An interesting aspect of the paper, hidden among so many relevant details, is a clearer picture of how the so-called Yamnaya or steppe ancestry evolved from Samara hunter-gatherers to Yamna nomadic pastoralists, and how this ancestry appeared among Proto-Corded Ware populations.
Please note: arrows of “ancestry movement” in the following PCAs do not necessarily represent physical population movements, or even ethnolinguistic change. To avoid misinterpretations, I have depicted arrows with Y-DNA haplogroup migrations to represent the most likely true ethnolinguistic movements. Admixture graphics shown are from Wang et al. (2018), and also (the K12) from Mathieson et al. (2018).
1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk
The so-called steppe ancestry was born during the Khvalynsk expansion through the steppes, probably through exogamy of expanding elite clans (eventually all R1b-M269 lineages) originally of Samara_HG ancestry. The nearest group to the ANE-like ghost population with which Samara hunter-gatherers admixed is represented by the Steppe_Eneolithic / Steppe_Maykop cluster (from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont).
Steppe_Eneolithic samples, of R1b1 lineages, are probably expanded Khvalynsk peoples, showing thus a proximate ancestry of an Early Eneolithic ghost population of the Northern Caucasus. Steppe_Maykop samples represent a later replacement of this Steppe_Eneolithic population – and/or a similar population with further contribution of ANE-like ancestry – in the area some 1,000 years later.
This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:
NOTE. This admixture shows how different Steppe_Maykop is from Steppe_Eneolithic, but in the different supervised ADMIXTURE graphics below Maykop_Eneolithic is roughly equivalent to Eneolithic_Steppe (see orange arrow in ADMIXTURE graphic above). This is useful for a simplified analysis, but actual differences between Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Afanasevo, Yamna and Corded Ware are probably underestimated in the analyses below, and will become clearer in the future when more ancestral hunter-gatherer populations are added to the analysis.
2. Early Khvalynsk expansion
We have direct data of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-like populations thanks to Khvalynsk and Steppe_Eneolithic samples (although I’ve used the latter above to represent the ghost Caucasus population with which Samara_HG admixed).
We also have indirect data. First, there is the PCA with outliers:
Second, we have data from north Pontic Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see next section).
Third, there is the continuity of late Repin / Afanasevo with Steppe_Eneolithic (see below).
3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion
It is unclear if R1a-M459 subclades were continuously in the steppe and resurged after the Khvalynsk expansion, or (the most likely option) they came from the forested region of the Upper Dnieper area, possibly from previous expansions there with hunter-gatherer pottery.
Supporting the latter is the millennia-long continuity of R1b-V88 and I2a2 subclades in the north Pontic Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Eneolithic Sredni Stog culture, until ca. 4500 BC (and even later, during the second half).
Only at the end of the Early Eneolithic with the disappearance of Novodanilovka (and beginning of the steppe ‘hiatus’ of Rassamakin) is R1a to be found in Ukraine again (after disappearing from the record some 2,000 years earlier), related to complex population movements in the north Pontic area.
NOTE. In the PCA, a tentative position of Novodanilovka closer to Anatolia_Neolithic / Dzudzuana ancestry is selected, based on the apparent cline formed by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, and on the position and ancestry of Sredni Stog, Yamna, and Corded Ware later. A good alternative would be to place Novodanilovka still closer to the Balkan outliers (i.e. Suvorovo), and a source closer to EHG as the ancestry driven by the migration of R1a-M417.
The first sample with steppe ancestry appears only after 4250 BC in the forest-steppe, centuries after the samples with steppe ancestry from the Northern Caucasus and the Balkans, which points to exogamy of expanding R1a-M417 lineages with the remnants of the Novodanilovka population.
4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion
We don’t have direct data on early Repin settlers. But we do have a very close representative: Afanasevo, a population we know comes directly from the Repin/late Khvalynsk expansion ca. 3500/3300 BC (just before the emergence of Early Yamna), and which shows fully Steppe_Eneolithic-like ancestry.
Compared to this eastern Repin expansion that gave Afanasevo, the late Repin expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC that gave rise to the Yamna culture was one of colonization, evidenced by the admixture with north Pontic (Sredni Stog-like) populations, no doubt through exogamy:
This admixture is also found (in lesser proportion) in east Yamna groups, which supports the high mobility and exogamy practices among western and eastern Yamna clans, not only with locals:
We don’t have a comparison with Ukraine_Eneolithic or Corded Ware samples in Wang et al. (2018), but we do have proximate sources for Abashevo, when compared to the Poltavka population (with which it admixed in the Volga-Ural steppes): Sintashta, Potapovka, Srubna (with further Abashevo contribution), and Andronovo:
The two CWC outliers from the Baltic show what I thought was an admixture with Yamna. However, given the previous mixture of Eneolithic_Steppe in north Pontic steppe-forest populations, this elevated “steppe ancestry” found in Baltic_LN (similar to west Yamna) seems rather an admixture of Baltic sub-Neolithic peoples with a north Pontic Eneolithic_Steppe-like population. Late Repin settlers also admixed with a similar population during its colonization of the north Pontic area, hence the Baltic_LN – west Yamna similarities.
NOTE. A direct admixture with west Yamna populations through exogamy by the ancestors of this Baltic population cannot be ruled out yet (without direct access to more samples), though, because of the contacts of Corded Ware with west Yamna settlers in the forest-steppe regions.
A similar case is found in the Yamna outlier from Mednikarovo south of the Danube. It would be absurd to think that Yamna from the Balkans comes from Corded Ware (or vice versa), just because the former is closer in the PCA to the latter than other Yamna samples. The same error is also found e.g. in the Corded Ware → Bell Beaker theory, because of their proximity in the PCA and their shared “steppe ancestry”. All those theories have been proven already wrong.
NOTE. A similar fallacy is found in potential Sintashta→Mycenaean connections, where we should distinguish statistically that result from an East/West Yamna + Balkans_BA admixture. In fact, genetic links of Mycenaeans with west Yamna settlers prove this (there are some related analyses in Anthrogenica, but the site is down at this moment). To try to relate these two populations (separated more than 1,000 years before Sintashta) is like comparing ancient populations to modern ones, without the intermediate samples to trace the real anthropological trail of what is found…Pure numbers and wishful thinking.
Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in Academia.edu.
NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.
Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):
The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.
Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].
A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.
Kvitjana and Trypillia
The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)
The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).
Early and late Yamna
A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.
The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].
The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.
Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.
The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).
The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.
Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al. .
The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).
The concept of ‘Kurgan peoples’ is a general idea whereby ‘kurgan builders’ are identified with Indo-European speakers. It is a consequence of the oversimplification of Gimbutas’ theory, and is still widespread among linguists, archaeologists, geneticists, and amateurs alike.
NOTE. On the already simplistic assumptions of Gimbutas regarding the so-called ‘kurgan’ burials, see e.g. Häusler’s early criticism.
However, as more ancient DNA studies appear, many ancient cultures once held as ‘kurganized’ are becoming more and more clearly disconnected from Proto-Indo-Europeans: So for example Varna, Cucuteni-Trypillia, Maykop, or Northern Iranian kurgan builders.
NOTE. As you may know, Rassamakin supports a ‘Skelyan’ (macro-)culture encompassing every group from the North Pontic steppe and steppe-forest, where (therefore) Novodanilovka or Suvorovo would be just rich elites among Sredni Stog and related ‘commoners’. So he can hardly be described as interested in supporting Khvalynsk over Sredni Stog influence…
The first period of development (ca. 4550 – 4100/4000 BC) is marked as a period of emergence of the first burial symbols.
Gimbutas – like later her pupil Mallory -, Merpert, or Danilenko believed that the first mark of emerging kurgans were precisely the presence of constructions above burials, such as simple, small, stone henges, dolmens, cists, or cairns. Hence the traditional connection of ‘kurgans’ with Sredni Stog. This Sredni Stog connection is currently still a widespread belief, that is kept alive because it appears in many secondary sources (e.g. the much beloved as it is outdated and simplistic reference book Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture).
