The Lower Danube during the Eneolithic, and the potential Proto-Anatolian community

Local cultural settings and transregional phenomena: on the impact of a funerary ritual in the Lower Danube in the 4th millennium BC, by Frinculeasa & Mirea, In: Buletinul Muzeului Judetean Teleorman, Seria Arheologie, 9, 2017, p. 75-116.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. In the area under discussion, around 4300-4200 BC – a chronological segment marking the evolutionary peak of ‘Old Europe’ (Anthony 2007: 225), represented by the Cucuteni A/ Tripolie BI, Aldeni-Bolgrad, Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultures – the first tumular burials appeared (Govedarica 2016: 85). However, flat burials, marked by the existence of some allogeneous elements in the local Eneolithic milieu, were also present. These finds have been linked to the presence (in terms of both trade and conflicts) of Suvorovo/Suvorovo-Novodanilovka communities (Anthony 2007: 251ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 46ff.; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016) or of some groups from the ‘western part of the Skelia culture’ (Anthony 2007: 251ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 46ff.; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016). (…) The zoomorphic sceptres and the four-knobbed stone mace heads found east of the Prut/the Lower Danube are also related to this topic (Govedarica 2004; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: abb. 5; Gogâltan 2013).

2. The next chronological segment intersects the ‘hiatus’ recorded between the end of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultural complex and the beginning of the Cernavoda I culture (Rassamakin 2011a: 85ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 51). We should also mention the existence of a small set of absolute dates ranging within the interval 4200/ 4150 – 3900/ 3850 BC that come from the sites of Sultana, Vităneşti, Pietrele, Bucşani, Ploieşti ‘Triaj’, Ovcarovo, Hotnica etc. (Reingruber 2015; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016; Frînculeasa 2016; Bem and Haită 2016: 63; Krause et al. 2016). The examples of Sărăteni and Krasnoe15 and the abovementioned dates seem to fill out a part of this chronological segment. It is still difficult to say whether they reflect the presence of some communities that led to the disappearance of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI complex or are connected with an early Cernavoda I, or possibly late Suvorovo evolution. If we refer to the absolute dates obtained for samples taken from mammal bones found in Cernavoda I settlements, we notice that the appearance of this culture in the abovementioned chronological interval is not yet confirmed (Frînculeasa 2016, tab. 3).

3. The Cernavoda I discoveries (approximately 3850/3800 – 3550/3500 BC) are represented in the Lower Danube by settlements and flat graves (the presence of tumular burials should not be completely excluded, see Brăiliţa). In the Bugeac area, the Cernavoda I culture was until recently defined only by tumular burials (Manzura 1999). The presence at Orlovka of flat graves and of a settlement (with two habitation levels, in which the Cucuteni B painted pottery occurs in association with the unpainted pottery with crushed shells into the paste) (Govedarica and Manzura 2015; Manzura 2018) shows that we are dealing with the same cultural phenomenon both west and east of the Prut, beyond the so-called ‘Bessarabian version’. North of the Danube there are flat burials, with individuals in side-crouched position. Unlike the tumular graves (including the early ones), in the flat graves there are no ornaments, only (unpainted) pottery items, including at Orlovka cemetery.

Map of funerary finds with skeletons in extended position from the 4th millennium BC and
contemporaneous cultural areas.

Therefore, the presence of tumular graves east of the Prut, in the same chronological interval, may be related to phenomena located east of the Dniester. In fact, Y. Rassamakin associates these finds with the Lower Mikhailovka culture, which precedes here the ritual that is specific to Kvityana communities (Rassamakin 1994: 42, 44; 1999: 92). He establishes a chronological relation between a number of findings such as the plastic anthropomorphic representations from Cernavoda, Râmnicelu, Târpeşti, Folteşti and Satu Nou (Neagu et al. 1982) and Dereivka (Rassamakin 1994: 41; 1999: 90), which seems to point to a revival of contacts between the North Pontic area and the Lower Danube, contacts which had been interrupted with the dissolution of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultural complex (Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016).

4. At the middle of the 4th millennium BC (we do not exclude that it could reach the end of the chronological interval in which the Cernavoda I culture evolves), we can establish the occurrence (in secondary position) in tumuli – located in the Prut-Dniester interfluve – of graves with deceased laid in extended position. It is a period in which the Kvityana funeral traditions transcend their place of origin. The painted pottery culture provides evidence for, indirectly or directly through the presence of vessels in graves, including east of the Dniester (Rassamakin 2011b; 2013a), the contact and the chronological relationship. Placing the constructions with rings later towards the last third of the 4th millennium BC is supported by the Usatovo finds (Tripolie CII) which are posterior to the Cernavoda I ones (Govedarica and Manzura 2011). The relationship and direct chronological relation between the Kvityana and the (early) Usatovo is also supported by the discovery of Sadovoe (Maljukevich and Petrenko 1993: fig. 5/2). (…)

5. Another horizon with burials of individuals in supine position is stratigraphically recorded between Zhivotilovka and Yamnaya (the last third of the 4th millennium BC); however, a coexistence of both cultural/ funerary groups with specific ritual elements (side-crouched and supinely with knees folded and raised) is not excluded either. The absence of inventory and of ochre and the presence of oval-elongated pits are specific elements.

6. (…) The extended position disappeared in the Early Bronze Age/ 3rd millennium BC (Rassamakin 2013a: 116), but is to be found again in the Katacombnaya ritual (Frînculeasa et al. 2017a). Ascertaining the many discrepancies regarding the contexts and radiocarbon dates, we maintain our reservations on this matter as well. Therefore, the two samples do not represent a solid basis for a possible discussion

From the conclusions:

If the Kvityana evolution covers a significant part of the first half of the 4th millennium BC, and partially the second half, west of the Prut we are dealing with Cernavoda I and later Usatovo communities in the same chronological time frame. The relationship between this ritual/ Kvityana and the Cernavoda I culture, which is stratigraphically unclear, and the absence of items to prove direct contacts show a slight chronological gap in favour of the Cernavoda I culture and the side-crouched ritual, at least in the Prut-Dniester interfluve. This ritual continues to be present, crosses the evolution of Zhivotilovka communities and continues as far as the start of the Yamnaya. The extended position is a late occurrence within the tumular burials in the Lower Danube, but here it is also a rather discreet ritual, one that seems to be of secondary importance. The presence of this ritual (and the accurate interpretation of stratigraphic situations) is an additional element for establishing a better chronological and chorological relationship between the West Pontic area and realities located in the North Pontic steppe, amidst a phenomenon which seems to have rewritten history in other parameters, initially of the Lower Danube and then of Western Europe.

If someone was still relying on Gimbutas – and mostly anything before the 2000s, like “kurgans”, in general terms – to assess cultural developments, and particularly ethnolinguistic identifications, it is time to let it go. The situation in the North Pontic area reveals itself far more complex with each new assessment of recent findings and radiocarbon dates.

By now it is evident that the LPIE-speaking community, formed in the Khvalynsk/Repin -> Yamna period, became dominated by R1b-M269 subclades early during its formation and expansion, based on what we have already seen in the Afanasevo expansion to the east, in the Bell Beaker migrants to the west, and in the admixed lineages (with incoming Abashevo peoples) in the North Caspian steppe that formed the Early Indo-Iranian community. While we don’t have much data on the Balkan region, especially Yamna migrants leading to the Proto-Greek migration, it is quite likely to support this, too.

Therefore, earlier PIE stages are the most likely objects of controversy for the future. Just like proponents of the Anatolian and Armenian homeland theories have surreptitiously shifted their proposal of “farmers expanding LPIE languages” to “farmers expanding earlier PIE stages”, we will see many different accounts of how late Khvalynsk/Repin came to be, and especially of what new culture now represents Middle PIE, be it early Sredni Stog, Northern Iran, or the Lower Danube.

I am not a priori radically opposed to any of those territories as potential earlier ‘original’ (i.e. Early PIE) homelands, although none of them is a likely Middle PIE Urheimat. The fact that such renewed proposals seem to be mostly based on haplogroups or ancestral components mixed into newly formed pet theories, instead of sound linguistic and archaeological models of cultural continuity (following late Khvalynsk/Repin backwards to their most likely forming cultures) does not help their cause.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

I am certainly not opposed to a strong influence on the formation of a Middle PIE-speaking community (in terms of Y-DNA lineages and potentially language, since genomics cannot change our knowledge of prehistoric cultures) due to immigrants from the Caucasus. After all:

  1. There seems to be a Northern Caucasian (phonetic) substrate in Middle PIE compared to Uralic;
  2. There is an obvious genetic contribution to both North Pontic and North Caspian steppe communities (probably greater in the latter); and
  3. If you defend an Indo-Uralic community – e.g. in a Neolithic steppe cultural-historical community, as I would be inclined to support – , a sizeable migration from the south – whether driven by female exogamy, male migrants, or both – would explain that influence.

Nevertheless, even in this case of an obvious migration (e.g. by R1b-M269 lineages) from the Caucasus, we could be talking about a Caucasian group influencing the formation of a Middle PIE community, represented by Khvalynsk, i.e. not necessarily about a Maykop-Khvalynsk community.

That is, peoples from the Caucasus could have admixed with the (already diverse) North Caspian steppe community to form the Middle PIE-speaking peoples whose expansion developed both known dialectal splits:

  1. Proto-Anatolian, probably represented by Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, but possibly by Maykop; and
  2. Late PIE, undoubtedly represented by the community forming in late Khvalynsk/Repin -> Yamna.

The Lower Danube remains thus the most important region to investigate, looking for traces of a Proto-Anatolian migration out of the steppe. Today this route seems more likely than Gimbutas’ original idea of Maykop representing a steppe offshoot, since the culture and thus its contacts with the steppe are older than she expected, Anatolian is dated earlier than she could have known based on the works available then, and even the latest available language guesstimates and radiocarbon dates don’t fit quite right in light of the known cultural contacts.

Until some proof appears of a different origin than what archaeologists have described to date, we need more than a simple one-paragraph informal pet theory to change the mainstream model.

A) Given that data from Mesolithic and Eneolithic Pontic-Caspian steppe shows a mixed population in terms of haplogroups, and R1b-M269 lineages are still nowhere to be seen – in the three samples from the Samara region of the Khvalynsk culture -, I can still only guess that it is precisely the expansion of Middle PIE (Pre-Proto-Anatolian and Pre-LPIE) the event associated with the expansion of chiefs of R1b-M269 lineages, especially R1b-L23 subclades, and the general reduction in haplogroup variability, as is obviously seen later in Yamna.

B) If this haplogroup is found first in the Caucasus, and then in Maykop and Khvalynsk during and after their known contacts, though, instead of in Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, then the question may be settled as Reich recently proposed, and we may have to revise the language split (or, rather, the loss of contact between both MPIE dialects) to a slightly later date.

C) As a third, more complex alternative, if such haplogroup reduction actually happened slightly later – which is unlikely based on modern R1b-M269* and R1b-L23* haplogroup distribution – , say during the expansion of Khvalynsk and Repin as a Yamna community, then

C.1.) any lineage up to that point with steppe ancestry (including the R1b-V88 sample found in Varna, the same lineage apparently found in a likely early chief from Samara) could be the smoking gun of a potential Proto-Anatolian community spreading through the Balkans.

C.2) Alternatively, if it’s the Caucasus or Northern Iran the origin of Middle PIE formation, then any haplogroup or admixture from Maykop to Anatolia could represent Proto-Anatolians…

We just need more samples near the steppe in time and space to depict a clearer genetic image.

EDIT 28-29 APR 2018: Changes made to the text, including the possibility of a Maykop route.

Featured image: Distribution of burial sites of the Zhivotilovka type.