Huts made of mammoth bones discovered in Ukraine’s Dniepr river valley (as well as in Moravia, the Czech Republic, and southern Poland) may represent the first structures created by prehistoric man, and hence the earliest instances of architecture.
Some of the most remarkable of these mammoth bone dwellings were discovered in Mezhyrich, a town in central Ukraine, when a farmer dug up a mammoth’s lower jawbone while building his cellar in 1965. Additional digs showed the presence of four archaic homes made up of 149 mammoth bones.
These shelters are regarded to be among of the oldest homes known to have been erected by prehistoric man, and are commonly assigned to Cro-Magnons.
“They are made up of hundreds of bones and tusks placed in a rough circle 6 to 10 m (20 to 33 ft) in diameter.” A fireplace is usually located towards the middle of the previous residence, and stone tools and other detritus are strewn about the inside and exterior of the structure. Near the dwellings, large pits containing stone tools, bone pieces, and ash have been discovered.
“A significant amount of work must have been required to build these structures.” Large mammoth bones can weigh hundreds of pounds even when dried. The bones and tusks may have been retrieved after hunting events in which entire herds of adult mammoths and their young were slain. A more plausible hypothesis is that they were collected from natural bone accumulations around the locations, maybe at the mouths of streams and gullies. The major aim of the mammoth-bone homes, which were apparently covered with animal skins, was most likely to provide protection from intense cold and powerful winds. Some archaeologists, struck by the buildings’ grandeur and look, have postulated that they might have religious or social significance. As evidence of greater social complexity and rank difference during the latter period of the Ice Age, they have been regarded as the oldest examples of “monumental architecture.” (From Paul G. Bahn’s (ed.) 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries , pp. 54-55.)
Other intriguing artefacts discovered on the site include a map etched into a bone, possibly depicting the area surrounding the town. The remnants of a “drum” fashioned of a mammoth skull decorated with a pattern of red ochre dots and lines, as well as amber jewelry and fossil shells, were also uncovered.