These first constructions described as from Sredni Stog were nevertheless found solely among Sredni Stog ‘elites’. That is, burials from Novodanlilovka-type cultural sites. So, following the initial assessments of this culture by Soviet archaeologists (like Telegin), for Gimbutas (1956) they were among ‘Sredni Stog’ burials, and for Merpert (1959) they might have been due to an “initial, genetic basis” originally from Khvalynsk, and thus (what was described as) Sredni Stog seemed to have been formed under “strong eastern influences”.
NOTE. From Rassamakin’s own account: Gimbutas’ model was later corrected, when in the mid-1980s Telegin judged that the cemeteries in fact represented an independent cultural type (Novodanilovka-type sites), developing over two stages (Telegin 1985a, 311-20; 1991). These were the same burials which Danilenko thought reflected a distinct pastoralist culture among the early Yamnaya tribes, which Gimbutas attributed to the first kurgan wave, and which Merpert, in part, ascribed to the first chronological period of the early Yamnaya culture-historical province.
These early constructions, however, are not found anywhere else in the North Pontic region except for those ‘Sredni Stog elites’:
Rooves made from separate slabs with cairns are known in the Dnieper and Volga regions: In the Khvalynsk I culture, 17% of burials were superimposed with stone cairns or had a single stone marker.
Cists with cairns are known from Severskii Donets and Azov areas.
A unique cromlech is described from the Dniester-Danube area (Suvorovo).
In the remaining cases, especially for the Volga area and pre-Caucasus steppe, there are some specific variants:
Use of natural hills as a burial marker
Presence of smalll earthen or wooden constructions.
If we accept that these constructions are the first rudimentary kurgans or proto-kurgans, and that kurgans were a mark of expanding Indo-European culture, let’s see who built them first and why:
The emergence of kurgans
In his book Рождение Кургана (2012), The Emergence of the Kurgan, Sergei Korenevskiy makes a thorough analysis of the first kurgan finds.
The Novodanilovka group (ca. 4500-4000 BC), coincident with the Trypillia B1 stage, is characterized by the presence of ochre (in great quantity) in burials, as seen in Khvalynsk, as well as stone constructions in burials.
NOTE. Similarly to Rassamakin, Korenevskiy believes in the unity of North Pontic cultures, and specifically of Novodanilovka chiefs among Sredni Stog commoners, and of all of them with Khvalynsk in a Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog cultural-historical region, because of their “chronological and regional coincidence” and similar pottery, in spite of differences in burial and symbolism. So, hardly an interested party in supporting the expansion of Khvalynsk to the west, either.
Obviously, for those of us who believe that symbolism and burials do mean something beyond similar pottery decoration, in the instances where Sredni Stog appears in his text, it should be read Novodanilovka (and Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog should be read Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) instead; because he is not referring to the older Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community of the beginning of the 5th millennium, but to a very distinct group of sites related to the Khvalynsk expansion with horse symbolism at the end of the 5th millenium.
For the early Eneolithic time and the existence of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community, on the problem under consideration, the main source [of knowledge for the first kurgans] may be the Nalchik and Khvalynsk burial grounds.
The kurgans themselves were not simple pits filled with earth. There was a belief that the funerary structure was the place where the buried moved to another world. Most likely, such a place could be considered to be a generic collective cemetery.
The second important point may be that the Eneolithic era was the time of development of a prestigious economy that created its values in the form of different things. Among them were items requiring high skills or manufacturing techniques (different woolen tools, scepters, stone bracelets), as well as tools that occupy an important role in labor, war and industry (stone flat axes, arrowheads, knife-like plates and chips of flint). The decorations of the burial costume included certain iconic objects – bone plates from canine fang, pins, bone sticks with a hole- “zurki”).
Presented were a variety of beads from bone, stone, shell. Bead washers could be collected in whole garlands, thus acquiring a special value. Prestigious cult things, presumably, were copper jewelry: beads, rings, bracelets. They, like the shells, were products of the gift exchange and reflected the direct or indirect involvement of the owners.
Khvalynsk and Nalchik first marked burials
[The Nalchik burials:] with respect to the reconstruction of social relations, data are few. In general, the funerary practice of this necropolis does not reflect the position of any fighting tools in the grave. (…)
Judging by the rare ornaments from the burials of the necropolis, the population that left it was implicated in the prestigious values of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community. A more detailed picture of the era of early Eneolithic reflects the data of the Khvalynsk-type burial ground.
(…) the Khvalynsk burial ground was characterized by a system of age groups and a forming social structure based on the hierarchy of estate groups. The social organization of Khvalynians can be characterized by the stage of evolution of a small-family variant of the development of a primitive society, in which the social status of a man and a woman became closer. The role of the married woman / mother was accentuated. Archaeological signs of this process can be considered joint burials of old people and children and as part of burials with same and mixed genders.
In summary, one can arrive at the following conclusions. It is unlikely to be a mistake if we assume that the Khvalynsk burial ground was abandoned by a local community that lived on the basis of the tribal collective. Their economic activities were connected with hunting, fishing, homestead cattle breeding with an obvious acquaintance with the horse (it is not known if the object of hunting or domestication). In the mythology of the afterlife and the funerary traditions of the Khvalynians, the same egalitarianism of the forms of funerary buildings was dominant, but signs of the personification of graves began to appear, with marks in the rarest of cases with stones.
Unlike the Nalchik cemetery, in the Khvalynsk and Khlopkovsky burial grounds, new trends in assessments of the suitability of implements for funerary practice are clearly discernible. So, they expressed themselves in the appearance of rare graves with scepters, axes – buggers, stone adzes, harpoons and fishing hooks. Basically, all these symbols of the rite are associated with male burials. The least saturated with burial items with stone adzes, and they are represented in small forms. But the fact is important. Society began to pay attention to these categories of objects, linking their symbols with mythological ideas about the things of the afterlife and their functions in the “other dimension of reality” specifically as tools of war and symbols of military power or valor (axes with trunnions), spiritual power (scepters), as well as woodworking (adzes). In terms of “wealth”, these complexes were not particularly distinguished from other inventory sets.
The population that left the Khvalynsk burial ground had to do with the deficit of the era, which was copper products. The latter emphasized, apparently, the age status of some men from 40 to 60 years old and adult women. Another scarce raw material could be a sea shell (item 38) from the burial of a man aged 25-35 years.
As a result, it can be concluded that the complexes of funerary ritual of the Khvalynsk burial ground indicate the existence of ideas about a person at the time of his transition to another world, as a member of the collective of the clan (community) with the admitted individual prestige of things that emphasize his age or social status, but in the framework of the common egalitarian tradition of a collective necropolis. At this time, presumably, views were developing on the relationship of the things put in the grave with the “property” of the buried.
The aftermath of the kurgan expansion
The most important phenomenon in the Weltanschauung of the late Eneolithic population in the steppes of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia was the spread of the religious tradition, relatively new in comparison with the time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community, according to which the deceased began to go to another world in a position on his back, crocheted, in the company of ochre magic.
This position appears to be dominant in the materials of the Khvalynsk cemetery, and as a very significant – but not dominant – feature of the materials of the Nalchik cemetery. The posture on the back is crocheted, becoming typical for the Sredni Stog culture, as well as the bearers of the oldest Kurgan traditions in the Ciscaucasia and the Volga-Don region.
Our position on this issue is as follows. I can fully adhere to the opinion of B. Govedaritsa and I.V. Manzura that the transition of the population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community to the tradition of the burial crouched on their backs looks like the most important ideological innovation in the mythology of death among the local population of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia in relation to the earlier time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community.
In the funerary practice of this cultural education there is much in common with the traditions of the funerary practice of the Balkan-Danube region. At the same time, the posture pose on the back is spread more widely in the Neolithic and Eneolithic than only Western Europe. It was recorded in the necropolis of Kul-Tepe I in Azerbaijan (Abibulaev, 1982), the necropolis of Tepe Gissar in Iran (Schmidt, 1933, 1937), in burials 1, 2 in the settlement of Poylu II of Leleatepin culture in Azerbaijan (the Kura valley) (Museibli , 2010. P. 208). In other words, it is the same universal way of inhumation, like a pose on one side or a burial on the back, although not so widespread on a global scale.
