Yamna the likely source of modern horse domesticates; the closest lineage, from East Bell Beakers

Open access Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series, by Fages et al. Cell (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The earliest archaeological evidence of horse milking, harnessing, and corralling is found in the ∼5,500-year-old Botai culture of Central Asian steppes (Gaunitz et al., 2018, Outram et al., 2009; see Kosintsev and Kuznetsov, 2013 for discussion). Botai-like horses are, however, not the direct ancestors of modern domesticates but of Przewalski’s horses (Gaunitz et al., 2018). The genetic origin of modern domesticates thus remains contentious, with suggested candidates in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (Anthony, 2007), Anatolia (Arbuckle, 2012, Benecke, 2006), and Iberia (Uerpmann, 1990, Warmuth et al., 2011). Irrespective of the origins of domestication, the horse genome is known to have been reshaped significantly within the last ∼2,300 years (Librado et al., 2017, Wallner et al., 2017, Wutke et al., 2018). However, when and in which context(s) such changes occurred remains largely unknown.

To clarify the origins of domestic horses and reveal their subsequent transformation by past equestrian civilizations, we generated DNA data from 278 equine subfossils with ages mostly spanning the last six millennia (n = 265, 95%) (Figures 1A and 1B; Table S1; STAR Methods). Endogenous DNA content was compatible with economical sequencing of 87 new horse genomes to an average depth-of-coverage of 1.0- to 9.3-fold (median = 3.3-fold; Table S2). This more than doubles the number of ancient horse genomes hitherto characterized. With a total of 129 ancient genomes, 30 modern genomes, and new genome-scale data from 132 ancient individuals (0.01- to 0.9-fold, median = 0.08-fold), our dataset represents the largest genome-scale time series published for a non-human organism (Tables S2, S3, and S4; STAR Methods).

Genetic Affinities.
Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of 159 ancient and modern horse genomes showing at least 1-fold average depth-of-coverage. The overall genetic structure is shown for the first three principal components, which summarize 11.6%, 10.4% and 8.2% of the total genetic variation, respectively. The two specimens MerzlyYar_Rus45_23789 and Dunaujvaros_Duk2_4077 discussed in the main text are highlighted. See also Figure S7 and Table S5 for further information.
(B) Visualization of the genetic affinities among individuals, as revealed by the struct-f4 algorithm and 878,475 f4 permutations. The f4 calculation was conditioned on nucleotide transversions present in all groups, with samples were grouped as in TreeMix analyses (Figure 3). In contrast to PCA, f4 permutations measure genetic drift along internal branches. They are thus more likely to reveal ancient population substructure.

Discovering Two Divergent and Extinct Lineages of Horses

Domestic and Przewalski’s horses are the only two extant horse lineages (Der Sarkissian et al., 2015). Another lineage was genetically identified from three bones dated to ∼43,000–5,000 years ago (Librado et al., 2015, Schubert et al., 2014a). It showed morphological affinities to an extinct horse species described as Equus lenensis (Boeskorov et al., 2018). We now find that this extinct lineage also extended to Southern Siberia, following the principal component analysis (PCA), phylogenetic, and f3-outgroup clustering of an ∼24,000-year-old specimen from the Tuva Republic within this group (Figures 3, 5A and S7A). This new specimen (MerzlyYar_Rus45_23789) carries an extremely divergent mtDNA only found in the New Siberian Islands some ∼33,200 years ago (Orlando et al., 2013) (Figure 6A; STAR Methods) and absent from the three bones previously sequenced. This suggests that a divergent ghost lineage of horses contributed to the genetic ancestry of MerzlyYar_Rus45_23789. However, both the timing and location of the genetic contact between E. lenensis and this ghost lineage remain unknown.

Population modeling of the demographic changes and admixture events in extant and extinct horse lineages. The two models presented show best fitting to the observed multi-dimensional SFS in momi2. The width of each branch scales with effective size variation, while colored dashed lines indicate admixture proportions and their directionality. The robustness of each model was inferred from 100 bootstrap pseudo-replicates. Time is shown in a linear scale up to 120,000 years ago and in a logarithmic scale above.

