The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


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

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):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

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.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

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.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

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.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

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.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

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.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

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.[2015] .

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).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


The Russian school and the Yamna cultural-historical community, with emphasis on the north-west Pontic region


I have already talked about the Russian school of thought and their position regarding a Mesolithic origin of Proto-Indo-European in Northern Europe (see below related posts).

Since their archaeologists (Ukrainian, Russian, and Kazakh) are the nearest to potential Indo-Uralic origins, I have also recommended to follow some renown researchers closely.

Recently Leo S. Klejn referred to the position of Svetlana Ivanova. I found a recent summary of her model for genetic finds in an article appeared in Генофонд.рф: Степное население в Центральной Европе эпохи ранней бронзы, или путешествие туда и обратно

Aspects I agree with

– There is a Yamna cultural-historical community (i.e. with a potential ethnolinguistic unity). Although many different inner groups can be distinguished (based on cultural, social, anthropological differences), one cannot divide the culture in distinct cultures.

EDIT (28 JAN 2018): You can read a more detailed report about the Yamna cultural-historical community, by Svetlana Ivanova (in Russian).

– There is an older Neolithic cultural-historical community of the Pontic-Caspian steppe (i.e. with a potential ethnolinguistic unity), marked in genetics by CHG ancestry in the region. It is impressive that they supported that before the Mathieson et al. third revision (september 2017) with their finding of “Yamnaya” component in Ukraine Eneolithic. Chapeau for archaeology, again.

Late Eneolithic North-West Pontic zone (after Brujako and Samojlova (eds.), 2013)

Aspects I am neutral about, but are potentially quite relevant for the future

Repin is a culture different from Yamna.

– The Budzhak culture is likely the heir of Repin, which is compatible with its expansion westward. According to Klejn and Anthony (Usatovo), this region was connected to (and might have influenced) the Corded Ware culture. Therefore – that is my contribution, not theirs – a hidden community of R1a-M417 subclades (that a lot of people are eager to find) might have stemmed from there.

EDIT (28 JAN 2018): Read papers about the Budzhak jars and asks, by Svetlana Ivanova (in Russian).

NOTE: In my opinion, as I have said before, the Budzhak/Usatovo-Corded Ware connection is too late to be meaningful for Genomic finds (taking into account the earliest Corded Ware samples, their steppe ancestry, and the TMRCA for R1a-M417 subclades) – it is after all a late group appeared during or after the Yamna expansion along the Danube ca. 3000 BC or later, as supported by most archaeologists today, see e.g. Rassamakin. The most likely model is that R1a-M417 subclades with steppe ancestry expanded from groups near Eneolithic Ukraine, whether from steppe, forest-steppe, or forest zone. Also, in my opinion (supporting Anthony’s original interpretation of Repin, as closely connected to Yamna) it is more likely that the (until now) ‘hidden’ western Yamna community hosting R1b-L51 subclades that later evolved into East Bell Beaker is in fact represented by Repin…

Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware cultures are related, because GAC is actually not a uniform culture, but a ‘complex’ (i.e., in the same sense that Bell Beaker was not a culture, but a complex, as genetics has shown), and CWC is also a complex of cultures, as supported by Furholt. If that is true, the sampling of certain peoples classified as from Globular Amphorae – which some have rushed to cite as the end of the GAC-CWC connection might not be the last word, and Kristiansen’s model of long-lasting GAC-CWC connection may still be open.

Yamna culture and its surroundings (after Brujako and Samojlova (eds.), 2013)

Aspects I disagree with

– There is no migration, but long-lasting contacts that show up in genetics, since the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. In my opinion, the expansion of admixture + haplogroup reduction and expansion depict clear migratory movements (although, obviously, without cultural identification no speculative ethnolinguistic grouping can be proposed). That much is obvious from Genomics, and if we are not going to accept the most basic findings as proof in favour of certain anthropological models, then Archaeology will not benefit at all from genetic studies.