From where and how such ritualism could appear in its specific carriers, it definitely cannot always be established. But let us pay attention to the fact that the peculiarity of the posture of the deceased population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community on the back is that the deceased was not simply placed on his back, he was often heavily sprinkled with ochre. The last detail of the ritual clearly has a prototype for the carriers of the Mariupol community of the Northern Black Sea Region. This suggests that such funerary practice of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community was formed on the spot, as an internal transformation of the ritual of a stretched-out body with a copious sprinkling of the bone with mineral red paint. The idea of innovation was to set the feet on the ground, which caused the knees to rise.
The consequence for the Proto-Indo-European homeland
So, from now on, when someone says “the oldest known kurgans come from Sredni Stog”, you know what that means: first, these are not the oldest ‘kurgans’, but rather ‘proto-kurgans’ (after, all, some of the first radiocarbon dates of full fledged steppe kurgans come from the Repin culture, if we don’t take the rich Maykop variant into account); and second, they were not really from Sredni Stog, but from Khvalynsk-related cultures, because the first rudimentary kurgans can be clearly traced back to Khvalynsk, Novodanilovka, Northern-Caucasus, and Suvorovo sites.
The latest genetic research on Khvalynsk- and Yamna-related migrations should have been a party for all involved in a quest to know the truth about Proto-Indo-Europeans, as it is becoming clear that their language and culture expanded from the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is a short checklist of relevant facts:
✅ Khvalynsk formed from EHG + local steppe Neolithic groups: checked.
✅ Kurgan origins and expansion from Khvalynsk: checked.
✅ Expansion of horse domestication and horse symbolism from Khvalynsk: checked.
✅ Arrival of steppe ancestry in the Balkans with Suvorovo: checked.
✅ Expansion of Khvalynsk as Early Yamna and Afanasevo: checked.
✅ Expansion of Yamna Hungary as East Bell Beakers: checked.
✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Bell Beakers: checked.
✅ Expansion of East Yamna (and admixture with CWC) in Sintashta/Potapovka: checked.
✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Andronovo/Srubna: checked.
✅ Yamna in the Balkans and steppe ancestry in Mycenaeans (in contrast with Minoans): checked.
✅ Bell Beaker expansion over Europe and later resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East Europe: checked.
All this combined is giving a clear-cut image of how Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded. More importantly, it shows – as I have said many times already – that Proto-Indo-European was a real language, spoken by an evolving and expanding community (with radical language changes beautifully coupled with archaeological expansions). The implications of this are huge, if only because we can finally get rid of all naysayers in linguistics and archaeology, who wanted to speak about ‘constellations of languages’ and ‘pots not people’.
So why would some of those who describe themselves as interested in Prehistory not accept this as the most likely picture right now? I can just think of one tiny item of the checklist, among many that are left unchecked or have been unchecked due to the latest genetic research:
❌ ‘MY haplogroup’ was involved in the expansion of ‘MY people’: Unchecked.
It is not just that this isn’t checked. It was checked by many in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and some stupid magical meaning was attributed to it. But now it has been unchecked for most Europeans, and this has caused an absurd unrest among some of them, who are now joining those who already opposed mainstream theories (e.g. supporters of the Anatolian homeland, the Iran homeland, the Indus Valley homeland, etc.) with a common aim: to spread reactionary views against the mainstream theories.
If all samples from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker had been R1a-Z645; most European Neolithic samples had shown R1b-L23 subclades; and results from Sredni Stog, Corded Ware and part of the Indo-Iranian community were of haplogroup N1c-L392 (although eventually R1a-Z645 had expanded with Indo-Iranians)… Would these people doubt all those facts from the checklist? I don’t think so.
About two months ago I stumbled upon a gem in archaeological studies related to Proto-Indo-Europeans, the book О скипетрах, о лошадях, о войне: этюды в защиту миграционной концепции М.Гимбутас (On sceptres, on horses, on war: Studies in defence of M. Gimbutas’ migration concepts), 2007, by V. A. Dergachev, from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Moldavian Republic.
Dergachev’s work dedicates 488 pages to a very specific Final Neolithic-Eneolithic period in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the most relevant parts of the book concern the nature and expansion of horses and horse domestication, horse-head scepters, and other horse-related symbology – arguably the most relevant cultural signs associated with Proto-Indo-European speakers in this period.
I haven’t had enough time to read the whole book, but I have read with interest certain important chapters.
The genetic and chronological relationship of horse-head pommel-scepters is classified with incredible detail, to the extent that one could divide subregions among those cultures using them.
Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):
The [horse-head pommel-]scepters arose originally in the depth of the Khvalynsk culture. Following the now well-known finds, they are definitely related to those of the Middle Volga group.
In their next modifications, these scepters continued to evolve and develop into the area of the Khvalynsk culture in its latest stages, and possibly later.
Simultaneously, with the same modifications, these scepters “are introduced” into common usage in the Novodanilovka culture, which in its spread by one wing was in contact and interspersed immediately with the area of Khvalynsk remains; and on the other hand, far in the south – in the Pre-Kuban and Ciscaucasian regions – within the range of the Domaikopska culture; and in the west – in the Carpathian – Post-Kuban – with the areas of early agricultural cultures Cucuteni A – Trypillia B1, Gumelnița-Karanovo VI.
The simultaneous presence in the areas of the Ciscaucasian, Carpatho-Danubian, and especially Novodinilovka cultures, whose carriers continue the Khvalynian traditions of making stone scepters, and the scepters themselves (in their non-functional implication in the local cultural environment), all definitely allow us to view these findings as imported Novodanilovka objects.
Cultural relevance of scepters
The text goes on to make an international comparison of scepters and their relevance as a cultural phenomenon, with its strong symbolic functions as divine object, its use in times of peace, in times of war, and in a system of ritual power.
Especially interesting is the section dedicated to Agamemnon’s scepter in the Iliad, one of the oldest Indo-European epics. Here is an excerpt from Illiad II.100-110 (see here the Greek version) with the scepter’s human and divine genealogy:
Then among them lord Agamemnon uprose, bearing in his hands the sceptre which Hephaestus had wrought with toil. Hephaestus gave it to king Zeus, son of Cronos, and Zeus gave it to the messenger Argeïphontes; and Hermes, the lord, gave it to Pelops, driver of horses, and Pelops in turn gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the host; and Atreus at his death left it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes again left it to Agamemnon to bear, that so he might be lord of many isles and of all Argos.
About the horse
His studies on horse remains show an interesting, detailed quantitative and statistical approach to the importance and (cultural and chronological) origin of horses (and likely horse domestication) in each culture.
Although the part on horse remains is probably a bit outdated today, after many recent studies of Eneolithic steppe sites (see here one example), it still shows the relative distribution of horse bone remains among different steppe cultures, which is probably similar to what could be reported today:
Even more interesting is the relationship of the distribution of horse remains with archaeological complexes and horse-related symbols. Some excerpts from the conclusions of this section:
Accounting and analysis of archeo-zoological and archaeological data proper for a horse for a vast area from the Tisza and the Middle Danube to the Caucasus and the Urals (which includes the main cultures of the western agricultural, Caucasian, and Eastern European cultural zones) clearly points to the eastern cultural zone as a zone of the originally the most important social significance of a horse as the only possible zone of the earliest domestication, horseback riding and all-round use of a horse. In relation to the eastern, the western land – the ancient Carpatho-Danubian or the Caucasian cultural zones – are secondary and subordinate to the first on the phenomenon under consideration.
The first quantitative leap in the manifestation of the remnants of a horse, marking itself and the first qualitative changes in the social status of this animal, is due mainly to the Middle Volga culture of the developed Neolithic of the Middle Volga region (in part, the Southwest Urals), which, accordingly, determine the cultural context, time and geographic region – or, the initial, single and main epicenter of the process of taming and domestication of a horse.