Modeling Demography and Admixture of Extinct and Extant Horse Lineages

Phylogenetic reconstructions without gene flow indicated that IBE differentiated prior to the divergence between DOM2 and Przewalski’s horses (Figure 3; STAR Methods). However, allowing for one migration edge in TreeMix suggested closer affinities with one single Hungarian DOM2 specimen from the 3rd mill. BCE (Dunaujvaros_Duk2_4077), with extensive genetic contribution (38.6%) from the branch ancestral to all horses (Figure S7B).This, and the extremely divergent IBE Y chromosome (Figure 6B), suggest that a divergent but yet unidentified ghost population could have contributed to the IBE genetic makeup.

Rejecting Iberian Contribution to Modern Domesticates

The genome sequences of four ∼4,800- to 3,900-year-old IBE specimens characterized here allowed us to clarify ongoing debates about the possible contribution of Iberia to horse domestication (Benecke, 2006, Uerpmann, 1990, Warmuth et al., 2011). Calculating the so-called fG ratio (Martin et al., 2015) provided a minimal boundary for the IBE contribution to DOM2 members (Cahill et al., 2013) (Figure 7A). The maximum of such estimate was found in the Hungarian Dunaujvaros_Duk2_4077 specimen (∼11.7%–12.2%), consistent with its TreeMix clustering with IBE when allowing for one migration edge (Figure S7B). This specimen was previously suggested to share ancestry with a yet-unidentified population (Gaunitz et al., 2018). Calculation of f4-statistics indicates that this population is not related to E. lenensis but to IBE (Figure 7B; STAR Methods). Therefore, IBE or horses closely related to IBE, contributed ancestry to animals found at an Early Bronze Age trade center in Hungary from the late 3rd mill. BCE. This could indicate that there was long-distance exchange of horses during the Bell Beaker phenomenon (Olalde et al., 2018). The fG minimal boundary for the IBE contribution into an Iron Age Spanish horse (ElsVilars_UE4618_2672) was still important (~9.6%–10.1%), suggesting that an IBE genetic influence persisted in Iberia until at least the 7th century BCE in a domestic context. However, fG estimates were more limited for almost all ancient and modern horses investigated (median = ~4.9%–5.4%; Figure 7A).

TreeMix Phylogenetic Relationships. The tree topology was inferred using a total of ∼16.8 million transversion sites and disregarding migration. The name of each sample provides the archaeological site as a prefix, and the age of the specimen as a suffix (years ago). Name suffixes (E) and (A) denote European and Asian ancient horses, respectively. See Table S5 for dataset information. Image modified to include the likely ancestor of domesticates in a red circle, represented by Yamna, the most likely direct ancestor of the Dunaujvarus specimen.

Iron Age horses

Y chromosome nucleotide diversity (π) decreased steadily in both continents during the last ∼2,000 years but dropped to present-day levels only after 850–1,350 CE (Figures 2B and S2E; STAR Methods). This is consistent with the dominance of an ∼1,000- to 700-year-old oriental haplogroup in most modern studs (Felkel et al., 2018, Wallner et al., 2017). Our data also indicate that the growing influence of specific stallion lines post-Renaissance (Wallner et al., 2017) was responsible for as much as a 3.8- to 10.0-fold drop in Y chromosome diversity.

We then calculated Y chromosome π estimates within past cultures represented by a minimum of three males to clarify the historical contexts that most impacted Y chromosome diversity. This confirmed the temporal trajectory observed above as Byzantine horses (287–861 CE) and horses from the Great Mongolian Empire (1,206–1,368 CE) showed limited yet larger-than-modern diversity. Bronze Age Deer Stone horses from Mongolia, medieval Aukštaičiai horses from Lithuania (C9th–C10th [ninth through the tenth centuries of the Common Era]), and Iron Age Pazyryk Scythian horses showed similar diversity levels (0.000256–0.000267) (Figure 2A). However, diversity was larger in La Tène, Roman, and Gallo-Roman horses, where Y-to-autosomal π ratios were close to 0.25. This contrasts to modern horses, where marked selection of specific patrilines drives Y-to-autosomal π ratios substantially below 0.25 (0.0193–0.0396) (Figure 2A). The close-to-0.25 Y-to-autosomal π ratios found in La Tène, Roman, and Gallo-Roman horses suggest breeding strategies involving an even reproductive success among stallions or equally biased reproductive success in both sexes (Wilson Sayres et al., 2014).

