Molodova I (Ukraine)

Location of Molodovo District of Ukraine in Europe

The Middle and Upper Paleolithic site of Molodova (sometimes spelled Molodovo) is located on the Dniester River in the Chernovtsy (or Chernivtsi) province of Ukraine, between the Dniester river and the Carpathian mountains.

Molodova I has five Middle Paleolithic Mousterian occupations (called Molodova 1-5), three Upper Paleolithic occupations and one Mesolithic occupation. The Mousterian components are dated to >44,000 RCYBP, based on charcoal radiocarbon from a hearth. Microfauna and palynological data connect the layer 4 occupations with Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (ca 60,000-24,000 years ago).

Archaeologists believe that the stone tool strategies appear to be either Levallois or transitional to Levallois, including points, simple side scrapers and retouched blades, all of which argues that Molodova I was occupied by Neanderthals using a Mousterian tradition tool kit.

Artifacts and Features at Molodova I

Artifacts from the Mousterian levels at Molodova include 40,000 flint artifacts, including over 7,000 stone tools. The tools are characteristic of typical Mousterian, but lack bifacial forms. They are blades with marginal retouch, retouched side-scrapers and retouched Levallois flakes. Most of the flint is local, from the Dniester river terrace.

Twenty-six hearths were identified at Molodova I, varying in diameter from 40x30 centimeters (16x12 inches) to 100x40 cm (40x16 in), with ashy lenses varying from 1-2 cm thick. Stone tools and burned bone fragments were recovered from these hearths. Approximately 2,500 mammoth bones and bone fragments have been recovered from Molodova I layer 4 alone.

Living at Molodova

The Middle Paleolithic level 4 covers 1,200 square meters (about 13,000 square feet) and includes five areas, including a pit filled with bones, an area with engraved bones, two concentrations of bones and tools, and a circular accumulation of bones with tools in its center.

Recent studies (Demay in press) have focused on this last feature which was originally characterized as a mammoth bone hut. However, recent re-investigations of mammoth bone settlements in central Europe have confined the use dates to between 14,000-15,000 years ago: if this was a mammoth bone settlement (MBS), it is older by some 30,000 years than the majority of the others: Molodova currently represents the only Middle Paleolithic MBS discovered to date.

Because of the discrepancy in dates, scholars have interpreted the ring of bones as either a hunting blind, a natural accumulation, a circular symbolic ring bound to Neanderthal beliefs, a wind break for a long term occupation, or the result of humans returning to the area and pushing away the bones from the living surface. Demay and colleagues argue that the structure was purposefully built as protection from cold climate in an open environment and, along with the pit features, that makes Molodova an MBS.

The ring of bones measured 5x8 meters (16x26 feet) inside and 7x10 m (23x33 ft) externally. The structure included 116 complete mammoth bones, including 12 skulls, five mandibles, 14 tusks, 34 pelves and 51 long bones. The bones represent at least 15 individual mammoths, and included both male and female, both adults and juveniles. Most of the bones appear to have been intentionally selected and assembled by Neanderthals to build a circular structure.

A large pit located 9 m (30 ft) from the circular structure contained the majority of non-mammoth bones from the site. But, most importantly, mammoth bones from the pit and dwelling structure have been linked as coming from the same individuals. The bones in the pit show cut marks from butchering activities.

Molodova and Archaeology

Molodova I was discovered in 1928, and first excavated by I.G. Botez and N. N. Morosan between 1931 and 1932. A.P. Chernysch continued excavations between 1950 and 1961, and again in the 1980s. Detailed site information in English has only recently become available.


This glossary entry is a part of the guide to Middle Paleolithic, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Demay L, Péan S, and Patou-Mathis M. in press. Mammoths used as food and building resources by Neanderthals: Zooarchaeological study applied to layer 4, Molodova I (Ukraine). Quaternary International(0).

Meignen, L., J.-M. Genest, L. Koulakovsaia, and A. Sytnik. 2004. Koulichivka and its place in the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition in eastern Europe. Chapter 4 in The Early Upper Paleolithic Beyond Western Europe, P.J. Brantingham, S.L. Kuhn, and K. W. Kerry, eds. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Vishnyatsky, L.B. and P.E. Nehoroshev. 2004. The beginning of the Upper Paleolithic on the Russian Plain. Chapter 6 in The Early Upper Paleolithic Beyond Western Europe, P.J. Brantingham, S.L. Kuhn, and K. W. Kerry, eds. University of California Press, Berkeley.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Molodova I (Ukraine)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Molodova I (Ukraine). Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Molodova I (Ukraine)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 11, 2023).