On the one hand, the subsequent substantial increase in the number of horse remnants, and, on the other, the wide inclusion of the horse in cults, rituals, funerary rituals (horse pendants, ornamented metacarpus, horse bones, sacrificial altars) in the Samara culture of the Early Eneolithic of the same region definitely indicates the continuing increase in the social significance of this species of animal, which was most likely expressed in the final design of a specialized horse breeding culture and, accordingly, in a wide range of applications using a horse for riding. At the same time, we can observe the beginning of the transfer of the already domesticated horse from the original historical and geographic epicenter to other cultures of the eastern cultural zone and, in part, the cultures closest to the periphery of this zone, into the western agricultural zone (Bolgrad-Aldeni P, Pre-CuCuteni-Trypillya A) .
Middle Eneolithic – early stages. One of the leading places in the remnants of the horse is in the Middle Volga region, the Khvalynsk culture. Genetically related to the Samara, the Khvalynsk I culture preserves the traditions of the ritual, cultural meaning, the treatment of the image of a horse in funerals (altars, horse bones, funerary rituals). But, At the same time, it is in this precise culture that the image of the horse, included in the social symbolism (horse-head pommel-scepter), for the first time it acquires a special, maximum social significance. That is why the appearance and subsequent widespread distribution of the social symbols in Novodanilovka-type objects can definitely be considered as another qualitative leap in the social significance of a horse – its use for military purposes for close and distant expeditions. And such an interpretation is fully confirmed from the analysis of Novodanilovka-type objects, which is the subject of discussion.
Judging by the osteological data and the typological evolution of the horse-head scepters, the Khvalynian culture and remains of the Novodanilovka type are already associated with the relatively widespread and intensive findings of domesticated horses in various areas of the eastern cultural zone (semi-desert regions of the Lower Volga and the Caspian region – Khvalynsk culture, forest-steppe and steppe from the Volga to the Dnieper – Sredni Stog, Repin cultures), and the western – agricultural (Gumelnitsa, Cucuteni A-Tripolye Bl), and the Caucasus (Pre-Maykop) zones, where, however, the horse played a very modest role.
From the functional point of view, according to the sum of the data, there is no reason to doubt that in the eastern zone the horse is already present in the Late Neolithic period. Since its domestication and the emergence of a specialized horse breeding, it has been also widely used for meat, milk and dairy products (including the traditional hippace tradition of the later Scythians), and since the beginning of the early Eneolithic for transport and for riding purposes. Another thing is the horse as a means of war, a means of distant travel and expansion. The beginning of the use of a horse for these purposes, in the opinion of the author, is determined by the appearance of social symbolism in the form of horse-head scepters, and is most fully reflected in the memories of the Khvalynsk culture and, in particular, the Novodanilovka type. Concerning western or Caucasian cultural zones related to Khvalynsk, the horse is thought to have been linked to the eastern region, used mainly for riding, as a means of transport and for communication, which, however, does not exclude its use for meat.
These are the main conclusions-interpretations, suggesting the analysis and archaeological and other sources containing information about the horse. And as for our pommel-scepters, then, as can be seen from these sources, the main thing is that the culture of the Middle Volga region, according to all the data, definitely accumulates in itself the longest traditions associated with the gradual increase of social significance of the horse. And if so, this circumstance motivates the possibility or necessity of appearing in the environment of the bearers of this culture of unique signs-symbols that carry within themselves or reflect the image of this animal as an extremely significant social reality. The revealed and characterized quality, as a matter of fact, fill or open by themselves the hypothetical elements we have previously identified, the meanings of that particularity, folded in the social sign-symbol, in our case – the horse-head-shaped scepter.
The relevance of Dergachev’s work
As you certainly know by now if you are a usual reader of this blog, there were two other seminal publications that same year correcting and expanding Gimbutas’ model:
Each one of these works taken independently (especially the books) may give a different version of Proto-Indo-European migrations; Anthony and Dergachev are heirs of Gimbutas’ simplistic kurgan-based model, and of other previous, now rejected ideas, and they reflect them whenever they don’t deal with first-hand investigation (and even sometimes when interpreting their own data). Taken together – and especially in combination with recent genetic studies – , though, they describe a clearer, solider model of how Proto-Indo-Europeans developed and expanded.
Anthony’s publication overshadowed the importance of Dergachev’s work for the English-speaking world – and by extension for the rest of us. However, V. A. Dergachev’s updated study of his previous work on steppe cultures shows the right, thorough, and diligent way of describing the expansion of early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains with the horse and horse symbolism into the Caucasus and the Lower Danube (like the seminal work of Harrison & Heyd 2007 described the expansion of Yamna settlers with East Bell Beakers, culturally opposed to Corded Ware and to the Proto-Beakers). On the other hand, Anthony’s broad-brush, superficial description of thousands of years of potential Indo-European-speaking peoples gave a migration picture that – although generally right (like radiocarbon-based Iberian origin of the Bell Beaker culture was right) – was bound to be wrong in some essential details, as we are seeing in archaeology and genetics.
NOTE. As I have said before, Anthony’s interpretations of Sredni Stog culture representing a sort of ‘peasants’ under the rule of Novodanilovka chiefs was based on old theories of Telegin, who changed his mind – as did the rest of the Russian school well before the publication of Dergachev’s book, considering both as distinct cultural phenomena. Anthony selected the old interpretation, not to follow a Gimbutas / Kristiansen model of Sredni Stog being Indo-European and expanding with GAC into Corded Ware (because, for him, Corded Ware peoples were originally non-Indo-European speakers): he seems to have done it to prove that Proto-Anatolian traveled indeed through the North Pontic area, i.e. to avoid the regional ‘gap’ in the maps, if you like. Then with the expansion of Repin over the area, Sredni Stog peoples would have been absorbed. With genetic investigation, as we know, and with this kind of detailed archaeological studies, the traditional preference for “large and early” IE territories – proper of the mid-20th century – are no longer necessary.
We already had in 2016 a Samara hunter-gatherer sample dated ca. 5600 BC, representative of EHG ancestry, of haplogroup R1b1a. We also had three early Khvalynsk samples from Samara Eneolithic dated ca. 4600 BC, with a drift towards (what we believe now is) a population from the Caucasus, showing haplogroups Q1a, R1a1(xM198), and R1b1a, the last one described in its paper as from a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves (of R1b-L23 lineages), and therefore likely a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, while the R1a1 sample showed scarce decoration, and does not belong to the M417 lineage expanded later in Sredni Stog or Corded Ware.
In 2017 we knew of the Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, from Alexandria, of a precise subclade (L657) of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4000 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog (or maybe Kvitjana) culture. This sample alone makes it quite likely that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades happened earlier than expected, and that it was associated with movements along forest-steppe cultures, most likely along the Upper Dniester or Dnieper-Dniester corridor up to the Forest Zone.
We have now confirmation that Khvalynsk samples from the Yekaterinovka Cape settlement ca. 4250-4000 BC were reported by a genetic lab (to the archaeological team responsible) as being of R1b-L23 subclades, although the precise clades (reported as P312 and U106) are possibly not accurate.
NOTE. Curiously enough, and quite revealing for the close relationship of scepters to the ritual source of power for Khvalynsk chieftains (political and/or religious leaders), the scepter found in the elite burial 45 of the Ekaterinovka cape (a riverine settlement) shows a unique zoomorphic carving, possibly resembling a toothed fish or reptile, rather than the most common horse-related motifs of the time.
With Wang et al. (2018), a real game-changer in the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog (and also in the Yamna/Bell Beaker – Corded Ware) opposition, we also know that two Steppe Eneolithic samples from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont, dated ca. 4300-4100 BC, show haplogroup R1b1. Although its direct connection to the expansion of early Khvalynsk with horse-related symbolism is not clear from the archaeological information shared (none), this is what the paper has to say about them:
The two distinct clusters are already visible in the oldest individuals of our temporal transect, dated to the Eneolithic period (~6300-6100 yBP/4300-4100 calBCE). Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonjuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbor Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherer related ancestry (EHG and CHG, respectively), are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khalynsk II and the Samara region19, 27. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG/Iranian-like ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills.