Lineage is used in this paper, as in many others in genetics, as defined by a specific ancestry. I keep that nomenclature below. It should not be confused with the “lineages” or “lines” referring to Y-chromosome (or mtDNA) haplogroups.

Supporting the “archaic” nature of the Hungarian BBC horses expanding from the Pontic-Caspian steppes are:

  • Among Y-chromosome lines, the common group formed by Botai-Borly4 (closely related to DOM2), Scythian horses from Aldy Bel (Arzhani), Iron Age horses from Estonia (Ridala), horses from the Xiongnu culture (Uushgiin Uvur), and Roman horses from Autricum (Chartres).
  • Among mtDNA lines, the common group formed by Botai samples, LebyazhinkaIV NB35, and different Eurasian domesticates, including many ancient Western European ones, which reveals a likely expansion of certain subclades east and west with the Repin culture.
  • (…) DOM2 contributed 22% to the ancestor of Przewalski’s horses ca. 9.47 kya, suggesting the Holocene optimum, rather than the Eneolithic Botai culture (∼5.5 kya), as a period of population contact. This pre-Botai introgression could explain the Y chromosome topology, where Botai horses were reported to carry two different segregating haplogroups: one occupied a basal position in the phylogeny while the other was closely related to DOM2. Multiple admixture pulses, however, are known to have occurred along the divergence of DOM2 and the Botai-Borly4 lineage, including 2.3% post-Borly4 contribution to DOM2, and a more recent 6.8% DOM2 intogression into Przewalski’s horses (Gaunitz et al., 2018). Model C2 parameters accommodate all these as a single admixture pulse, likely averaging the contributions of all these multiple events.

    Tip labels are respectively composed of individual sample names, their reference number as well as their age (years ago, from 2017). Red, orange, light green, green, dark green and blue refer to modern horses, ancient DOM2, Botai horses, Borly4 horses, Przewalski’s horses and E. lenensis, respectively. Black refers to wild horses not yet identified to belong to any particular cluster in absence of sufficient genome-scale data. Clades composed of only Przewalski’s horses or ancient DOM2 horses were collapsed to increase readability.

    (A) Best maximum likelihood tree retracing the phylogenetic relationships between 270 mitochondrial genomes.

    B) Best Y chromosome maximum likelihood tree (GTRGAMMA substitution model) excluding outgroup. Node supports are indicated as fractions of 100 bootstrap pseudoreplicates. Bootstrap supports inferior to 90% are not shown. The root was placed on the tree midpoint. See also Table S5 for dataset information.

    Image modified from the paper, including a red square in archaic groups that contain the Hungarian sample, and a red circle around the most likely common ancestral stallion and mare from the Pontic-Caspian steppes.

    The paper cannot offer a detailed picture of ancient horse domestication, but it is yet another step in showing how Repin/Yamna is the most likely source of expansion of horse domesticates in Eurasia. Even more interestingly, Yamna settlers in Hungary probably expanded an ancient lineage of that horse at the same time as they spread with the Classical Bell Beaker culture. Remarkable parallels are thus found between:

    The expansion of an ancient line of horse domesticates related to Yamna Hungary/East Bell Beakers seems to be confirmed by the pre-Iberian sample from Vilars I, Els Vilars4618 2672 (ca. 700-550 BC), likely of Iberian Beaker descent, showing a lineage older than the Indo-Iranian ones, which later replaced most European lines.

    NOTE. For known contacts between Yamna and Proto-Beakers just before the expansion of East Bell Beakers, see a recent post on Vanguard Yamna groups.

    The findings of the paper confirm the expansion of the horse firstly (and mainly) through the steppe biome, mimicking the expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans first, and then replaced gradually (or not so gradually) by lines brought to Europe during westward expansions of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and later specialized horse-riding steppe cultures. The expansion also correlates well with the known spread of animal traction and pastoralism before 2000 BC:

    Top image: Map with evidence of animal traction before ca. 2000 BC. Bottom image: frequency of finds of evidence for animal traction (orange), cylinder seals (purple) and potter’s wheels (green) in the 4th and 3rd millennium BC (query from the Digital Atlas of Innovations). The data points to an early peak in the expansion of this innovation at the turn of the 4th–3rd millennium BC, while direct evidence supports a radical increase from around the mid–3th millennium BC until the early 2nd millennium, coinciding with the expansion of East Bell Beakers and related European Early Bronze Age cultures. Data and image modified from Klimscha (2017).