– Because this is the Russian school of thought, when they talk about Proto-Indo-European they refer to a homeland dating to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, and therefore cultural-historical communities after that (and long-lasting contacts) refer to potential continuations of Proto-Indo-European. Following common language guesstimates, though, there is no reason to date the split of Anatolian from a common Indo-Hittite before ca- 4500 BC, since there is no reason to date a Late Proto-Indo-European beyond 4000-3000 BC, apart from controversial glottochronological studies…

A call for collaboration

Again, please, geneticists, archaeologists, and linguists: do collaborate. Merely by talking, the so-called ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ would have never been given that dreadful name, and maybe we could end this quest to find a Mesolithic homeland for a reconstructed language guesstimated to have been spoken millennia after that time (and maybe turn it into a quest for an older macro-language)…


Eneolithic Ukraine cultures of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper


As I said before, Yuri Rassamakin is one archaeologist to follow closely for those interested in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Ukraine (ca. 5000-3300 BC), including Sredni Stog, and their potential connection with the Corded Ware culture, as well as the later expansion of Yamna into the region (and Yamna settlers into south-eastern Europe).

His recent studies include important sites (for Archaeology and recently also for Genomics) such us Dereivka and Alexandria, part of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest zone, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper river. According to him, many of these sites seem to form part of a common and distinct cultural group.

1) Ohren and Alexandria Burial Grounds of Chalcolithic Period: Problems of Dating and Cultural Inheritance (in Ukrainian), Археологія (2017, Nº 4)

English abstract (sic):

The author discusses the issues of chronology of the known burial grounds. In this article, first of all, the location of a series of burials at Ihren 8 cemetery is revised and the earlier proposed point of view of the author himself is refined. An important moment for that was a revision of a paired bi-ritual burial 7-8 from the excavations in 1932 with the Trypillian painted cup of the second half of the Trypillia B/2. The author presents the arguments for the assumption that the two burials were made not at the same time. As a whole, singled out are the Early Chalcolithic burials with the peculiar for them position on a back with bended knees, accompanied by flint products, first of all tools made on long blades. The second later group is represented by two supine burials which date is determined by a Trypillian cup. Concerning Oleksandriia burial ground, the author confirms his earlier expressed position on the Early Chalcolithic age of the burials with long flint blades, presenting additional arguments, one of which is a publication of a new radiocarbon date for one of the burials. Based on the author’s terminology, graves of the both burial grounds are considered within the borders of the so called Skelianska culture existence, while in Ihren burial ground several burials could be made in the period of so called «hiatus» when there were the Stohivska group sites in the Dnipro River region.

Карта розповсюдження ґрунтових могильників: 1 — Ігрень 8; 2 — О. Виноградний; 3 — Дереївка ІІ; 4 — Молюхів Бугор; 5 — Госпітальний Холм; 6 — Олександрія

2) The Burial of the Early Eneolithic in Luhansk Region (in Ukrainian), by Y. Rassamakin and E. Chernih, Археологія (2017 Nº 2):

English abstract (sic):

A new burial complex is publishing by authors. This burial complex finds analogies among the Early Eneolithic burials of the Siversky Donets basin according to the rite and inventory (long flint blade). In addition, a set of specific flint products (long blades, triangular «spear heads» and flat adzes) finds analogies at the Aleksandriia settlement, where Skelia-type ceramics are represented. Therefore, there is a reason to combine in the same cultural and chronological context the relevant materials of the Aleksandriia settlement and the Early Eneolithic burials, and consider their as a part of the phenomenon that one of the authors conventionally calls Skelia culture.

Карта розповсюдження поховань доби раннього енеоліту в басейні Сіверського Дінця та прилеглих територій: 1 — Олександрія (могильник); 2 — Яма (Сіверськ), могильник; 3 — Ольховатка; 4 — Орловське; 5 — Олександрівськ (могильник); 6 — Ворошиловград; 7 — Луганськ 2010; 8 — Ребриківка ІІ ІІ (РФ); 9 — Донецьк (номери на карті у відповідності до табл. 1)

It remains to bee seen how this new data is interpreted with more complex anthropological models, of potential cultural-historical groups that might have shaped posterior migrations.


