia. Radiocarbon 55, 163–177 (2013).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Schulting, R. J., Bronk Ramsey, C., Goriunova, O. I., Bazaliiskii, V. I. & Weber, A. Freshwater reservoir offsets investigated through paired human–faunal 14C dating and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis at Lake Baikal, Siberia. Radiocarbon 56, 991–1008 (2014).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Bronk Ramsey, C. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51, 337–360 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Bronk Ramsey, C. OxCal v.4.4 (2020).

  36. Fernandes, R., Rinne, C., Nadeau, M.-J. & Grootes, P. M. Towards the use of radiocarbon as a dietary proxy: establishing a first wide-ranging radiocarbon reservoir effects baseline for Germany. Environ. Archaeol. 21, 285–294 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Alley, R. B. & Ágústsdóttir, A. M. The 8k event: cause and consequences of a major Holocene abrupt climate change. Quat. Sci. Rev. 24, 1123–1149 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  38. Kobashi, T., Severinghaus, J. P., Brook, E. J., Barnola, J. M. & Grachev, A. M. Precise timing and characterization of abrupt climate change 8200 years ago from air trapped in polar ice. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1212–1222 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  39. Rasmussen, S. O. et al. A stratigraphic framework for abrupt climatic changes during the Last Glacial period based on three synchronized Greenland ice-core records: refining and extending the INTIMATE event stratigraphy. Quat. Sci. Rev. 106, 14–28 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  40. Thomas, E. R. et al. The 8.2 ka bp event from Greenland ice cores. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 70–81 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  41. Davis, B. A. S., Brewer, S., Stevenson, A. C. & Guiot, J. The temperature of Europe during the Holocene reconstructed from pollen data. Quat. Sci. Rev. 22, 1701–1716 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  42. Davis, B. A. S. & Stevenson, A. C. The 8.2 ka event and Early–Mid Holocene forests, fires and flooding in the Central Ebro Desert, NE Spain. Quat. Sci. Rev. 26, 1695–1712 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  43. Heikkilä, M. & Seppä, H. Holocene climate dynamics in Latvia, eastern Baltic region: a pollen-based summer temperature reconstruction and regional comparison. Boreas 39, 705–719 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  44. Jones, V. J., Leng, M. J., Solovieva, N., Sloane, H. J. & Tarasov, P. E. Holocene climate of the Kola Peninsula; evidence from the oxygen isotope record of diatom silica. Quat. Sci. Rev. 23, 833–839 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  45. Li, H., Renssen, H., Roche, D. M. & Miller, P. A. Modelling the vegetation response to the 8.2 ka bp cooling event in Europe and Northern Africa. J. Quat. Sci. 34, 650–661 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  46. Paus, A., Haflidason, H., Routh, J., Naafs, B. D. A. & Thoen, M. W. Environmental responses to the 9.7 and 8.2 cold events at two ecotonal sites in the Dovre mountains, mid-Norway. Quat. Sci. Rev. 205, 45–61 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Veski, S., Seppä, H. & Ojala, A. E. K. Cold event at 8200 yr b.p. recorded in annually laminated lake sediments in eastern Europe. Geology 32, 681–684 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  48. Veski, S. et al. Quantitative summer and winter temperature reconstructions from pollen and chironomid data between 15 and 8 ka bp in the Baltic–Belarus area. Quat. Int. 388, 4–11 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  49. Heikkilä, M., Edwards, T. W. D., Seppä, H. & Sonninen, E. Sediment isotope tracers from Lake Saarikko, Finland, and implications for Holocene hydroclimatology. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 2146–2160 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  50. Solovieva, N., Tarasov, P. E. & MacDonald, G. M. Quantitative reconstruction of Holocene climate from the Chuna Lake pollen record, Kola Peninsula, north-west Russia. Holocene 15, 141–148 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  51. Seppä, H., Bjune, A. E., Telford, R. J., Birks, H. J. B. & Veski, S. Last nine-thousand years of temperature variability in Northern Europe. Climate 5, 523–535 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  52. Novenko, E. Y. & Olchev, A. V. Early Holocene vegetation and climate dynamics in the central part of the East European Plain (Russia). Quat. Int. 388, 12–22 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  53. Seppä, H. et al. Spatial structure of the 8200 cal yr bp event in Northern Europe. Climate 3, 225–236 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  54. Danilov, P. I., Panchenko, D. V. & Tirronen, K. F. The European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus L.) at the northern boundary of its range in eastern Fennoscandia. Russ. J. Ecol. 48, 459–465 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  55. Mann, M. E., Bradley, R. S. & Hughes, M. K. Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: inferences, uncertainties, and limitations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 759–762 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  56. Walker, B., Holling, C. S., Carpenter, S. R. & Kinzig, A. Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecol. Soc. 9, e5 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  57. Florescu, G. et al. Holocene rapid climate changes and ice-rafting debris events reflected in high-resolution European charcoal records. Quat. Sci. Rev. 222, e105877 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  58. Harrison, S. P., Yu, G. & Tarasov, P. E. Late Quaternary lake-level record from northern Eurasia. Quat. Res. 45, 138–159 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  59. Wohlfarth, B. et al. Late glacial and Holocene palaeoenvironmental changes in the Rostov-Yaroslavl’ area, West Central Russia. J. Paleolimnol. 35, 543–569 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  60. Barica, J. & Mathias, J. A. Oxygen depletion and winterkill risk in small prairie lakes under extended ice cover. J. Fish. Res. Board Can. 36, 980–986 (1979).