    EDIT (3 MAY 2019): A recent reminder of these parallel developments by David Reich in Insights into language expansions from ancient DNA:

    • Yamna expansion to the west “with horses and wagons”, with a more homogeneous ancestry in modern Europeans due to later migrations from the east (and north):
    • “Descendants” of Yamna (once the culture was already “dead”), expanding to the east mainly with Corded Ware ancestry:

    Another recent open access paper on horse domestication is The horse Y chromosome as an informative marker for tracing sire lines, by Felkel et al. Scientific Reports (2019).


Sintashta diet and economy based on domesticated animal products and wild resources


New paper (behind paywall) Bronze Age diet and economy: New stable isotope data from the Central Eurasian steppes (2100-1700 BC), by Hanks et al. J. Arch. Sci (2018) 97:14-25.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Previous research at KA-5 was carried out by A. V. Epimakhov in 1994–1995 and 2002–2003 and resulted in the excavation of three Sintashta culture barrows (kurgans) that produced 35 burial pits and a reported 100 skeletons (Epimakhov, 2002, 2005; Epimakhov et al., 2005; Razhev and Epimakhov, 2004). Seven AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains from the cemetery yielded a date range of 2040–1730 cal. BC (2 sigma), which placed the cemetery within the Sintashta phase of the regional Bronze Age (Hanks et al., 2007). Twelve recently obtained AMS radiocarbon dates, taken from short-lived wood and charcoal species recovered from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have provided a date range of 2050–1760 cal. BC (2 sigma). Importantly, these dates confirm the close chronological relationship between the settlement and cemetery for the Middle Bronze Age phase and discount the possibility of a freshwater reservoir effect influencing the earlier dating of the human remains from the Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery (Epimakhov and Krause, 2013).

Sintashta cemeteries frequently yield fewer than six barrow complexes and the number of skeletons recovered represents a fraction of the total population that would have inhabited the settlements (Judd et al., 2018; Johnson and Hanks, 2012). Scholars have suggested that only members of higher status were afforded interment in these cemeteries and that principles of social organization structured placement of individuals within central or peripheral grave pits (Fig. 2) (Koryakova and Epimakhov, 2007: 75–81). In comparison with other Sintashta cemeteries that have been excavated, KA-5 provides one of the largest skeletal inventories currently available for study.

Upper – plan of Kamennyi Ambar settlement and cemetery; Lower – plan views of Kurgan 2 and Kurgan 4 from KA-5 Cemetery (kurgan plans redrawn from Epimakhov, 2005: 10, 79).

The KA-5 (MBA), Bestamak (MBA) and Lisakovsk (LBA) datasets exhibited a wide range of δ13C and δ15N values for both humans and herbivores (Figs. 5 and 6 & Table 8). This diversity in isotopic signals may be evident for a variety of reasons. For example, the range of values may be associated with a broad spectrum of C3 and C4 plant diversity in the ancient site biome or herbivore grazing patterns that included more diverse environmental niche areas in the microregion around the sampled sites. Herders also may have chosen to graze animals in niche areas due to recognized territorial boundaries between settlements and concomitant patterns of mobility. Importantly, data from Bolshekaragansky represents humans with lower δ15N values that are more closely associated with δ15N values of the sampled domestic herbivores (Fig. 6). When the archaeological evidence from associated settlement sites is considered, Bolshekaragansky, Bestamak, Lisakovsk and KA-5 have been assumed to represent populations that shared similar forms of pastoral subsistence economies with significant dietary reliance upon domesticated herbivore meat and milk. Human diets have δ13C values closely related to those of local herbivores in terms of the slope of the trendline and range of values (Fig. 6). Comparatively, the cemetery of Bolshekaragansky (associated with the Arkaim settlement) reflects individuals with trend lines closer to those of cattle and caprines and may indicate a stronger reliance on subsistence products from these species with less use of wild riverine and terrestrial resources. The site of Čiča is significantly different with elevated human δ15N isotopic values and depleted δ13C values indicative of a subsistence regime more closely associated with the consumption of freshwater resources, such as fish. The stable isotopic data in this instance is strongly supported by zooarchaeological evidence recovered from the Čiča settlement and also is indicative of significant diachronic changes from the LBA phases through the Iron Age (Fig. 6).