The concept of “Outlier” in Human Ancestry (II): Early Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, West Yamna, Iron Age Bulgaria, Potapovka, Andronovo…


I already wrote about the concept of outlier in Human Ancestry, so I am not going to repeat myself. This is just an update of “outliers” in recent studies, and their potential origins (here I will repeat some of the examples):

Early Khvalynsk: the three samples from the Samara region have quite different positions in PCA, from nearest to EHG (of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a) to nearest to ANE ancestry (of Y-DNA haplogroup Q). This could represent the initial consequences of the second wave of ANE ancestry – as found later in Yamna samples from a neighbouring region -, possibly brought then by Eurasian migrants related to haplogroup Q.
With only 3 samples, this is obviously just a tentative explanation of the finds. The samples can only be reasonably said to show an unstable time for the region in terms of admixture (i.e. probably migration), judging by the data on PCA.

Ukraine Eneolithic samples offer a curious example of how the concept of outlier can change radically: from the third version (May 30th) of the preprint paper of Mathieson et al. (2017), when the Ukraine Eneolithic sample with steppe ancestry (and clustering with central European samples) was the ‘outlier’, to the fourth version (September 19th), when two samples with steppe ancestry clustering close to Corded Ware samples were now the ‘normal’ ones (i.e. those representing Ukraine Eneolithic population), and the outlier was the one clustering closely with Ukraine Mesolithic samples…

PCA and Admixture for south-eastern Europe. Image modified from Mathieson et al. (2017) – Third revision (May 30th), used in the 2nd edition of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

This is one of the funny consequences of the wrong interpretation of the ‘yamnaya component’, that made geneticists believe at first that, out of two samples (!), the ‘outlier’ was the one with ‘yamnaya’ ancestry, because this component would have been brought by an eastern immigrant from early Khvalynsk…

This example offers yet another reason why precise anthropological context is necessary to offer the right interpretation of results. Within the Indo-European demic diffusion model – based mainly on Archaeology and Linguistics – , the sample with steppe ancestry was the most logical find in the region for a potential origin of the Corded Ware culture, and it was interpreted as such, well before the publication of the fourth version of Mathieson et al. (2017).

PCA of South-East European and other European samples. Image modified from Mathieson et al. (2017) – Fourth revision (September 19th), used in the 3rd edition of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

West Yamna (to insist on the same question, the ‘yamnaya’ component): we have only four western Yamna samples, two of them showing Anatolian Neolithic ancestry (one of them, from Ukraine, with a strong ‘southern’ drift). On the other hand, Corded Ware migrants do not show this. So we could infer that their migrations were not coetaneous: whereas peoples of Corded Ware culture expanded ca. 3300 BC to the north – in the natural corridor to the Baltic that has been proposed for this culture in Archaeology for decades (and that is well represented by Ukraine Eneolithic samples) -, peoples of Yamna culture expanded to the west, replacing the Ukraine Eneolithic population (i.e. probably those of ‘Proto-Corded Ware culture’), and eventually mixing with Balkan populations of Anatolian Neolithic ancestry.

Potapovka, Andronovo, and Srubna: while Potapovka clusters closely to the steppe, and Andronovo (like Sintashta) clusters closely to Corded Ware (i.e. Ukraine Neolithic / Central-East European), both have certain ‘outliers’ in PCA: the former has one individual clustering closely to Corded Ware, and the latter to the steppe. Both ‘outliers’ fit well with the interpretation of the recent mixture of Corded Ware peoples with steppe populations, and they offer a different image for the evolution of populations of Potapovka and Sintashta-Petrovka, potentially influencing their language. The position of Srubna samples, nearer to Sintashta and Andronovo (but occupying the same territory as the previous Potapovka) offers the image of a late westward conquest from Corded Ware-related populations.

Diachronic map of migrations ca. 2250-1750 BC

Iron Age Bulgaria: a sample of haplogroup R1a-z93, with more ‘yamnaya’ ancestry than any other previous sample from the Balkans. For some, it might mean continuity from an older time. However – as with the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt before it – it is more likely a recent migrant from the steppe. The most likely origin of this individual is therefore people from the steppe, i.e. either the Srubna culture or a related group. Its relatively close cluster in PCA to certain recent Slavic populations can be interpreted in light of the multiple back and forth migrations in the region: of steppe populations to the west (Srubna, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians,…), and of Slavic-speaking populations:

Diachronic map of Bronze Age migrations ca. 1750-1250 BC.

Well-defined outliers are, therefore, essential to understand a recent history of admixture. On the other hand, the very concept of “outlier” can be a dangerous tool – when the lack of enough samples makes their classification as as such unjustified -, leading to the wrong interpretations.