    Google Scholar 

  61. Ellis, C. R. & Stefan, H. G. Oxygen demands in ice covered lakes as it pertains to winter aeration. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 25, 1169–1176 (1989).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  62. Greenbank, J. T. Limnological conditions in ice-covered lakes, especially as related to winter-kill of fish. Ecol. Monogr. 15, 343–392 (1945).

    Google Scholar 

  63. Terzhevik, A. et al. Some features of the thermal and dissolved oxygen structure in boreal, shallow ice-covered Lake Vendyurskoe, Russia. Aquat. Ecol. 43, 617–627 (2009).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  64. McCord, S. A., Schladow, S. G. & Miller, T. G. Modeling artificial aeration kinetics in ice-covered lakes. J. Environ. Eng. 126, 21–31 (2000).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  65. Balayla, D., Lauridsen, T. L., Søndergaard, M. & Jeppesen, E. Larger zooplankton in Danish lakes after cold winters: are winter fish kills of importance? Hydrobiologia 646, 159–172 (2010).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  66. Järvalt, A., Laas, A., Nõges, P. & Pihu, E. The influence of water level fluctuations and associated hypoxia on the fishery of Lake Võrtsjärv, Estonia. Ecohydrol. Hydrobiol. 4, 487–497 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  67. Ruuhijärvi, J. et al. Recovery of the fish community and changes in the lower trophic levels in a eutrophic lake after a winter kill of fish. Hydrobiologia 646, 145–158 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  68. Tonn, W. M., Langlois, P. W., Prepas, E. E., Danylchuk, A. J. & Boss, S. M. Winterkill cascade: indirect effects of a natural disturbance on littoral macroinvertebrates in boreal lakes. J. North Am. Benthol. Soc. 23, 237–250 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  69. Efremova, T. V. & Pal’shin, N. I. Ice phenomena terms on the water bodies of Northwestern Russia. Russ. Meteorol. Hydrol. 36, 559–565 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  70. Karetnikov, S. G. & Naumenko, M. A. Recent trends in Lake Ladoga ice cover. Hydrobiologia 599, 41–48 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  71. Oshibkina, S. V. Mesolithic burial grounds and burial complexes in the forest zone of eastern Europe. Anthropol. Archaeol. Eurasia 46, 46–70 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  72. Saxe, A. A. Social Dimensions of Mortuary Practices. PhD thesis, Univ. of Michigan (1970).

  73. Charles, D. K. & Buikstra, J. E. in Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest (eds Phillips, J. L. & Brown, J. A.) 117–145 (Academic Press, 1983).

  74. Elder, E. A Comparison of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Burials of North Africa and Western Europe: Grim Investigations—Reaping the Dead. British Archaeological Report No. S2143 (Archaeopress, 2010).

  75. Goldstein, L. G. in The Archaeology of Death (eds Chapman, R. et al.) 53–69 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981).

  76. Pardoe, C. The cemetery as symbol: the distribution of prehistoric Aboriginal burial grounds in southeastern Australia. Archaeol. Oceania 23, 1–16 (1988).