In contrast, the oldest individuals from the northern mountain flank itself, which are three first degree-related individuals from the Unakozovskaya cave associated with the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic culture (analysis label ‘Eneolithic Caucasus’) show mixed ancestry mostly derived from sources related to the Anatolian Neolithic (orange) and CHG/Iran Neolithic (green) in the ADMIXTURE plot (Fig. 2C). While similar ancestry profiles have been reported for Anatolian and Armenian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals20, 23, this result suggests the presence of the mixed Anatolian/Iranian/CHG related ancestry north of the Great Caucasus Range as early as ~6500 years ago.
During the late 5th millennium BC, cultural groups of the Eneolithic occupied the northern circumpontic area and the areas between the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga. For the first time, individual inhumations were placed below low burial mounds (Rassamakin, 2011). During the 4th millennium BC, the area split into two cultural spheres. In the northern steppe area communities continued with the burial practice of crouched inhumations below low mounds, with this culturally transforming into the early Pit Grave culture. In contrast, in the Caucasian foothill zone and the neighbouring steppe, the Majkop-Novosvobodnaya culture emerged (Kohl and Trifonov, 2014). Similarly, during the 3rd millennium BC, two cultural spheres influenced the area: The North Caucasian Culture dominated the Caucasian foothills for the next five centuries, while in the steppe area between the Lower Don and the Caucasus, regional groups of the Catacomb Culture existed side-by-side.
Burials of the Eneolithic epoch (late 5th millennium BC)
The oldest group of individuals with trepanations are found in the North Caucasian variant of the late circumpontic Eneolithic and date to the last third of the 5th millennium BC (Korenevsky, 2012). Burials of this epoch are inhumations in shallow pits, chiefly without burial goods, but covered with large quantities of red ochre. Of special interest is a collective burial of seven individuals from VP 1/12, who were interred together in a secondary burial ritual. The sites of Tuzluki, Mukhin, Voinuchka, Progress, and Sengileevskii all belong to this period.
Without the datasets to test different models, you can only imagine what is happening with the processed, secondary data we have. The position of Eneolithic Steppe cluster in the PCA (probably Khvalynsk-related peoples already influenced by the absorbed, previous Caucasus population), as well as other potential Caucasus groups intermediate between Steppe Maykop and Caucasus Maykop (as suggested by other ancient and modern Caucasus samples), may indicate that Yamna is between Khvalynsk and such intermediate Caucasus populations (as the source of the additional CHG-related ancestry) and – as the paper itself states – that it also received additional EEF contribution, probably from the western cultures absorbed during these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations (or later during Khvalynsk/Repin migrations).
Also interpreted in light of these early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations of horse riding chieftains (and their close contacts with the Caucasus), you can clearly see where the similar CHG-like contribution to Ukraine Eneolithic and other North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (which later contributed to Proto-Corded Ware peoples) must have come from. The simplistically reported proportions of EHG:CHG:EEF ancestry might be similar in many of these groups, but the precise origin and evolution of such ancestral components is certainly not the same: statistical methods will eventually show this, when (and if) we have many more samples, but for the moment Y-DNA is the most obvious indicator of such differences.
What lies between the formation of that early Eneolithic cultural-historical community, and what we see in archaeology and genetics in Middle and Late Eneolithic steppe cultures, is the radical differentiation of western (Ukraine Eneolithic, mainly forest-steppe) and eastern (Samara and Khvalynsk/Repin, mainly steppe) cultures and peoples, i.e. precisely the period of differentiation of an eastern, Proto-Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk community (that expanded with the horse and horse-related symbols) from a western, probably Early Proto-Uralic speaking community of the North Pontic forest-steppe cultural area.
NOTE. I am not against a Neolithic ‘steppe’ language. But this steppe language was spoken before and/or during the first Neolithisation wave, and should be associated with Indo-Uralic. If there was no Indo-Uralic language, then some communities would have developed Early Proto-Indo-European and Early Proto-Uralic side by side, in close contact to allow for dozens of loanwords or wanderwords to be dated to this period (where, simplistically, PIH *H corresponds to EPU *k, with some exceptions).
The convergence that we see in PCA and Admixture of Yamna and the earliest Baltic LN / Corded Ware ‘outlier’ samples (if not directly related exogamy of some Baltic LN/CWC groups with Yamna migrants, e.g. those along the Prut), must be traced back to the period of genetic drift that began precisely with these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansions, also closely associated with populations of the Caucasus, thus bringing North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (probably behind Proto-Corded Ware peoples) nearer to Khvalynsk, and both by extension to Yamna.
Steppe Eneolithic peoples were thus no different to other previous and posterior expanding groups, and ancestry is going to be similar for people living in neighbouring regions, so Y-DNA will remain the essential tool to distinguish different peoples (see here a summary of Proto-Indo-Europeans expanding R1b-L23).
We are nevertheless still seeing “R1b zombies” (a quite appropriate name I read on Anthrogenica) still arguing for a Western European origin of R1b-L23 based on EEF-like ancestry and few steppe-related contribution found in Iberian Bell Beakers (read what David Reich has to say on this question); and “OIT zombies” still arguing for IVC representing Proto-Indo-European, based on Iran_N ancestry and the minimal steppe ancestry-related impact on certain ancient Asian cultures, now partly helped by “Caucasus homeland zombies” with the new PIE=CHG model; apart from many other pet theory zombies rising occasionally from their graves here and there. Let’s hope that this virus of the undead theories does not spread too strongly to the R1a-Indo-European association, when the official data on Khvalynsk, West Yamna, and Yamna Hungary come out and show that they were dominated by R1b-L23 lineages.
Because we need to explore in detail the continuation of Khvalynsk-related (potential Proto-Anatolian) cultures in the Lower Danube and the Balkans, e.g. from Cernavoda I to Cernavoda III, then maybe to Ezero, and then to Troy; as well as the specific areas of Late Indo-European expansions associated with Early Yamna settlers turning into Bell Beakers, Balkan EBA, and Steppe MLBA-associated cultures. There is a lot of work to do on proper definition of Bronze Age cultures and their potential dialects, as well as convergence and divergence trends, and not only of Indo-European, but also of Uralic-speaking communities derived from Corded Ware cultures.
If we let the narratives of the 2000s in Genetics (in combination with the 1960s in Archaeology) dominate the conversation, then a lot of time will be absurdly lost until reality imposes itself. And it will.
EDIT (2 JUL 2018): Some sentences corrected, and some information added to the original post.
In 1898, two megalithic tombs containing graves of a local social elite dated to the Early Bronze Age were discovered by N. I. Veselovsky near the village of Tsarskaya (modern Novosvobodnaya, Republic of Adygeya) (Fig. 1 (a)) (Baye 1900, 43–59; IAC 1901, 33–8; Sagona 2018, 281–97).
Radiocarbon dates place both tombs within the Novosvobodnaya phase of the Maykop culture, between c. 3200 and 2900 BC (Trifonov et al. 2017). Along with the human remains (one adult individual was interred in each dolmen), the tombs yielded rich funerary offerings, including artefacts made of gold, silver and semi-precious stones. (…) This paper presents results of a technical analysis of just one type of artefact, from kurgan 2 at Tsarskaya: thin-walled jointless beads made from gold.
Ever since M. I. Rostovtzeff noted a stylistic similarity between Maykop art and Sumerian art (Rostovtzeff 1920) and M. V. Andreeva described this phenomenon within a broad cultural and chronological context (Andreeva 1977), new archaeological studies have only extended this picture of a vast cultural province that appeared between the Caucasus and the northern fringe of Western Asia (Trifonov 1987). The discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture (Narimanov 1987) and Maykop-type kurgans in Azerbaijan (Lyonnet et al. 2008) and adjacent Iran (Muscarella 1969, 1971, 2003; Trifonov 2000) has confirmed the spatial and temporal unity of this phenomenon as a precondition for free circulation of cultural patterns and technical innovations across vast areas of the Caucasus and Western Asia. Jewellery made of gemstones and precious metals, primarily gold, was probably one such innovation.
