Sintashta-Petrovka and Potapovka cultures, and the cause of the Steppe EMBA – MLBA differences

Interesting recent papers on Sintashta and related Volga-Ural MLBA communities, with relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Social Organization of the Sintashta-Petrovka Groups of the Late Bronze Age and a Cause for Origin of Social Elites (Based on Materials of the Settlement of Kamenny Ambar), by Chechushkov et al. Stratum Plus (2018) Nº2.

Abstract (official, in English):

The formation of social complexity often unfolded in non-unilineal ways in those regions of the world where the surplus product remained low enough to support institutionalized power and state bureaucracy. The Bronze Age of Northern Eurasia is a vivid example where social complexity arose based on herding economy, while population density remained low enough not to form territorially separate competing groups. Studying of such societies sheds light on how and under what conditions the social elite emerged. The undertaken analysis suggests that the formation, development, and decline of social complexity in the Bronze Age steppe societies were directly related to the intensification of subsistence practices and colonization of new territories. At the same time, some members of the society took upon themselves the role of community life’s managers, and, in return, received privileged statuses. The environment and the economy changing, the need for such functions disappeared. As a result, the Bronze Age social elites dissolved in the mass and lost their privileged statuses.


Open access Sintashta as a transcultural phenomenon, by N.B. Vinogradov, Архив Поволжская археология №1 (23) 2018.

Abstract (official, in English)

The paper features a substantiation of the understanding of Sintashta-type monuments dating back to the boundary of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages in the Southern Trans- Urals as a transcultural phenomenon, the establishment and operation of which has been associated with the clans of miners, smelters and smiths of the Southern Ural cultures of the studied period. In the author’s opinion, the variety of ceramic complexes from Sintashta burial mounds suggest a reconsideration of several cultural traditions and the peculiar nature of family and marriage relations practiced by the clans of Sintashta-type communities.

Interesting excerpts, from the conclusion (translated from Russian):

1. In contrast to the pastoral cattle-breeding cultures of the Alakul cultural-historical community, the Sintashta clan-communities, in the author’s opinion, were a more specific transcultural phenomenon with an original model of life organization, uniting clans of miners, metallurgists, blacksmiths and casters, sometimes from several neighboring archaeological cultures (my italics – N.V.), in particular, the Abashevo culture of the South Urals, some “proto-Srubna” culture of the Southern Urals and quasi-Eneolithic cultures of the Southern Urals and of Northern Kazakhstan.

2. The Sintashta phenomenon as a community of clans of miners – metallurgists – smiths functioned relatively independently, outside or under conditions of partial jurisdiction (?) Of the elites of the above mentioned cultures.

3. At the historical level, the facts presented by the author concerning both funeral rites and ceramics can be understood as a reflection of the characteristics, first of all, of the family-marriage relations system within the specialized communities. And it is not by chance that the ceramics of Sintashta cemeteries carry in themselves often reinterpreted (especially in the case of ornamentation) traces of several cultural traditions. The variety of ceramic complexes of Sintashta monuments and the rethinking, reworking of marker elements of ornament on vessels testify, in the author’s view, about the distinctiveness, the specifics of family relations in Sintashta communities.


Paleoanthropological Data as a Source of Reconstruction of the Process of Social Formation and Social Stratifi cation (based on the Sintashta and Potapovo sites of the Bronze Age), by Kitov et al. Stratum Plus (2018) Nº 2.

Abstract (official, in English):

The paper is devoted to the analysis of craniological materials from the cemeteries of the Bronze Age of the Volga-Ural region (Sintashta and Potapovo assemblages). The characteristic feature of the physical appearance of this population is the combination of different morphological variations with a dominant and the presence of the Uraloid components. At the same time, a group of individuals with a specific, different from other individuals, skull structure is distinguished: maturized, broad-faced men with a set of striking features in the face. Analysis of the funerary rites of these individuals indicates their high social status in the Sintashta-Potapovo society. The addition of such an anthropological complex occurred in the Eneolithic on the territory of modern Kazakhstan as a result of contacts of steppe sharply profiled Europeoid populations and groups of Uraloid origin. This led to the formation of a population, originally of metisic origin, conventionally called “steppe Kazakhstan”, which took part in the process of morphogenesis, and, indirectly, the cultural genesis of Sintashta and Potapovo communities.

While this paper reports mainly athropometric data, the team forms part of the Samara Valley project – including Khokhlov.

Here are interesting excerpts from the general conclusions (translated from Russian):

Summing up, it can be noted that the distinguishing feature of the carriers of the Sintashta and Potapovka traditions is the sharp heterogeneity of the anthropological features, the cause of which were active ethno- and culturogenetic processes in the Volga-Ural region at the turn of the 3rd/2nd millennium BC. One of the active components of these processes was probably a population group with specific craniological data, distinct from the rest of the craniocomplexes. These included mature, broad-leaning male individuals with a set of vivid signs in the structure of the face, such as unfolded and flattened cheekbones, and a strong nose protrusion.

The peculiarities of the burial rite speak about their high social position in the society: burials were made in large central burial pits, accompanied by abundant sacrificial remains in the form of skulls and limbs of horses, large and small cattle, rich funeral complements including bronze tools and weapons, artifacts of metal production, attributes of the chariot complex. It should be noted that such a craniological type is present in every mound of the Sintashta-Potapovka circle of monuments, and is found on the wide territory of the steppes and forest-steppes of the Volga region, the Southern Urals, and the Trans-Urals. The addition of the similar anthropological complex occurred in the Eneolithic due to the contacts, on the one hand, of steppe sharply profiled Europoid populations that extended to the east and, on the other hand, encountered groups of uraloid origin, which led to the formation of a population, originally of metisic origin, which can be conditionally called “steppe Kazakhstan”.

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