Bones of birds from the Istyk cave told about the past of the Eastern Pamirs

Specialists of the joint Russian-Tajik archaeological expedition discovered the bones of ancient birds in the deposits of the Istyk cave, located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan. Their study showed that at the turn of the Pleistocene and Holocene in the center of the East Pamir plateau, in the place of modern high-mountain deserts, there were productive reservoirs that attracted various species of birds, the official portal of the Year of Science and Technology reports.

Now the highlands of Central Asia are inhabited by a unique fauna of birds, which includes both the ancient native inhabitants of these territories and relatively recent invaders from the neighboring low-lying areas. These communities have long attracted the attention of researchers, but earlier scientists did not have direct paleontological evidence that could shed light on the history of the avian population of these territories. The new collection of fossil bones solves this problem.

The Istyk cave is located at an altitude of 4060 m above sea level, and the nature here is harsh – there is practically no rainfall, it is very cold all year round, and there is only one small stream in the vicinity. But the bone remains of birds indicate that 14-8 thousand years ago there was a productive and rather deep body of water that attracted a variety of water birds. Some of them – water shepherd, red-necked or black-necked grebe – are never recorded at such heights at the present time. The presence of these bird species in the highlands indicates that now their high-altitude distribution is limited by the lack of food resources, and not by the climate.

The data obtained correspond to paleoclimatic reconstructions, according to which the Eastern Pamir at the turn of the Pleistocene and Holocene was characterized by a significantly higher water cut, and the water level in the lakes was tens of meters higher than now.

The collection of materials was carried out within the framework of the work of the joint Russian-Tajik archaeological expedition under the leadership of S.V. Schneider (Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS). The study of the remains of birds was carried out by N.V. Zelenkov (A.A.Borisyak Paleontological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences).

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