    Google Scholar 

  77. Rowley-Conwy, P. in Harvesting the Sea, Farming the Forest: The Emergence of Neolithic Societies in the Baltic Region (eds Zvelebil, M. et al.) 193–202 (Sheffield Academic, 1998).

  78. Morris, I. The archaeology of ancestors: the Saxe/Goldstein hypothesis revisited. Camb. Archaeol. J. 1, 147–169 (1991).

    Google Scholar 

  79. Grøn, O., Turov, M. & Klokkernes, T. in Archaeology of Settlements and Landscape in the North (ed. Olofsson, A.) 57–80 (Umeå Univ., 2008).

  80. Nilsson Stutz, L. in Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter‐Gatherers (eds Cummings, V. et al.) 712–728 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014).

  81. Nilsson Stutz, L. Embodied Rituals and Ritualized Bodies (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia, 2003).

  82. Sack, R. D. Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986).

  83. Kondratyev, K. Y. & Filatov, N. N. Limnology and Remote Sensing (Praxis, 1999).

  84. Voorrips, A. & O’Shea, J. M. Conditional spatial patterning: beyond the nearest neighbor. Am. Antiq. 52, 500–521 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

  85. Der Sarkissian, C. et al. Mitochondrial genome sequencing in Mesolithic north east Europe unearths a new sub-clade within the broadly distributed human haplogroup C1. PLoS ONE 9, e87612 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  86. Lee, R. B. The !Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979).

  87. Glavatskaya, E. in Circumpolar Lives and Livelihood: A Comparative Ethnoarchaeology of Gender and Subsistence (eds Jarvenpa, R. & Brumbach, H. J.) 115–157 (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2006).

  88. Binford, L. R. Constructing Frames of Reference (Univ. of California Press, 2001).

  89. Testart, A. The significance of food storage among hunter-gatherers: residence patterns, population densities, and social inequalities. Curr. Anthropol. 23, 523–537 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  90. Schulting, R. J. et al. in Social Inequality Before Farming? (ed. Moreau, L.) 279–291 (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2020).

  91. Coombes, P. & Barber, K. E. Environmental determinism in Holocene research: causality or coincidence? Area 37, 303–311 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  92. Kintigh, K. W. et al. Grand challenges for archaeology. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 879–880 (2014).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  93. Brock, F., Higham, T. F. G. & Bronk Ramsey, C. Comments on the use of Ezee-filters and ultrafilters at ORAU. Radiocarbon 55, 211–212 (2013).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  94. Brock, F., Higham, T. F. G., Ditchfield, P. & Bronk Ramsey, C. Current pretreatment methods for AMS radiocarbon dating at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU). Radiocarbon 52, 102–112 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  95. Ward, G. K. & Wilson, S. R. Procedures for comparing and combining radiocarbon age determinations: a critique. Archaeometry 20, 19–31 (1978).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  96. Reimer, P. et al. The IntCal20 northern hemisphere radiocarbon age calibration curve (0–55 cal kBP). Radiocarbon 62, 725–757 (2020).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  97. Buck, C. E., Cavanagh, W. G. & Litton, C. D. Bayesian Approach to Interpreting Archaeological Data (John Wiley & Son, 1996).

  98. Lee, S. & Bronk Ramsey, C. Development and application of the trapezoidal model for archaeological chronologies. Radiocarbon 54, 107–122 (2012).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  99. Bronk Ramsey, C. Methods for summarizing radiocarbon datasets. Radiocarbon 59, 1809–1833 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  100. Coplen, T. B. et al. New guidelines for δ13C measurements. Anal. Chem. 78, 2439–2441 (2006).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  101. Gesch, D. B. and Larson, K. S. Techniques for development of global 1-kilometer digital elevation models. In Proc American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 568–572 (Bethesda, 1998).

  102. Mannermaa, K., Panteleyev, A. & Sablin, M. Birds in Late Mesolithic burials at Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov (Lake Onega, western Russia)—what do they tell about humans and the environment? Fennosc. Archaeol. 25, 3–25 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  103. Auttila, M. et al. Diet composition and seasonal feeding patterns of a freshwater ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis). Mar. Mammal Sci. 31, 45–46 (2015).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  104. Murashkin, A. I., Tarasov, A. & Mannermaa, K. E. in Taksony vysokogo poriadka v sisteme poniatii arkheologii kamennogo veka (eds Belyayeva, V. I. & Murashkin, A. I.) 83–93 (Sankt-Peterburgskiy Gosudarstvennyy Universitet, 2011).