Regional analysis and comparison of stable isotope results from humans (adults) and animals recovered from MBA and LBA cemeteries in the Southern Urals (Kamennyi Ambar 5 & Bolshekaragansky) northwestern Kazakhstan (Liskovsk & Bestamak) and southwestern Siberia (Čiča).


(…) The isotopic results from KA-5, and recent botanical and archaeological studies from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have not produced any evidence for the production or use of domesticated cereals. While this does not definitively answer the question as to whether Sintashta populations engaged in agriculture and/or utilized agricultural products, it does call into serious question the ubiquity of such practices across the region and correlates well with recent archaeological, bioarchaeological, and isotopic studies of human and animal remains from the Southwestern Urals region and Samara Basin (Anthony et al., 2016; Schulting and Richards, 2016). The results substantiate a broader spectrum subsistence diet that in addition to the use of domesticated animal products also incorporated wild flora, wild fauna and fish species. These findings further demonstrate the need to draw on multiple methods and datasets for the reconstruction of late prehistoric subsistence economies in the Eurasian steppes. When possible, this should include datasets from both settlements and associated cemeteries.

Variability in subsistence practices in the central steppes region has been highlighted by other scholars and appears to be strongly correlated with local environmental conditions and adaptations. More comprehensive isotopic studies of human, animal and fish remains are of fundamental importance to achieve more robust and empirically substantiated reconstructions of local biomes and to aid the refinement of regional and micro-regional economic subsistence models. This will allow for a fuller understanding of key diachronic shifts within dietary trends and highlight regional variation of such practices. Ultimately, this will more effectively index the diverse social and environmental variables that contributed to late prehistoric lifeways and the economic strategies employed by these early steppe communities.

Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

Interesting to remember now the recent article by Chechushkov et al. (2018) about the social stratificaton in Sintashta-Petrovka, and how it must have caused the long-lasting, peaceful admixture process that led to the known almost full replacement of R1b-L23 (mostly R1b-Z2103) by R1a-Z645 (mostly R1a-Z93) subclades in the North Caspian steppe, coinciding with the formation of the Proto-Indo-Iranian community and language (read my thoughts on this after Damgaard et al. 2018).

Here is another relevant excerpt from Chechushkov et al. (2018), translated from Russian:

The map of the settlement of Kamennyi Ambar with excavations, soil cores, and test pits. Legend: a — cuts of the sides of ravines; b — test pits of 2015—2017; c — test pits of 2004; d — soil-science samples with a cultural layer; e — soil-science samples without cultural layer; f — borders of archaeological sites (interpretation of the plan of magnetic anomalies); g — boundaries of excavated structures (1, 2, 4, 5, 7 — Sintashta-Petrovka culture; 3, 6 — Srubnaya-Alakul’ culture).

The analysis suggests that the Sintashta-Petrovka societies had a certain degree of social stratification, expressed both in selective funeral rituals and in the significant difference in lifestyle between the elite and the immediate producers of the product. The data obtained during the field study suggest that the elite lived within the fortifications, while a part of the population was outside their borders, on seasonal sites, and also in stationary non-fortified settlements. Probably, traces of winter settlements can be found near the walls, while the search for summer ones is a task of a separate study. From our point of view, the elite of the early complex societies of the Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppe originated as a response to environmental challenges that created risks for cattle farming. The need to adapt the team to the harsh and changing climatic conditions created a precedent in which the settled collectives of pastoralists – hunter-gatherers could afford the content and magnificent posthumous celebration of people and their families who were not engaged in the production or extraction of an immediate product. In turn, representatives of this social group directed their efforts to the adoption of socially significant decisions, the organization of collective labor in the construction of settlement-shelters and risked their lives, acting as military leaders and fighters.

Thus, in Bronze Age steppe societies, the formation, development and decline of social complexity are directly related to the intensity of pastoralism and the development of new territories, where collectives had to survive in part a new ecological niche. At the same time, some members of the collective took upon themselves the organization of the collective’s life, receiving in return a privileged status. As soon as the conditions of the environment and management changed, the need for such functions was virtually eliminated, as a result of which the privileged members of society dissolved into the general mass, having lost their lifetime status and the right to be allocated posthumously.

Also interesting for the MLBA haplogroup bottleneck in the region is the paper by Judd et al. (2017) about fast life history in Early Indo-Iranian territories.

On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

Regarding the special position of the Chicha-1 samples in the change of diet and economy during the Iron Age, it is by now well known that haplogroup N must have arrived quite late to North-East Europe, and possibly not linked with the expansion of Siberian ancestry – or linked only with some waves of Siberian ancestry in the region, but not all of them. See Lamnidis et al. (2018) for more on this.

Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup N among Fennic and Siberian (Samoyedic) peoples is not related: while the latter reflects probably the native (Palaeo-Siberian) population that acquired their Uralic branch during the MLBA expansions associated with Corded Ware groups, the former points to the expansion of Fennic peoples into Saamic territory (i.e. after the Fenno-Saamic split) as the most likely period of expansion of N1c1-L392 subclades (see known recent bottlenecks among Finns, and on Proto-Finnic dialectalization).

Probably related to these late incomers are the ancient DNA samples from the Sargat culture during the Iron Age, which show the arrival of N subclades in the region, replacing most – but not all – R1a lineages (see Pilipenko et al. (2017)). Regarding the site of Chicha-1, the following are relevant excerpts about the cultural situation that could have allowed for such stepped, diachronic admixture events in Northern Eurasia, from the paper Stages in the settlement history of Chicha-1: The Results of ceramic analysis, by Molodin et al. (2008):

The stratigraphic data allows us to make the following inference: originally, the settlement was inhabited by people bearing the Late Irmen culture. Later, the people of the Baraba trend of the Suzgun culture arrived at the site (Molodin, Chemyakina, 1984: 40–62). The Baraba-Suzgun pottery demonstrates features similar to what has been reported from the sites of the transitional Bronze to Iron Age culture in the pre-taiga and taiga zones in the Irtysh basin (Potemkina, Korochkova, Stefanov, 1995; Polevodov, 2003). The major morphological types are slightly and well-profiled pots with a short throat. (…)

Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

During the following stage of development of the site, the Chicha population increased with people who practiced cultures others than those noted in earlier collections. The ceramic materials from layer 5 provide data on possible relationships. In addition to migrants from northwestern regions practicing the Suzgun culture, there were people bearing the Krasnoozerka culture. Available data also suggests that people from the northern taiga region with the Atlym culture visited the site.

However, people from the west and southwest represent the greatest migration to the region under study. In all likelihood they moved from the northern forest-steppe zone of modern Kazakhstan and practiced the Berlik culture. The spatial distribution analysis of the Chicha-1 site suggests that the Berlik population was rather large. The Berlik people formed a single settlement with the indigenous Late Irmen people and apparently waged certain common economic activities, but preserved their own ethnic and cultural specificity (Molodin, Parzinger, 2006: 49–55). Judging by the data on the chronological sequence of deposited artifacts, migration took place roughly synchronously, hence Chicha-1 became a real cultural and economic center.

(…) In sum, the noted distribution of ceramics over the culture-bearing horizons suggests that beginning with layer 5, traditions of ceramic manufacture described above were practiced, hence the relevant population inhabited the site. Apparently, there were two predominant traditions: the local Late Irmen cultural tradition and the Berlik tradition, which was brought by the immigrants. The Late Irmen people mostly populated the citadel, while the Berlik immigrants inhabited the areas to the east and the north of the citadel.

The stratigraphic data also suggest that the Early Sargat ceramics emerged at the site likely as a part of the Late Irmen tradition (…) Early Sargat ceramics is apparently linked with the Late Irmen tradition. Artifacts associated with the Sargat culture proper have been found in several areas of Chicha-1 (e.g., in excavation area 16). However, the Sargat people appeared at the site after it had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants, and had eventually become completely desolated. This happened no earlier than the 6th cent. BC, possibly in the 5th cent. BC (in fact, the radiocarbon dates for that horizon are close to the turn of the Christian era).


Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in Middle and Late Bronze Age Kazakhstan


Open access Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in the northern Kazakh steppe informed by carbon and nitrogen isoscapes of contemporary floral biomes, by Miller et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Bronze age settlement, society, and subsistence in the northern Kazakh steppe

The Middle to Late Bronze Age (2200 to 1400 cal BCE) in the northern Kazakh steppe encompassed a major shift in settlement patterns from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more dispersed, mobile lifeways engaged in pastoral nomadism (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2002; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008). Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1700 cal BCE) settlements had large enclosures consisting of an earthen wall and ditch. Inside the enclosure, earthen domestic structures with shared walls (numbering from 30 to 60) housed an estimated 200 to 700 individuals (Gening et al. 1992; Grigor’yev 2002; Anthony 2007; Kohl 2007; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Hanks 2009; Batanina and Hanks 2013). MBA settlements were repeatedly occupied, evidenced by successive building phases that added structures and enlarged enclosures. Aggregated MBA sites are situated between 40 and 60 km apart, and landscapes between enclosed settlements may have been territories of particular settlements (Epimakhov 2002; Zdanovich and Batanina 2002; Merrony et al. 2009; Stobbe et al. 2016). While there is currently no archeological evidence for structures such as animal corrals or walls outside of MBA settlement enclosures, open areas within settlements may have been used to house livestock. Reconstructions of landscape use in the vicinity of MBA sites determined that pastures within 4 km of the site could have supported herd sizes large enough to sustain sedentary livestock herders (Stobbe et al. 2016). During the subsequent Late Bronze Age (1800 to 1400 cal BCE) settlements were more dispersed across the landscape and significantly smaller, consisting of fewer than 20 dwellings, further lacking enclosures and building phases (Kuz’mina 2007:36–8; Zakh and Ilyushina 2010). This shift in settlement size and distribution has been interpreted to indicate the emergence of nomadic pastoralism and the intensification of long-distance mobility (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2000; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008).

MBA communities engaged in pastoralism and supplemented their diets with wild plants and wild game (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). A variety of wild plants have been recovered during flotation, but so far, domesticated grains have not been recovered (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ng 2013; Hanks et al. 2018). Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bone collagen indicate that human dietary intake in the MBA focused on terrestrial animal protein, likely in the form of meat and milk, which was supplemented by locally available fish and wild plants (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). While the subsequent LBA has been interpreted as a shift to nomadic pastoralism, little data is available regarding landscape use or herd management strategies for this period. Paleodietary studies suggest that human diets during the LBA focused on pastoral products and were supplemented by wild plants, fish, and wild animals (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a, 2014b).

Location of the archeological sites of Bestamak (MBA), Kamennyi Ambar (MBA), Bolshekaragansky (MBA), and Lisakovsk (LBA)


A major shift in patterns of settlement occurred at the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition, from large semi-sedentary populations in enclosed settlements to smaller populations in open settlements dispersed across the landscape. Scholars have suggested that animal management strategies also changed at this time from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more mobile forms of pastoral nomadism. However, our findings suggest that livestock management practices did not shift in concert with social landscapes, demonstrating consistency in pastoral adaptations through time in the region. Similar isotopic patterning between livestock during the MBA and LBA across several sites in the CES indicates that there were no changes across time in pasture usage patterns. Among ancient livestock, differences in δ13C and δ15N values between horses and ruminants (cattle, sheep, goat) strongly suggest that livestock were grazed pastures either extensively or intensively, respectively. Horses grazed in open steppe areas or intermittently in areas with well-watered soils that lacked salinity, likely staying well outside of settlements. In contrast, cattle and sheep/goat grazed in pastures across multiple zones, both near the settlement and in non-local pastures that were grazed intensively. A wider range of δ13C and δ15N values among ruminants at Kamennyi Ambar (MBA) suggests that aggregated human populations may have had larger herds, some of which accessed non-local pastures outside of the easily accessible territories surrounding enclosed sites. Continued research on the isotopic composition of vegetation surrounding Bronze Age sites should clarify patterns of landscape use between MBA sites.