Attempts to demarcate the historical region where the Maykop culture emerged and developed have emphasized the role of Upper Mesopotamia in the development of the Sumerian civilization and the definition of a northern centre of urbanization, independent from the centres of the south (Rothman 2002; Oats et al. 2007). The turn of the fourth millennium BC saw the development of various cultural traditions in south-east Anatolia, north-east Syria and north-west Iran; on the northern fringe, these traditions manifested themselves through the Maykop culture. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first high-status burials containing gold and gemstone jewellery (including carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli) appear in these northern, rather than southern, centres in the first quarter of 4000 BC (e.g., Tepe Gawra, graves 109, 110) (Piasnall 2002). With regard to funeral rites and stylistic characteristics of jewellery pieces, these graves have many parallels with early Maykop burials (Munchaev 1975, 329; Trifonov 1987, 20).
It still remains unclear if the goldsmiths of Upper Mesopotamia mastered the technique of making thin-walled jointless beads. The gold beads from Tepe Gawra are described as spherical or ball-shaped, but their maximum diameter (5–8mm) always exceeds the length of the bore (3–4mm) (Tobler 1950, 89, 199, pl. LV, a). On the whole, these measurements are consistent with the proportions and sizes of some Maykop beads.(…)
It is quite possible that a distinctive technique of making thin-walled jointless beads from gold was a regional technological development of Maykop culture goldsmiths, within a wider tradition of Near East metalwork, as a type of production regulated by ritual beliefs (Gell 1992; Benzel 2013).
These deep-rooted Near East traditions of ritualization of the production and use of jewellery pieces made of gold, silver and gemstones in the Maykop culture, on the one hand, maintained familiar canons of ritual behaviour and, on the other, made perception of sophisticated symbolism of gemstones more difficult for neighbouring cultures with different living standards, levels of social development and value systems to understand. The jewellery traditions of the Maykop culture had no successors in the Caucasus or the adjacent steppes. In the third millennium BC, the goldsmiths of Europe and Asia had to reinvent the technique of making thin-walled jointless gold beads from scratch (Born et al. 2009).
Related excerpts, about the climate of an adjacent region of the Caucasus before, during, and after the Maykop culture:
The 7th millennium BC featured a warm and arid climate, so that time corresponds to the steppe landscapes in the final stage of the Mesolithic. It is likely that the formation of a producing economy in the mountainous zone of Dagestan gradually emerged against this background. In the Neolithic period, the area remained almost treeless, as it was still warm and quite dry. However, archaeological data indicates that long-term settlements with well-developed farming spread in the mountainous zone around 6200-5500 BC.
The beginning of increasing humidity and the appearance of deciduous forests corresponds to the early Chalcolithic period of the Eastern Caucasus. It is the most poorly studied period in the history of this region. Covering a time span of 2000 years, this period was the least saturated by archaeological sites. At the start of this period, only the stands of herdsman in the mountain zone are known, dating to the second half of the 6th millennium BC (Gadgiev, 1991). It is still not clear whether the mountains were not settled in such a favorable climatic stage. The uncertainty may be due to the fact that people have chosen other ecological niches, or it could be we simply do not have data due to the insufficient archaeological survey of the territory. It is surprising that the turn to drier climate and the reduction of deciduous forests in the inner mountainous part of Dagestan, the large, long-term settlements like Ginchi emerge with pronounced specialization in agriculture (Fig. 7 panel (2)) (Gadgiev, 1991).
After the dry climate, simultaneously with cooling, the subsequent spread of pine forests coincides with the beginning of expansion of Kura-Araxes culture from the territory of Georgia through Chechnya to the mountainous Dagestan. Debates on the impact of past climate on Kura-Araxes societies in Transcaucasus have a long history (for the comprehensive review see, for example, Connor and Kvavadze, 2014 and references therein). In general, it is clear that after 3000 BC, forest cover in most areas of the Kura-Araxes region in the Transcaucasia reached its maximum extent in the Holocene (Connor and Kvavadze, 2014). However, at the same time lakes in Central Anatolia began to dry out and Caspian Sea levels fell (Roberts et al. 2011; Leroy et al. 2013), and arid conditions were identified in mountainous Dagestan in the 4th millennium. Clearly the regional moisture balance shifted in the Eastern Caucasus only in the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC (this study). The only available radiocarbon dating of Dagestan confirms that the agricultural settlements of the Early Bronze Age appear not in the middle of the 4th millennium BC, but in the early 3rd millennium BC; that is not earlier than the stage of increasing moistening and the appearance of pine forests.
Analysis of a sacrificed and interred domestic donkey from an Early Bronze Age (EB) IIIB (c. 2800–2600 BCE) domestic residential neighborhood at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, indicate the presence of bit wear on the Lower Premolar 2 (LPM2). This is the earliest evidence for the use of a bit among early domestic equids, and in particular donkeys, in the Near East. The mesial enamel surfaces on both the right and left LPM2 of the particular donkey in question are slightly worn in a fashion that suggests that a dental bit (metal, bone, wood, etc.) was used to control the animal. Given the secure chronological context of the burial (beneath the floor of an EB IIIB house), it is suggested that this animal provides the earliest evidence for the use of a bit on an early domestic equid from the Near East.
In contrast to what is known about the use of donkeys for transportation, relatively little is known about their use for riding during this early period . Riding is possible, but fast riding is difficult without some kind of bridle with reins to grasp. Thus, the development of the bit becomes an essential part of the mechanism to control and ride an equid, whether horse, donkey or otherwise [38–41]. While some have tried to argue based on cave art for the presence of bridles (including cheek straps and potentially bits) on equids as far back as the Upper Palaeolithic [42, 43], this perspective has not been accepted [44, 45]. Instead, the weight of the evidence for bridles points toward the Eneolithic and Bronze Age of Kazakhstan and Russia, c. 3500 BCE for horses, not donkeys [38, 40, 46–50].But, horses are not the earliest domestic equids to appear in the Near East. This role is reserved for the ass/donkey [20, 32, 51].
The earliest unambiguous evidence for bridles and bits in equids in the Near East appear only in the Middle Bronze Age [52, 62, 63], and horses become common only in cuneiform texts and the archaeological record after the turn of the second millennium BC . For example, at the Middle Bronze Age site of Tel Haror, a metal bit was found associated with a donkey burial .
Beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, there is a variety of sources that demonstrate that asses were being ridden. In fact, they seem to be the preferred animal ridden for elites in the Early and Middle Bronze Age of Mesopotamia. The earliest clear association of asses being ridden by elites comes from the Old Babylonian period (MBA, 18th century BCE—the Kings of Mari, Syria) . Similarly, by the beginning of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, various texts and iconographic images (e.g. the stela of Serabit el-Khadem) from Egypt and petroglyphs from southern Sinai unambiguously depict and/or describe elites riding asses [5, 65, 66]. The later biblical narrative depicts donkeys carrying the biblical Patriarchs (Abraham), various leaders (such as Saul before he became king), prophets, and judges of Israel [16, 67, 68].
Horses became the standard royal riding animal during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages as they became more prevalent. In later periods, donkeys became associated with humility and the lower classes, and leaders emanating from it (e.g. Jesus).
These finds suggest that bit use on donkeys was already present in the early to mid-3rd millennium BCE, long before the appearance of horses in the ancient Near East. Thus, the appearance of bit use in donkeys in the ancient Near East is not connected to appearance of the horse, contrary to previous suggestions (as already noted by ). As such, the impact of the domestic donkey on the cultures of this region and the evolution of early complex societies cannot be underestimated. As with plant and animal domestication, the use of donkeys created a surplus of human labor that allowed for the easy transport of people and goods across the entire Near East. These changes continue to permeate the economic, social, and political aspects of even modern life in many third world countries [3, 8, 9, 93, 94].
So, the first case of equid riding in the Near East, near two of the cradles of civilization (Sumeria and Egypt), is a donkey from the early third millennium BC. Not much in favour of horse domestication (and still less for horse riding) expanding from Norh Iran or the Southern Caucasus to the north.
NOTE. The recent papers of the Copenhagen group made yet another controversial interpretation of genomic findings (see here): they support multiple simultaneous origins for horse-riding technique, in Khvalynsk and Botai, based on the lack of genetic connection between both human populations, with which I can’t agree. Based on the similar time of appearance and the geographic proximity, I think the most likely explanation is expansion of the technique from one to the other, probably – as supported by Anthony’s investigation – from Khvalynsk to neighbouring cultures.
I think the essential message we can extract from the paper is that the Caucasus was a long-lasting cultural and genetic barrier, although (obviously) it was not insurmontable.
Our results show that at the time of the eponymous grave mound of Maykop, the North Caucasus piedmont region was genetically connected to the south. Even without direct ancient DNA data from northern Mesopotamia, the new genetic evidence suggests an increased assimilation of Chalcolithic individuals from Iran, Anatolia and Armenia and those of the Eneolithic Caucasus during 6000-4000 calBCE23, and thus likely also intensified cultural connections. Within this sphere of interaction, it is possible that cultural influences and continuous subtle gene flow from the south formed the basis of Maykop.
Also, unlike more recent times, the North Caucasian piedmont and foothill of the Caucasus region was more strongly connected to Northern Iran than to the steppe, at least until the Bronze Age.
(…) our data shows that the northern flanks were consistently linked to the Near East and had received multiple streams of gene flow from the south, as seen e.g. during the Maykop, Kura-Araxes and late phase of the North Caucasus culture.
Northern Caucasus dominated by R1b, southern Caucasus by J and G2
The first samples from the Eneolithic (one ca. 4300 BC?, the other ca. 4100 BC) are R1b1, without further subclades, so it is difficult to say if they were V88. On the PCA, they seem to be an important piece of the early Khvalynsk -> early Yamna transition period, since they cluster closer to (or even among) subsequent Yamna samples.
From 3000 BC onwards, all samples from the Northern Caucasus group of Yamna are R1b-M269, which right now is probably no surprise for anyone.
The Catacomb culture is dominated by R1b-Z2103, which agrees with what we saw in the unclassified Ukraine Eneolithic sample. However, the new samples (clustering close to Yamna, but with slightly ‘to the south’ of it) don’t seem to cluster closely to that first sample, so that one may still remain a real ‘outlier’, showing incoming influence (through exogamy) from the north.
If anyone was still wondering, no R1a in any of the samples, either. This, and the homogeneous R1b-Z2103 community in Catacomb (a culture in an intermediate region between Late Yamna to the West, and Poltavka to the East), together with Poltavka dominated by R1b-Z2103, too, should put an end to the idea that Steppe MLBA (Sintashta-Petrovka/Potapovka) somehow formed in the North Pontic steppe and appeared directly in the Volga-Ural region. A Uralic/Indo-Iranian community it is, then.
The admixed population from the Caucasus probably points to an isolated region of diverse peoples and languages even in this period, which justifies the strong differences among the historic language families attested in the Caucasus.
Those western “Yamna outliers”, as I expected, were part of some late Khvalynsk/early Yamna groups that cluster “to the south” of eastern Yamna samples:
Another important observation is that all later individuals in the steppe region, starting with Yamnaya, deviate from the EHG-CHG admixture cline towards European populations in the West. This documents that these individuals had received Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, as documented by quantitative tests and recently also shown for two Yamnaya individuals from Ukraine (Ozera) and one from Bulgaria24. For the North Caucasus region, this genetic contribution could have occurred through immediate contact with groups in the Caucasus or further south. An alternative source, explaining the increase in WHG-related ancestry, would be contact with contemporaneous Chalcolithic/EBA farming groups at the western periphery of the Yamnaya culture distribution area, such as Globular Amphora and Tripolye (Cucuteni–Trypillia) individuals from Ukraine, which also have been shown to carry Anatolian Neolithic farmer-derived ancestry24.
On the other hand, it is interesting that – although no information is released about these samples – Yamna Bulgaria is now a clear outlier, among very “Yamnaya”-like Yamna settlers from Hungary, most likely from the Carpathian basin, and new Yamna LCA/EBA samples, possibly from Late Yamna (see them also marked in the PCA above):
This is part I of two posts on the most recent data concerning the earliest known Indo-European migrations.
Anatolian in Armi
I am reading in forums about “Kroonen’s proposal” of Anatolian in the 3rd millennium. That is false. The Copenhagen group (in particular the authors of the linguistic supplement, Kroonen, Barjamovic, and Peyrot) are merely referencing Archi (2011. “In Search of Armi”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 63: 5–34) in turn using transcriptions from Bonechi (1990. “Aleppo in età arcaica; a proposito di un’opera recente”. Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici sul Vicino Oriente Antico 7: 15–37.), who asserted the potential Anatolian origin of the terms. This is what Archi had to say about this:
Most of these personal names belong to a name-giving tradition different from that of Ebla; Arra-ti/tulu(m) is attested also at Dulu, a neighbouring city-state (Bonechi 1990b: 22–25).28 We must, therefore, deduce that Armi belonged to a marginal, partially Semitized linguistic area different from the ethno-linguistic region dominated by Ebla. Typical are masculine personal names ending in -a-du: A-la/li-wa-du/da, A-li/lu-wa-du, Ba-mi-a-du, La-wadu, Mi-mi-a-du, Mu-lu-wa-du. This reminds one of the suffix -(a)nda, -(a)ndu, very productive in the Anatolian branch of Indo-European (Laroche 1966: 329). Elements such as ali-, alali-, lawadu-, memi-, mula/i- are attested in Anatolian personal names of the Old Assyrian period (Laroche 1966: 26–27, 106, 118, 120).
This was used by Archi to speculatively locate the state of Armi, in or near Ebla territory, which could correspond with the region of modern north-western Syria:
The onomastic tradition of Armi, so different from that of Ebla and her allies (§ 5), obliges us to locate this city on the edges of the Semitized area and, thus, necessarily north of the line running through Hassuwan – Ursaum – Irritum – Harran. If Armi were to be found at Banat-Bazi, it would have represented an anomaly within an otherwise homogenous linguistic scenario.34
Taken as a whole, the available information suggests that Armi was a regional state, which enjoyed a privileged relationship with Ebla: the exchange of goods between the two cities was comparable only to that between Ebla and Mari. No other state sent so many people to Ebla, especially merchants, lú-kar. It is only a hypothesis that Armi was the go-between for Ebla and for the areas where silver and copper were extracted.
This proposal is similar to the one used to support Indo-Aryan terminology in Mittanni (ca. 16th-14th c. BC), so the scarce material should not pose a problem to those previously arguing about the ‘oldest’ nature of Indo-Aryan.
NOTE. On the other hand, the theory connecting ‘mariannu‘, a term dated to 1761 BC (referenced also in the linguistic supplement), and put in relation with PIIr. *arya–, seems too hypothetical for the moment, although there is a clear expansion of Aryan-related terms in the Middle East that could support one or more relevant eastern migration waves of Indo-Aryans from Asia.
Potential routes of Anatolian migration
Once we have accepted that Anatolian is not Late PIE – and that only needed a study of Anatolian archaisms, not the terminology from Armi – , we can move on to explore the potential routes of expansion.
On the Balkan route
A current sketch of the dots connecting Khvalynsk with Anatolia is as follows.
Then we have Cernavoda I (ca. 3850-3550 BC), a culture potentially derived from the earlier expansion of Suvorovo chiefs, as shown in cultural similarities with preceding cultures and Yamna, and also in the contacts with the North Pontic steppe cultures (read a a recent detailed post on this question).
We also have proof of genetic inflow from the steppe into populations of cultures near those suggested to be heirs of those dominated by Suvorovo chiefs, from the 5th millennium BC (in Varna I ca. 4630 BC, and Smyadovo ca. 4500 BC, see image below).
If these neighbouring Balkan peoples of ca. 4500 BC are taken as proxies for Proto-Anatolians, then it becomes quite clear why Old Hittite samples dated 3,000 years after this migration event of elite chiefs could show no or almost no ancestry from Europe (for this question, read my revision of Lazaridis’ preprint).
NOTE. A full account of the crisis in the lower Danube, as well as the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, is available in Anthony (2007).
The southern Balkans and Anatolia
The later connection of Cernavoda II-III and related cultures (and potentially Ezero) with Troy, on the other hand, is still blurry. But, even if a massive migration of Common Anatolian is found to happen from the Balkans into Anatolia in the late 4th / beginning of the 3rd millennium, the people responsible for this expansion could show a minimal trace of European ancestry.
Earlier third millennium cal BCE is the period of development of interconnected Early Bronze Age societies in Eurasia, which economic and social structures expressed variants of pre-state political structures, named in the specialized literature tribes and chiefdoms. In this work new arguments will be added to the chiefdom model of third millennium cal BC societies of Yunatsite culture in the Central Balkans from the perspectives of the interrelations between Dubene (south central Bulgaria) and Troy (northwest Turkey) wealth expression.
Possible explanations of the similarity in the wealth expression between Troy and Yunatsite chiefdoms is the direct interaction between the political elite. However, the golden and silver objects in the third millennium cal BCE in the Eastern Mediterranean are most of all an expression of economic wealth. This is the biggest difference between the early state and chiefdoms in the third millennium cal BCE in Eurasia and Africa. The literacy and the wealth expression in the early states was politically centralized, while the absence of literacy and wider distribution of the wealth expression in the chiefdoms of the eastern Mediterranean are indicators, that wider distribution of wealth and the existed stable subsistence layers prevented the formation of states and the need to regulate the political systems through literacy.
The only way to link Common Anatolians to their Proto-Anatolian (linguistic) ancestors would therefore be to study preceding cultures and their expansions, until a proper connecting route is found, as I said recently.
These late commercial contacts in the south-eastern Balkans (Nikolova also offers a simplified presentation of data, in English) are yet another proof of how Common Anatolian languages may have further expanded into Anatolia.
NOTE. One should also take into account the distribution of modern R1b-M269* and L23* subclades (i.e. those not belonging to the most common subclades expanding with Yamna), which seem to peak around the Balkans. While those may just belong to founder effects of populations preceding Suvorovo or related to Yamna migrants, the Balkans is a region known to have retained Y-DNA haplogroup diversity, in contrast with other European regions.
On a purely linguistic aspect, there are strong Hattic and Hurrian influences on Anatolian languages, representing a unique layer that clearly differentiates them from LPIE languages, pointing also to different substrates behind each attested Common Anatolian branch or individual language:
Phonetic changes, like the appearance of /f/ and /v/.
Split ergativity: Hurrian is ergative, Hattic probably too.
Increasing use of enclitic pronoun and particle chains after first stressed word: in Hattic after verb, in Hurrian after nominal forms.
Almost obligatory use of clause initial and enclitic connectors: e.g. semantic and syntactic identity of Hattic pala/bala and Hittite nu.
It seems that the Danish group is now taking a stance in favour of a Maykop route (from the linguistic supplement):
The period of Proto-Anatolian linguistic unity can now be placed in the 4th millennium BCE and may have been contemporaneous with e.g. the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE), which influenced the formation and apparent westward migration of the Yamnaya and maintained commercial and cultural contact with the Anatolian highlands (Kristiansen et al. 2018).
In fact, they have data to support this:
The EHG ancestry detected in individuals associated with both Yamnaya (3000–2400 BCE) and the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE) (in prep.) is absent from our Anatolian specimens, suggesting that neither archaeological horizon constitutes a suitable candidate for a “homeland” or “stepping stone” for the origin or spread of Anatolian Indo- European speakers to Anatolia. However, with the archaeological and genetic data presented here, we cannot reject a continuous small-scale influx of mixed groups from the direction of the Caucasus during the Chalcolithic period of the 4th millennium BCE.
It will not be surprising to find not only EHG, but also R1b-L23 subclades there. In my opinion, though, the most likely source of EHG ancestry in Maykop (given the different culture shown in other steppe groups) is exogamy.
The question will still remain: was this a Proto-Anatolian-speaking group?
My opinion in this regard – again, without access to the study – is that you would still need to propose:
A break-up of Anatolian ca. 4500 BC represented by some early group migrating into the Northern Caucasus area.
For this group – who were closely related linguistically and culturally to early Khvalynsk – to remain isolated in or around the Northern Caucasus, i.e. somehow ‘hidden’ from the evolving LPIE speakers in late Khvalynsk/early Yamna peoples.
Then appear as Old Hittites without showing EHG ancestry (even though they show it in the period 3700-3000 BC), near the region of the Armi state, where Anatolian was supposedly spoken already in the mid-3rd millennium.
Not a very convincing picture, right now, but indeed possible.
Also, we have R1b-Z2103 lineages and clear steppe ancestry in the region probably ca. 2500 BC with Hajji Firuz, which is most likely the product of the late Khvalynsk migration waves that we are seeing in the recent papers.
These migrations are then related to early LPIE-speaking migrants spreading after ca. 3300 BC – that also caused the formation of early Yamna and the expansion of Tocharian-related migrants – , which leaves almost no space for an Anatolian expansion, unless one supports that the former drove the latter.
NOTE. In any case, if the Caucasus route turned out to be the actual Anatolian route, I guess this would be a way as good as any other to finally kill their Indo-European – Corded Ware theory, for obvious reasons.
On the North Iranian homeland
A few thoughts for those equating CHG ancestry in IE speakers (and especially now in Old Hittites) with an origin in North Iran, due to a recent comment by David Reich:
In the paper it is clearly stated that there is no Neolithic Iranian ancestry in the Old Hittite samples.
Ancestry is not people, and it is certainly not language. The addition of CHG ancestry to the Eneolithic steppe need not mean a population or linguistic replacement. Although it could have been. But this has to be demonstrated with solid anthropological models.
NOTE. On the other hand, if you find people who considered (at least until de Barros Damgaard et al. 2018) steppe (ancestry/PCA) = Indo-European, then you should probably confront them about why CHG in Hittites and the arrival of CHG in steppe groups is now not to be considered the same, i.e why CHG / Iran_N ≠ PIE.
Since there has been no serious North Iranian homeland proposal made for a while, it is difficult to delineate a modern sketch, and I won’t spend the time with that unless there is some real anthropological model and genetic proof of it. I guess the Armenian homeland hypothesis proposed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995) would do, but since it relies on outdated data (some of which appears also in Gimbutas’ writings), it would need a full revision.
NOTE. Their theory of glottalic consonants (or ejectives) relied on the ‘archaism’ of Hittite, Germanic, and Armenian. As you can see (unless you live in the mid-20th century) this is not very reasonable, since Hittite is attested quite late and after heavy admixture with Middle Eastern peoples, and Germanic and Armenian are some of the latest attested (and more admixed, phonetically changed) languages.
This would be a proper answer, indeed, for those who would accept this homeland due to the reconstruction of ‘ejectives’ for these languages. Evidently, there is no need to posit a homeland near Armenia to propose a glottalic theory. Kortlandt is a proponent of a late and small expansion of Late PIE from the steppe, and still proposes a reconstruction of ejectives for PIE. But, this was the main reason of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov to propose that homeland, and in that sense it is obviously flawed.
Those claiming a relationship of the North Iranian homeland with such EHG ancestry in Maykop, or with the hypothetic Proto-Euphratic or Gutian, are obviously not understanding the implications of finding steppe ancestry coupled with (likely) early Late PIE migrants in the region in the mid-4th millennium.