Download references


The radiocarbon dates reported here were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council’s (UK) NRCF programme (grant no. NF/2016/1/5 to R.J.S.) and by the Baikal-Hokkaido Archaeology Project and the Baikal Archaeology Project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (grant nos 412-2011-1001 and 895-2018-1004 to A.W.). We thank the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography/Kunstkamera, St Petersburg, for permitting sampling of the YOO materials, and the crew of the Посейдон (Poseidon) for a most interesting journey to YOO and for supplying modern fish from Lake Onega. We also thank C. Leipe for drafting the maps used in Fig. 1 and Ilkka Matero for providing data used in Fig. 3.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



R.J.S., C.B.R. and A.W. designed the study. T.H. oversaw the radiocarbon measurements. R.J.S. and C.B.R. performed the Bayesian modelling. R.J.S. analysed the stable isotope results and calculated the reservoir effects. D.G., K.M. and J.O. provided the wider archaeological context. P.E.T. led the palaeoenvironmental overview. D.G., V.K., K.M. and V.M. contributed resources. R.J.S. led the writing of the paper, to which all authors contributed. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rick J. Schulting.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Henny Piezonka, Seren Griffiths and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 YOO faunal remains.

Identified mammalian remains from YOO 2007 (total Mammalia n = 1190)); 1b. Identified fish remains from YOO 2007 (total Teleostei n = 753) (Murashkin et al.104 tab. 2).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Modelled non-cemetery radiocarbon dates from YOO.

Bayesian model of radiocarbon dated calcined bone from 2007 excavations at Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov (data from Murashkin et al.104, tab. 3).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Bayesian model of previously published human bone dates from YOO.

Bayesian model of previously published radiocarbon dates on human remains from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov27,28, unadjusted for freshwater reservoir effects, plotted alongside the NGRIP δ18O record39.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Radiocarbon dates for modern fish from Lake Omega.

Calibration of the average age for three modern fish live-collected at YOO in 2019. The calibration makes use of an unpublished extended NH1 post-bomb dataset (Hua pers. comm.).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Photograph of multiple Graves 55–57.

Multiple Grave 55 (right), 56 (middle) and 57 (left). Glass negative MAE I 1886-46: From the collection of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences © MAE RAS 2021. Photo of elk teeth by K. Mannermaa.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Plot of 14C offsets versus human stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values.

6a. The relationship between the 14C offset in human and faunal determinations and human δ13C values (r2 = 0.267, p = 0.049, n = 15); 6b. The relationship between the 14C offset in human and faunal determinations and human δ15N values (r2 = 0.311, p = 0.031, n = 15) (see Supplementary Table 4).

Extended Data Fig. 7 Plot of predicted versus observed human-faunal 14C offsets.

A comparison of the predicted and observed human-faunal 14C offsets (r2 = 0.588, p = 0.001, n = 15) (see Supplementary Table 7).

Extended Data Fig. 8 Bayesian model of YOO faunal dates.

Bayesian model of the radiocarbon-dated fauna from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov plotted against the Greenland ice core δ18O records39.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Bayesian model of YOO human dates.

Bayesian model of the FRE-corrected radiocarbon-dated humans from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov plotted against the GISP2 ice core temperature record39. Graves 160 and 49 are shown but excluded from the model as outliers.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Median calibrated date versus human stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values.

10a. Median calibrated date against δ13C values (Spearman’s rho = –0.120, p = 0.353, n = 36); 10b. Median calibrated date against δ15N values (Spearman’s rho = –0.188 p = 0.272, n = 36). Error bars approximate a 95% confidence interval.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Sections 1–10.

Reporting Summary.

Peer Review Information.

Supplementary Tables

Supplementary Tables 1–8.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schulting, R.J., Mannermaa, K., Tarasov, P.E. et al. Radiocarbon dating from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov cemetery reveals complex human responses to socio-ecological stress during the 8.2 ka cooling event. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 155–162 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing