Horseman, Pazyryk felt artifact, c. 300 BC.
Archaeologists recognize a complex of inter-related and relatively mobile cultures living on the Eurasian steppe, part of which protrudes into Europe as far west as Ukraine. These cultures from the late Neolithic and into the Iron Age, with specific traits such as Kurgan burials and horse domestication, have been associated with the dispersal of Indo-European languages across Eurasia.
Haplogroup R1a probably branched off from R1* around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (19,000 to 26,000 years before present). Little is know for certain about its place of origin. Some think it might have originated in the Balkans or around Pakistan and Northwest India, due to the greater genetic diversity found in these regions. The diversity can be explained by other factors though.
The Balkans have been subject to 5000 years of migrations from the Eurasian Steppes, each bringing new varieties of R1a. South Asia has had a much bigger population than any other parts of the world (occasionally equalled by China) for at least 10,000 years, and larger population bring about more genetic diversity. The most likely place of origin of R1a is Central Asia or southern Russia/Siberia. The oldest identified presence of European mtDNA around Mongolia and Lake Baikal dates back to over 6,000 years ago.
R1a is thought to have been the dominant haplogroup among the northern and eastern Proto-Indo-European language speakers, that evolved into the Indo-Iranian, Thracian, Baltic and Slavic branches.
The Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in the Yamna culture (3300-2500 BCE). Their dramatic expansion was possible thanks to an early adoption of bronze weapons and the domestication of the horse in the Eurasian steppes (circa 4000-3500 BCE).
The southern Steppe culture is believed to have carried predominantly R1b (M269 and M73) lineages, while the northern forest-steppe culture would have been essentially R1a-dominant.
The migration of the R1b people to central and Western Europe left a vacuum for R1a people in the southern steppe around the time of the Catacomb culture (2800-2200 BCE).
R-M17 is the most common subclade within the family of Y DNA lineages referred to as R1a or R-M420, which share in common the M420 SNP mutation, and before the discovery of M420, R-M17 was itself referred to as R1a.
Archaeologists recognize a complex of inter-related and relatively mobile cultures living on the Eurasian steppe, part of which protrudes into Europe as far west as Ukraine. These cultures from the late Neolithic and into the Iron Age, with specific traits such as Kurgan burials and horse domestication, have been associated with the dispersal of Indo-European languages across Eurasia.
Nearly all samples from Bronze and Iron Age graves in the Krasnoyarsk area in south Siberia belonged to R-M17 and appeared to represent an eastward migration from Europe.
In central Europe, Corded Ware period human remains at Eulau from which Y-DNA was extracted appear to be R-M17(xM458) (which they found most similar to the modern German R-M17* haplotype.
The modern distribution of R-M17 is distinctive. There are two widely separated areas of high frequency, one in South Asia, around India, and the other in Eastern Europe, around Poland and Ukraine. The demographic reasons for this are the subject of on-going discussion and attention among population geneticists and genetic genealogists, however, such patterns could be the combined result of (i) migrations and admixture, (ii) natural selection, and (iii) random genetic drift.
Despite deserved criticism by most archaeologists and anthropologists, even prominent historians and archaeologists have recently attempted to “marry” the evidence from the social sciences with that of genetic anthropology. Whilst the notion that genes, language and culture are co-eval is highly questionable, the link between R1a and “Indo-Europeans” remains a topic of considerable scholarly interest.
Until 2012, there was extensive scholarly debate as to the origins of haplgroup R-M17. This was a result of (i) a lack of further phylogenetic resolution of R-M17 into ‘daughter’ sub-clades and (ii) the evidently erroneous belief that measure of “STR diversity” can unambigiuosly qualify as to which population harbours the ‘oldest’ R-M17 haplogroups.
A large corpus of scholars had found that Indian, or more generally, South Asian populations, had the highest STR diversity.
On the basis of these studies, and using the Evolutionary Effective Mutation Rate, several of the above authors concluded that R-M17 has been present in South Asian populations since the Neolithic, having originated there. They further used this evidence to refute the hypothesis that R-M17 arrived with Indo-European invaders from the north.
However, the use of this mutation rate has received criticism, as it should not be used with haplogroup populations which clearly show evidence of population expansion, such as R-M17. Thus, using this mutation rate could artificially ‘blow out’ the actual age of R-M17 by as much as three-fold. Indeed, authors using the contrary, “germline mutation rate” (which is the rate empirically observed in father-son studies) arrive at more recent age estimates. In fact, Busby et al recently argued that the use of STR diversity in calculating ‘ages’ of haplogroups is highly problematical. Other studies variously proposed Eastern European, Central Asian and even Western Asian origins for R – M17.
The decade-long debate as to which Eurasian region possessed the most diverse, hence oldest, STR values within R-M17 has been effectively put to an end with the discovery of R-M17 sub-clades. SNPs offer a clearer and more robust resolution than STRs. These findings have actually been known for a few years by genealogical companies and enthusiast genealogists, however, two academic, peer-reviewed papers were finally produced by Pamjav et al (2012, 2013). They discovered that all their tested Indian R-M17 samples belong to the Z-93 sub-clade, which is a derivative, “daughter” branch of R-M17.
In contrast, Eastern European populations belong to different daughter branches of R-M17, namely Z- 280 and M-458. The former is widely distributed over south-eastern, central-eastern and eastern Europe, and as far as Central Asia.(Pamjav 2012) Indeed, Central Asia “is an overlap zone for the R1a1-Z280 and R1a1-Z93”, being found in Mongol and Uzbek populations . On the other hand, M-458 is more geographically restricted to central-eastern Europe.
Furthermore, this study found that the undifferentiated, ‘parental’ M-198 existed in the European populations, but was not found in the Indian groups sampled (consisting of 256 Malaysian Indians, 301 Roma, 203 Dravidians from India).
Nevertheless, the authors concluded that “This pattern implies that an early differentiation zone of R1a1-M198 conceivably occurred somewhere within the Eurasian Steppes or the Middle East and Caucasus region as they lie between South Asia and Eastern Europe”, from where “South Asian’ Z-93 and “European” Z-283 sub-clades differentiated and spread in opposite directions.
The Corded Ware Culture and the Settlement of Europe
The first major expansion of the R1a carrying forest-steppe people occured with the westward propagation of the Corded Ware Culture (or Battle Axe) culture (2800-1800 BCE) from the northern forest-steppe in the Yamna homeland. This was the first wave of R1a into Europe, the one that brought the Z283 subclade to Germany and the Netherlands, and Z284 to Scandinavia.
The Corded Ware R1a people would have mixed with the pre-Germanic I1 and I2 aborigines, which resulted in the first Indo-European culture in Germany and Scandinavia, although that culture could not be considered Proto-Germanic – it was simply Proto-Indo-European at that stage, or perhaps or Proto-Balto-Slavic.
The forest-steppe origin of this culture is obvious from the introduction of corded pottery and the abundant use of polished battle axes, the two most prominent features of the Corded Ware culture.
This is also probably when the satemisation process of the Indo-European languages began since the Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian language groups belong to the same Satem isogloss and both appear to have evolved from the the Catacomb culture.
Ancient DNA testing has confirmed the presence of haplogroup R1a1a in samples from the Corded Ware culture in Germany (2600 BCE), from Tocharian mummies (2000 BCE) in Northwest China, from Kurgan burials (circa 1600 BCE) from the Andronovo culture in southern Russia and southern Siberia, as well as from a variety of Iron-age sites from Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia.
A lot of Western and Northern European R1a that is negative for the marker Z284 falls under the root R1a1a1* (M417), or even in the older R1a1a (M17) and R1a1 (SRY10831.2). The former are descended from the oldest known expansion of R1a out of the Forest-Steppe, the Corded Ware Culture.
However, Klyosov et al. (2009) found that a substantial percentage of R1a in Northwest Europe, particularly in Norway, England, Ireland and Iceland, had a repeat value of 10 (instead of 12) at the STR marker DYS388. Among them, some individuals were identified as carrying the mutation L664. The origin of the older subclades (M17 and SRY10831.2) is still unclear (perhaps Mesolithic hunter-gatherers roaming around Europe).
Germanic languages probably did not appear before the Nordic Bronze Age (1800-500 BCE). Proto-Germanic language probably developed as a blend of two branches of Indo-European languages, namely the Proto-Balto-Slavic language of the Corded-Ware culture (R1a-Z283) and the later arrival of Proto-Italo-Celto-Germanic people from the Unetice culture (R1b-L11). This is supported by the fact that Germanic people are a R1a-R1b hybrid, that these two haplogroups came via separate routes at different times, and that Proto-Germanic language is closest to Proto-Italo-Celtic, but also shares similarities with Proto-Slavic.
The R1b branch of the Indo-Europeans is thought to have originated in the southern Yamna culture (northern shores of the Black Sea). It was the first one to move from the steppes to Europe, invading the Danube delta around 4200 BCE, then making its way around the Balkans and the Hungarian plain in the 4th millennium BCE.
It is likely that a minority of R1a people accompanied this R1b migration. Those R1a men would have belonged to the L664 subclade, the first to split from the Yamna core. These early steppe invaders were not a homogeneous group, but a cluster of tribes. It is possible that the R1a-L664 people were one or several separate tribes of their own, or that they mixed with some R1b lineages, notably R1b-U106, which would become the main Germanic lineage many centuries later.
The R1b-R1a contingent moved up the Danube to the Panonian plain around 2800 BCE, brought to an end the local Bell Beaker (circa 2200 BCE) and Corded Ware (c. 2400 BCE) cultures in Central Europe, and set up the Unetice culture (2300-1600 BCE) around Bohemia and eastern Germany. Unetice can be seen as the source of future Germanic, Celtic and Italic cultures, and is associated with the L11 subclade of R1b.
The late Unetice culture expanded to Scandinavia, founding the Nordic Bronze Age. R1a-L664 and R1b (L11 and U106) presumably reached Scandinavia at this time. People from the Nordic Bronze Age probably spoke a Proto-Germanic language, which for over a thousand years acquired vocabulary from the indigenous Corded Ware language, itself a mixture of Proto-Balto-Slavic and non-IE pre-Germanic.
The first genuine Germanic tongue has been estimated by linguists to have come into existence around (or after) 500 BCE, just as the Nordic Bronze Age came to an end, giving way to the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The uniqueness of some of the Germanic vocabulary points at borrowing from native pre-Indo-European languages (Germanic substrate theory).
The Celtic language itself is known to have borrowed from Afro-Asiatic languages spoken by Near-Eastern immigrants to Central Europe. The fact that present-day Scandinavia is composed of roughly 40% of I1, 20% of R1a and 40% of R1b reinforces the idea that the Germanic ethnicity and language had acquired a tri-hybrid character by the Iron Age.
The Baltic branch is thought to have evolved from the Fatyanovo culture (3200-2300 BCE), the northeastern extension of the Corded Ware culture. Early Bronze Age R1a nomads from the northern steppes and forest-steppes would have mixed with the indigenous Uralic-speaking inhabitants (N1c1 lineages) of the region. This is supported by a strong presence of both R1a and N1c1 haplogroups from southern Finland to Lithuania and the adjacent part of Russia.
The origins of the Slavs go back to circa 3500 BCE with the northern Yamna culture. The M412 and Z280 lineages spread around Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia, and would form the core of the Proto-Slavic culture. The high prevalence of R1a in Balto-Slavic countries nowadays is not only due to the Corded Ware expansion, but also to a long succession of later migrations from Russia, the last of which took place from the 5th to the 1th century CE.
The Slavic branch differentiated itself when the Corded Ware culture absorbed the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture (5200-2600 BCE) of western Ukraine and north-eastern Romania, which appears to have been composed primarily of I2a1b (M423) lineages descended directly from Paleolithic Europeans, with a small admixture of Near-Eastern immigrants (notably E1b1b, G2a, J and T). Thus emerged the hybrid Globular Amphora culture (3400-2800 BCE) in what is now Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.
It is surely during this period that I2a2, E-V13 and T spread (along with R1a) around Poland, Belarus and western Russia, explaining why eastern and northern Slavs (and Lithuanians) have between 10 and 20% of I2a1b lineages and about 10% of Middle Eastern lineages (18% for Ukrainians). After just a few centuries, this hybridised culture faded away into the dominant Corded Ware (2800-1800 BCE) and Catacomb (2800-1800 BCE) cultures.
The Corded Ware period was followed in the steppes by the Srubna culture (1800-1200 BCE), and around Poland by the Trzciniec culture (1700-1200 BCE). The last important Slavic migration is thought to have happened in the 6th century CE, from Ukraine to Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, filling the vacuum left by eastern Germanic tribes who invaded the Roman Empire.
Historically, no other part of Europe was invaded a higher number of times by steppe peoples than the Balkans. Chronologically, the first R1a invaders came with the westward expansion of the Yamna culture (from 4200 BCE), a succession of steppe migrations that lasted about 2000 years. Then came the Thracians (1500 BCE), followed by the Illyrians (around 1200 BCE), the Huns and the Alans (400 CE), the Avars, the Bulgars and the Serbs (all around 600 CE), and the Magyars (900 CE), among others.
These peoples originated from different parts of the Eurasian steppes, anywhere between Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which is why such high STR diversity is found within Balkanic R1a nowadays. It is not yet possible to determine the ethnic origin for each variety of R1a, apart from the fact that about any R1a is associated with tribes from Eurasian steppe at one point in history.
The Karasuk culture
Karasuk is a language family proposed by George van Driem of the University of Leiden that links the Yeniseian languages, sometimes known as Yeniseic or Yenisei-Ostyak; occasionally spelled with -ss-, a language family whose languages are and were spoken in the Yenisei River region of central Siberia, with the Burushaski language of northern Pakistan.
The evidence for Karasuk is mostly morphological. For example, the second-person singular prefixes on intransitive verbs are [ɡu-, ɡó-] in Burushaski and [ku-, ɡu-] in Ket.
The Karasuk hypothesis, linking Yeniseian to Burushaski, has been proposed by several scholars, notably by A.P. Dulson and V.N. Toporov. George van Driem, the most prominent current advocate of the Karasuk hypothesis, postulates that the Burusho people took part in the Indo-Aryan migration out of Central Asia that resulted in the Indo-European conquest of the Indus Valley that resulted in the Indo-European conquest of the Indian sub-continent, while other Karasuk peoples migrated northwards to become the Yenisei. These claims have recently been picked up by linguist Roger Blench.
While Yeniseian, which share many contact-induced similarities with the South Siberian Turkic languages, Samoyedic languages, and Evenki, has been demonstrated to be related to the Na-Dene languages of North America, as part of a newly named Dene–Yeniseian family, the relevant morphological correspondences between Na-Dene and Yeniseian have not been found in Burushaski.
Until 2008, few linguists had accepted connections between Yeniseian and any other language family, though distant connections have been proposed with most of the ergative languages of Eurasia.
In 2008, Edward Vajda of Western Washington University presented evidence for a genealogical relation between the Yeneisian languages of Siberia and the Na–Dené languages of North America.
At the time of publication (2010), Vajda’s proposals had been favorably reviewed by several specialists of Na-Dené and Yeniseian languages—although at times with caution—including Michael Krauss, Jeff Leer, James Kari, and Heinrich Werner, as well as a number of other respected linguists, such as Bernard Comrie, Johanna Nichols, Victor Golla, Michael Fortescue, Eric Hamp, and Bill Poser (Kari and Potter 2010:12).
One significant exception is the critical review of the volume of collected papers by Lyle Campbell and a response by Vajda published in late 2011 that clearly indicate the proposal is not completely settled at the present time. Two other reviews and notices of the volume appeared in 2011 by Keren Rice and Jared Diamond.
As noted by Tailleur and Werner, some of the earliest proposals of genetic relations of Yeniseian, by M.A. Castrén (1856), James Byrne (1892), and G.J. Ramstedt (1907), suggested that Yeniseian was a northern relative of the Sino-Tibetan languages. These ideas were followed much later by Kai Donner and Karl Bouda.
Bouda, in various publications in the 1930s through the 1950s, described a linguistic network that (besides Yeniseian and Sino-Tibetan) also included Caucasian, and Burushaski, some forms of which have gone by the name of Sino-Caucasian. The works of R. Bleichsteiner and O.G. Tailleur, the late Sergei A. Starostin and Sergei L. Nikolayev have sought to confirm these connections.
Others who have developed the hypothesis, often expanded to Dené–Caucasian, include J.D. Bengtson, V. Blažek, J.H. Greenberg (with M. Ruhlen), and M. Ruhlen. George Starostin continues his father’s work in Yeniseian, Sino-Caucasian and other fields.
The Karasuk language family is named after the Karasuk culture (ca. 1500–800 BC), a group of Bronze Age societies which existed in Central Asia during the Bronze Age (from the Aral Sea or the Volga River to the upper Yenisei catchment) in second millennium BCE.
The Karasuk culture preceded by the Afanasevo culture, the earliest Eneolithic archaeological culture found until now in south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin, Altay and Eastern Kazakhstan, and Andronovo culture.
The remains from the Karasuk culture are minimal and entirely of the mortuary variety. At least 2000 burials are known. The Karasuk period persisted down to c. 700 BC. From c. 700 to c. 200 BC, culture developed along similar lines. Vital trade contact is traced from northern China and the Baikal region to the Black Sea and the Urals, influencing the uniformity of the culture.
The economy was mixed agriculture and stockbreeding. Arsenical bronze artefacts are present. Their settlements were of pit houses and they buried their dead in stone cists covered by kurgans and surrounded by square stone enclosures.
Industrially, they were skilled metalworkers, the diagnostic artifacts of the culture being a bronze knife with curving profiles and a decorated handle and horse bridles. The pottery has been compared to that discovered in Inner Mongolia and the interior of China, with bronze knives similar to those from northeastern China.
It is generally believed that the culture has its origin in Mongolia, Northern China and Korea, characterized by Altaic idioms. Other scholars have suggested a connection with the Yeniseian and Burushaski people, even suggesting a Karasuk languages group. Another possibility is that it was an early example of a Turkic culture and it perhaps could also be seen as a place of the first westward migration of early Turkic peoples.
Ancient DNA extracted from the remains of two males who dated back to the Karasuk culture were determined to be of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a. Extracted mtDNA from two female remains from this cultural horizon revealed they possessed the Haplogroup U5a1 and U4 lineages. The study determined that the individuals had light hair and blue or green eyes.
The Bronze Age
The Bronze Age in the ancient Near East began in the 4th millennium BC. Cultures in the ancient Near East (often called, “the cradle of civilization”) practised intensive year-round agriculture, developed a writing system, invented the potter’s wheel, created a centralized government, law codes, and empires, and introduced social stratification, slavery, and organized warfare. Societies in the region laid the foundations for astronomy and mathematics.
The Hurrians had a reputation in metallurgy. The Sumerians borrowed their copper terminology from the Hurrian vocabulary. Copper was traded south to Mesopotamia from the highlands of Anatolia. The Khabur Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from the Hurrian-dominated countries Kizzuwatna and Ishuwa situated in the Anatolian highland. Gold was in short supply, and the Amarna letters inform us that it was acquired from Egypt. Not many examples of Hurrian metal work have survived, except from the later Urartu. Some small fine bronze lion figurines were discovered at Urkesh.
The Maykop culture
The Maykop culture (also spelled Maikop), ca. 3700-3000 BC, was a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.
It extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop in the Kuban River valley.
In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500-2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300-2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.
The Kuban River is navigable for much of its length and provides an easy water-passage via the Sea of Azov to the territory of the Yamna culture, along the Don and Donets River systems. The Maykop culture was thus well-situated to exploit the trading possibilities with the central Ukraine area.
New data revealed the similarity of artifacts from the Maykop culture with those found recently in the course of excavations of the ancient city of Tell Khazneh in northern Syria, the construction of which dates back to 4000 BC.
After the discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture in the 1980s it was suggested that elements of the Maykop culture migrated to the south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus in modern Azerbaijan.
In 2010, nearly 200 Bronze Age sites were reported stretching over 60 miles between the Kuban and Nalchik rivers, at an altitude of between 4,620 feet and 7,920 feet. They were all “visibly constructed according to the same architectural plan, with an oval courtyard in the center, and connected by roads.” Radiocarbon dates for various monuments of the Maykop culture are from 3950 – 3650 – 3610 – 2980 calBC.
Its inhumation practices were characteristically Indo-European, typically in a pit, sometimes stone-lined, topped with a kurgan (or tumulus). Stone cairns replace kurgans in later interments.
The Maykop kurgan was extremely rich in gold and silver artifacts; unusual for the time. The Maykop culture is believed to be one of the first to use the wheel.
In the early 20th century, researchers established the existence of a local Maykop animal style in the found artifacts. This style was seen as the prototype for animal styles of later archaeological cultures: the Maykop animal style is more than a thousand years older than the Scythian, Sarmatian and Celtic animal styles. Attributed to the Maykop culture are petroglyphs which have yet to be deciphered.
The Maykop nobility enjoyed horse riding and probably used horses in warfare. It should be noted that the Maykop people lived sedentary lives, and horses formed a very low percentage of their livestock, which mostly consisted of pigs and cattle. Archaeologists have discovered a unique form of bronze cheek-pieces, which consists of a bronze rod with a twisted loop in the middle and a thread through her nodes that connects with bridle, halter strap and headband. Notches and bumps on the edges of the cheek-pieces were, apparently, to fix nose and under-lip belts.
The construction of artificial terrace complexes in the mountains is evidence of their sedentary living, high population density, and high levels of agricultural and technical skills. The terraces were built around the fourth millennium BC. and all subsequent cultures used them for agricultural purposes. The vast majority of pottery found on the terasses are from the Maykop period, the rest from the Scythian and Alan period. The Maykop terraces are among the most ancient in the world, but they are little studied. The longevity of the terraces (more than 5000 years) allows us to consider their builders unsurpassed engineers and craftsmen.
Recent discoveries by archaeologist A. Rezepkin include: The most ancient bronze sword, dating from the second third of the 4-th Millennium BC. It was found in a stone tomb near Novosvobodnaya, and is now on display in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. It has a total length of 63 cm and a hilt length of 11 cm. The most ancient column. The most ancient stringed instrument, resembling the modern Adyghian shichepshin, dating from the late 4th Millennium B.C., now also in the Hermitage museum.
Because of its burial practices, it is in terms of the Kurgan hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas seen as an Indo-European intrusion from the Pontic steppe into the Caucasus. However, critics point out that: … where the evidence for barrows is found, it is precisely in regions which later demonstrate the presence of non-Indo-European populations. — J.P.Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans
The culture has been described as, at the very least, a “kurganized” local culture with strong ethnic and linguistic links to the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. It has been linked to the Lower Mikhaylovka group and Kemi Oba culture, and more distantly, to the Globular Amphora and Corded Ware cultures, if only in an economic sense.
However: Such a theory, it must be emphasized, is highly speculative and controversial although there is a recognition that this culture may be a product of at least two traditions: the local steppe tradition embraced in the Novosvobodna culture and foreign elements from south of the Caucasus which can be charted through imports in both regions. — J.P. Mallory, EIEC, Maykop Culture
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, whose views are somewhat controversial, suggest that the Maykop culture (or its ancestor) may have been a way-station for Indo-Europeans migrating from the South Caucasus and/or eastern Anatolia to a secondary Urheimat on the steppe. This would essentially place the Anatolian stock in Anatolia from the beginning, and at least in this instance, agrees with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis.
Considering that some attempt has been made to unite Indo-European with the Northwest Caucasian languages, an earlier Caucasian pre-Urheimat is not out of the question (see Proto-Pontic). However, most linguists and archaeologists consider this hypothesis highly unlikely, and prefer the Eurasian steppes as the genuine IE Urheimat.
The Yamna culture
The Yamna culture, “Pit [Grave] Culture”, from Russian/Ukrainian яма, “pit”) is a late copper age/early Bronze Age culture of the Southern Bug/Dniester/Ural region (the Pontic steppe), dating to the 36th–23rd centuries BC. The name also appears in English as Pit Grave Culture or Ochre Grave Culture.
The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts.
The Yamna culture was preceded by the Sredny Stog culture, Khvalynsk culture and Dnieper-Donets culture, while succeeded by the Catacomb culture and the Srubna culture.
Characteristic for the culture are the inhumations in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions.
Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans (including Proto-Indo-Iranians).
The earliest remains in Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the “Storozhova mohyla” kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture.
The Yamna culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) in the Kurgan hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas. It is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture, now that archaeological evidence of the culture and its migrations has been closely tied to the evidence from linguistics.
Pavel Dolukhanov argues that the emergence of the Pit-Grave culture represents a social development of various local Bronze Age cultures, representing “an expression of social stratification and the emergence of chiefdom-type nomadic social structures”, which in turn intensified inter-group contacts between essentially heterogeneous social groups.
It is said to have originated in the middle Volga based Khvalynsk culture and the middle Dnieper based Sredny Stog culture. In its western range, it is succeeded by the Catacomb culture; in the east, by the Poltavka culture and the Srubna culture.
The Catacomb culture
The Catacomb culture, ca. 2800–2200 BC, refers to a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine.
The culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East. It was preceded by the Yamna culture. The Catacomb culture in the Pontic steppe was succeeded by the Srubna culture from ca the 17th century BC.
The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the “catacomb”. Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.
In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased’s face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon (see also Tashtyk culture).
The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.
The origin of the Catacomb Culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus enumerates three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamna Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin. The culture is first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East.
The Catacomb culture was ousted by the Srubna (Timber-grave) culture from ca. the 17th century.
The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.
More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.
Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.
The Srubna culture
The Srubna culture (Timber-grave culture), was a Late Bronze Age (18th-12th centuries BC) culture. It is a successor to the Yamna culture (Pit Grave culture) and the Poltavka culture.
It occupied the area along and above the north shore of the Black Sea from the Dnieper eastwards along the northern base of the Caucasus to the area abutting the north shore of the Caspian Sea, west of the Ural Mountains to come up against the domain of the approximately contemporaneous and somewhat related Andronovo culture.
The name comes from Russian cруб (srub), “timber framework”, from the way graves were constructed. Animal parts were buried with the body.
The economy was mixed agriculture and livestock breeding. The historical Cimmerians have been suggested as descended from this culture.
The Srubna culture is succeeded by Scythians and Sarmatians in the 1st millennium BC, and by Khazars and Kipchaks in the first millennium AD.
The Afanasevo culture
When R1b crossed the Caucasus in the Late Neolithic, it split into two main groups. The western one (M269 & L23) would settle the eastern and northern of the Black Sea. The eastern one (M269 + L23 + M73) migrated to the Don-Volga region, where horses were domesticated circa 4600 BCE. R1b probably mixed with indigenous R1a people and founded the Repin culture (3700-3300 BCE) a bit before the Yamna culture came into existence in the western Pontic Steppe.
R1b would then have migrated with horses along the Great Eurasian Steppe until the Altai mountains in East-Central Asia, where they established the Afanasevo culture (c. 3600-2400 BCE). Afanasevo people might be the precursors of the Tocharian branch of Indo-European languages alongside haplogroup R1a.
The R1b people who stayed in the Volga-Ural region were probably the initiators of the Poltavka culture (2700-2100 BCE), then became integrated into the R1a-dominant Sintashta-Petrovka culture (2100-1750 BCE) linked to the Indo-Aryan conquest of Central and South Asia.
Nowadays R1b is found at higher frequencies among ethnic minorities of the Volga-Ural region in Russia than among Slavic Russians. R1b is also present in many Central Asian populations, the highest percentages being observed among the Uyghurs (20%) of Xinjiang in north-west China, the Yaghnobi people of Tajikistan (32%), and the Bashkirs (47%, or 62.5% in the Abzelilovsky district) of Bashkortostan in Russia (border of Kazakhstan).
Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date the Afanasevo culture at around 2000–2500 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains. The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.
The culture is mainly known from its inhumations, with the deceased buried in conic or rectangular enclosures, often in a supine position, reminiscent of burials of the Yamna culture, believed to be Indo-European. Settlements have also been discovered. The Afanasevo people became the first food-producers in the area by breeding cattle, horses, and sheep. Metal objects and the presence of wheeled vehicles are documented. These resemblances to the Yamna culture make the Afanasevo culture is a strong candidate to represent the earliest cultural form of a people later called the Tocharians.
The Tocharians or Tokharians were inhabitants of medieval oasis city-states on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang, China). Their Tocharian languages (a branch of the Indo-European family) are known from manuscripts from the 6th to 8th centuries AD, after which they were supplanted by the Turkic languages of the Uyghur tribes.
Some scholars have linked the Tocharians with the Afanasevo culture of eastern Siberia (c. 3500 – 2500 BC), the Tarim mummies (c. 1800 BC) and the Yuezhi of Chinese records, most of whom migrated from western Gansu to Bactria in the 2nd century BC and then later to northwest India where they founded the Kushan Empire.
The culture became known from excavations in the Minusinsk area of the Krasnoyarsk Krai, southern Siberia, but the culture was also widespread in western Mongolia, northern Xinjiang, and eastern and central Kazakhstan, with connections or extensions in Tajikistan and the Aral area.
The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Andronovo culture as it spread eastwards, and later the Karasuk culture.
The Tarim mummies
In 1934 Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman discovered some 200 mummies of fair-haired Caucasian people in the Tarim Basin in Northwest China (a region known as Xinjiang, East Turkestan or Uyghurstan). The oldest of these mummies date back to 2000 BCE and all 7 male remains tested by Li et al. (2010), were positive for the R1a1 mutations. The modern inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, the Uyghurs, belong both to this R1b-M73 subclade (about 20%) and to R1a1 (about 30%).
The first theory about the origins of the Tarim mummies is that a group of early horse riders from the Repin culture (3700-3300 BCE) migrated from the Don-Volga region to the Altai mountain, founding the Afanasevo culture (c. 3600-2400 BCE), whence they moved south to the Tarim Basin.
Another possibility is that the Tarim mummies descend from the Proto-Indo-Iranian people who expanded all over Central Asia around 2000 BCE from the Sintashta-Petrovka culture. An offshoot would have crossed the Tian Shan mountains, ending up in the Tarim Basin.
This theory has the merit of matching the dating of the Tarim mummies. Either way, most of the mummies tested for mtDNA belonged to the Mongoloid haplogroup C4, and only a few to European or Middle Eastern haplogroups (H, K and R).
There is some controversy regarding the possible link between the Tarim mummies and the Tocharian languages, a Centum branch of the Indo-European family which were spoken in the Tarim Basin from the 3rd to 9th centuries CE. It is easy to assume that the Tarim mummies were Proto-Tocharian speakers due to the corresponding location and the Indo-European connection.
However, the Tarim mummies predate the appearance of Tocharian by over two millennia, and Tocharian is a Centum language that cannot be descended from the Satem Proto-Indo-Iranian branch. Other Centum branches being all related to haplogroup R1b, and Tocharian being the only eastern Centum language, it is possible that the Tocharian speakers is instead associated to the Central Asian R1b1b1 (M73) subclade, also found among the modern Uyghurs inhabiting the Tarim basin.
Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers, the people who later called themselves ‘Aryans’ in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, originated in the Sintashta-Petrovka culture (2100-1750 BCE), in the Tobol and Ishim valleys, east of the Ural Mountains. It was founded by pastoralist nomads from the Abashevo culture (2500-1900 BCE), ranging from the upper Don-Volga to the Ural Mountains, and the Poltavka culture (2700-2100 BCE), extending from the lower Don-Volga to the Caspian depression.
The Sintashta-Petrovka culture, associated with R1a-Z93 and its subclades, was the first Bronze Age advance of the Indo-Europeans west of the Urals, opening the way to the vast plains and deserts of Central Asia to the metal-rich Altai mountains. The Aryans quickly expanded over all Central Asia, from the shores of the Caspian to southern Siberia and the Tian Shan, through trading, seasonal herd migrations, and looting raids.
Horse-drawn war chariots seem to have been invented by Sintashta people around 2100 BCE, and quickly spread to the mining region of Bactria-Margiana (modern border of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan). Copper had been extracted intensively in the Urals, and the Proto-Indo-Iranians from Sintashta-Petrovka were exporting it in huge quantities to the Middle East. They appear to have been attracted by the natural resources of the Zeravshan valley for a Petrovka copper-mining colony was established in Tugai around 1900 BCE, and tin was extracted soon afterwards at Karnab and Mushiston. Tin was an especially valued resource in the late Bronze Age, when weapons were made of copper-tin alloy, stronger than the more primitive arsenical bronze. In the 1700’s BCE, the Indo-Iranians expanded to the lower Amu Darya valley and settled in irrigation farming communities (Tazabagyab culture). By 1600 BCE, the old fortified towns of Margiana-Bactria were abandoned, submerged by the northern steppe migrants. The group of Central Asian cultures under Indo-Iranian influence is known as the Andronovo horizon, and lasted until 800 BCE.
The Indo-Iranian migrations progressed further south across the Hindu Kush. By 1700 BCE, horse-riding pastoralists had penetrated into Balochistan (south-west Pakistan). The Indus valley succumbed circa 1500 BCE, and the northern and central parts of the Indian subcontinent were taken over by 500 BCE. Westward migrations led Old Indic Sanskrit speakers riding war chariots to Assyria, where they became the Mitanni rulers from circa 1500 BCE. The Medes, Parthians and Persians, all Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture, moved into the Iranian plateau from 800 BCE. Those that stayed in Central Asia are remembered by history as the Scythians, while the Yamna descendants who remained in the Pontic-Caspian steppe became known as the Sarmatians to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
The Indo-Iranian migrations have resulted in high R1a frequencies in southern Central Asia, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. The highest frequency of R1a (about 65%) is reached in a cluster around Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. In India and Pakistan, R1a ranges from 15 to 50% of the population, depending on the region, ethnic group and caste. R1a is generally stronger is the North-West of the subcontinent, and weakest in the Dravidian-speaking South (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh) and from Bengal eastward. Over 70% of the Brahmins (highest caste in Hindusim) belong to R1a1, due to a founder effect.
Maternal lineages in South Asia are, however, overwhelmingly pre-Indo-European. For instance, India has over 75% of “native” mtDNA M and R lineages and 10% of East Asian lineages. In the residual 15% of haplogroups, approximately half are of Middle Eastern origin. Only about 7 or 8% could be of “Russian” (Pontic-Caspian steppe) origin, mostly in the form of haplogroup U2 and W (although the origin of U2 is still debated). European mtDNA lineages are much more common in Central Asia though, and even in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. This suggests that the Indo-European invasion of India was conducted mostly by men through war, and the first major settlement of women was in northern Pakistan, western India (Punjab to Gujarat) and northern India (Uttar Pradesh), where haplogroups U2 and W are the most common.
The Abashevo culture
The Abashevo culture is a later Bronze Age (ca. 2500-1900 BCE) archaeological culture found in the valleys of the Volga and Kama River north of the Samara bend and into the southern Ural Mountains. It receives its name from a village of Abashevo in Chuvashia. Artifacts are kurgans and remnants of settlements.
The Abashevo culture was preceded by the Yamna culture and was the easternmost of the Russian forest zone cultures that descended from Corded Ware ceramic traditions.
The economy was mixed agriculture. Cattle, sheep, goat, as well as other domestic animals were kept. Horses were evidently used, inferred by cheek pieces typical of neighboring steppe cultures (as well to those of (earliest) Mycenae). The population of Sintashta derived their stock-breeding from Abashevo, although the role of the pig shrinks sharply.
It follows the Yamna culture and Balanovo culture in its inhumation practices in tumuli. Flat graves were also a component of the Abashevo culture burial rite, as in the earlier Fatyanovo culture. Grave offerings are scant, little more than a pot or two. Some graves show evidence of a birch bark floor and a timber construction forming walls and roof.
There is evidence of copper-smelting, and the culture would seem connected to copper mining activities in the southern Urals. The Abashevo culture was an important center of metallurgy and stimulated the formation of Sintashta metallurgy.
The Abashevo ethno-linguistic identity can only be a subject of speculation, reflecting both northern penetration of the earlier Iranian steppe Poltavka culture as well as an extension of Fatyanovo-Balanovo traditions.
Skulls of the Abashevo differ from those of the Timber grave, earlier Catacomb culture, or the Potapovka culture. Abashevo probably witnessed a process of assimilation which presupposses a bilingual population. There were likely contacts with Uralic-speakers, and this is a convenient place for the origin of some loan-words into Uralic. Some of the Volosovo culture of the region were absorbed into the Abashevo populace, as corded-impressed Abashevo pottery is found side by side with comb-stamped Volosovo ceramics sometimes in the same structure at archaeological sites.
It occupied part of the area of the earlier Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture, the eastern variant of the earlier Corded Ware culture, but whatever relationship there is between the two cultures is uncertain. The pre-eminent expert on the Abashevo culture, A. Pryakhin, concludeded that it originated from contacts between Fatyanovo / Balanovo and Catacomb / Poltavka peoples in the southern forest-steppe.
The Abashevo culture played a significant role in the origin of Sintashta, and early Abashevo ceramic styles strongly influenced Sintashta ceramics. It does not pertain to the Andronovo culture and genetically belongs to the circle of Central European cultures of the Fatyanovo culture type corded ware ceramics. It was succeeded by the Srubna culture and the Sintashta culture.
The Sintashta culture
The Sintashta culture, also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture or Sintashta-Arkaim culture, is a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, dated to the period 2100–1800 BCE.
Due to the assimilation of tribes in the region of the Urals, such as the Pit-grave, Catacomb, Poltavka, and northern Abashevo into the Novokumak horizon, it would seem inaccurate to provide Sintashta with a purely Aryan attribution.
The people of the Sintashta culture are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian language family. This identification is based primarily on similarities between sections of the Rig Veda, an Indian religious text which includes ancient Indo-Iranian hymns recorded in Vedic Sanskrit, with the funerary rituals of the Sintashta culture as revealed by archaeology.
There is however linguistic evidence of a list of common vocabulary between Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian languages. While its origin as a creole of different tribes in the Ural region may make it inaccurate to ascribe the Sintashta culture exclusively to Indo-Iranian ethnicity, interpreting this culture as a blend of two cultures with two distinct languages is a reasonable hypothesis based on the evidence.
The Sintashta culture emerged from the interaction of two antecedent cultures. Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture, an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE. Several Sintashta towns were built over older Poltovka settlements or close to Poltovka cemeteries, and Poltovka motifs are common on Sintashta pottery.
Sintashta material culture also shows the influence of the late Abashevo culture, a collection of settlements in the forest steppe zone north of the Sintashta region that were also predominantly pastoralist.
The Abashevo culture was already marked by endemic intertribal warfare; intensified by ecological stress and competition for resources in the Sintashta period, this drove the construction of fortifications on an unprecedented scale and innovations in military technique such as the invention of the war chariot.
Increased competition between tribal groups may also explain the extravagant sacrifices seen in Sintashta burials, as rivals sought to outdo one another in acts of conspicuous consumption analogous to the North American potlatch tradition.
The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare. Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.
Because of the difficulty of identifying the remains of Sintashta sites beneath those of later settlements, the culture was only recently distinguished from the Andronovo culture. It is now recognised as a separate entity forming part of the ‘Andronovo horizon’.
The first Sintashta settlements appeared around 2100 BCE, during a period of climatic change that saw the already arid Kazakh steppe region become even more cold and dry. The marshy lowlands around the Ural and upper Tobol rivers, previously favoured as winter refuges, became increasingly important for survival. Under these pressures both Poltovka and Abashevo herders settled permanently in river valley strongholds, eschewing more defensible hill-top locations.
The Sintashta economy came to revolve around copper metallurgy. Copper ores from nearby mines (such as Vorovskaya Yama) were taken to Sintashta settlements to be processed into copper and arsenical bronze. This occurred on an industrial scale: all the excavated buildings at the Sintashta sites of Sintashta, Arkaim and Ust’e contained the remains of smelting ovens and slag.
Much of this metal was destined for export to the cities of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in Central Asia. The metal trade between Sintashta and the BMAC for the first time connected the steppe region to the ancient urban civilisations of the Near East: the empires and city-states of Iran and Mesopotamia provided an almost bottomless market for metals. These trade routes later became the vehicle through which horses, chariots and ultimately Indo-Iranian-speaking people entered the Near East from the steppe.
The Sintashta-Petrovka culture is succeeded by the Fedorovo (1400–1200 BCE) and Alekseyevka (1200–1000 BCE) cultures, still considered as part of the Andronovo horizon.
Sintashta is an archaeological site on the upper Ural River in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia. It is the remains of a fortified settlement dating to the Bronze Age, c. 2800–1600 BC, and is the type site of the Sintashta culture.
Sintashta is situated in the steppe just east of the Ural Mountains. The site is named for the adjacent Sintashta River, a tributary to the Tobol. The shifting course of the river over time has destroyed half of the site, leaving behind thirty one of the approximately fifty or sixty houses in the settlement.
Sintashta is often pointed to as the premier proto-Indo-Iranian site, and it is conjectured that the language spoken was still in the Proto-Indo-Iranian stage. There are similar sites “in the Volga-Ural steppe”
The site has been characterised “fortified metallurgical industrial center” and the ritual activities evident at associated cemeteries linked to Proto-Indo-Iranian traditions.
It is famed for its grave-offerings, particularly chariot burials. These inhumations were in kurgans and included all or parts of animals (horse and dog) deposited into the barrow.
There is evidence of copper and bronze metallurgy taking place in every house excavated at Sintashta, again an unprecedented intensity of metallurgical production for the steppe.
The settlement consisted of rectangular houses arranged in a circle 140 m in diameter and surrounded by a timber-reinforced earthen wall with gate towers and a deep ditch on its exterior.
The fortifications at Sintashta and similar settlements such as Arkaim, an archaeological site situated in the Southern Urals steppe, 8.2 kilometres (5.1 mi) north-to-northwest of Amurskiy, and 2.3 km (1.4 mi) south-to-southeast of Alexandronvskiy, two villages in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, just to the north from the Kazakhstan border, were of unprecedented scale for the steppe region.
The site is generally dated to the 17th century BC. Earlier dates, up to the 20th century BC, have been proposed. It was a settlement of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture.
Although the settlement was burned and abandoned, much detail is preserved. Arkaim is similar in form but much better preserved than neighbouring Sintashta, where the earliest chariot was unearthed. The site was protected by two circular walls.
The 17th century date suggests that the settlement was about co-eval to, or just post-dating, the Indo-Aryan migration into South Asia and Mesopotamia (the Gandhara grave culture appearing in the Northern Pakistan from ca. 1600 BC, the Indo-European Mitanni rulers reached Anatolia before 1500 BC, both roughly 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) removed from the Sintashta-Petrovka area), and that it was either an early Iranian culture, or an unknown branch of Indo-Iranian that did not survive into historical times.
Five cemeteries have been found associated with the site, the largest of which (known as Sintashta mogila or SM) consisted of forty graves. Some of these were chariot burials, producing the oldest known chariots in the world. Others included horse sacrifices – up to eight in a single grave – various stone, copper and bronze weapons, and silver and gold ornaments.
The SM cemetery is overlain by a very large kurgan of a slightly later date. It has been noted that the kind of funerary sacrifices evident at Sintashta have strong similarities to funerary rituals described in the Rig Veda, an ancient Indian religious text often associated with the Proto-Indo-Iranians.
Radiocarbon dates from the settlement and cemeteries span over a millennium, suggesting an earlier occupation belonging to the Poltavka culture. The majority the dates, however, are around 2100–1800 BC, which points at a main period of occupation of the site consistent with other settlements and cemeteries of the Sintashta culture.
The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.
The Andronovo culture
The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished ca. 1800–1400 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon. The name derives from the village of Andronovo (55°53′N 55°42′E), where in 1914, several graves were discovered, with skeletons in crouched positions, buried with richly decorated pottery. Two sub-cultures have been since distinguished, during which the culture expands towards the south and the east: Alakul (1800–1400 BCE) and Fedorovo (1700–1300 BCE).
The geographical extent of the culture is vast and difficult to delineate exactly. On its western fringes, it overlaps with the approximately contemporaneous, but distinct, Srubna culture in the Volga-Ural interfluvial. To the east, it reaches into the Minusinsk depression, with some sites as far west as the southern Ural Mountains, overlapping with the area of the earlier Afanasevo culture.
Additional sites are scattered as far south as the Koppet Dag (Turkmenistan), the Pamir (Tajikistan) and the Tian Shan (Kyrgyzstan). The northern boundary vaguely corresponds to the beginning of the Taiga. In the Volga basin, interaction with the Srubna culture was the most intense and prolonged, and Federovo style pottery is found as far west as Volgograd.
Towards the middle of the 2nd millennium, the Andronovo cultures begin to move intensively eastwards. They mined deposits of copper ore in the Altai Mountains and lived in villages of as many as ten sunken log cabin houses measuring up to 30m by 60m in size. Burials were made in stone cists or stone enclosures with buried timber chambers.
In other respects, the economy was pastoral, based on cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. While agricultural use has been posited, no clear evidence has been presented. The Andronovo culture is strongly associated with the Indo-Iranians and is often credited with the invention of the spoke-wheeled chariot around 2000 BCE. It is also notable for regional advances in metallurgy.
Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe.
The identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian has been challenged by scholars who point to the absence of the characteristic timber graves of the steppe south of the Oxus River. Sarianidi (as cited in Bryant 2001:207) states that “direct archaeological data from Bactria and Margiana show without any shade of doubt that Andronovo tribes penetrated to a minimum extent into Bactria and Margianian oases”.
Based on its use by Indo-Aryans in Mitanni and Vedic India, its prior absence in the Near East and Harappan India, and its 16th–17th century BCE attestation at the Andronovo site of Sintashta, Kuzmina (1994) argues that the chariot corroborates the identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian. Klejn (1974) and Brentjes (1981) find the Andronovo culture much too late for an Indo-Iranian identification since chariot-wielding Aryans appear in Mitanni by the 15th to 16th century BCE. However, Anthony & Vinogradov (1995) dated a chariot burial at Krivoye Lake to around 2000 BCE.
Mallory (as cited in Bryant 2001:216) admits the extraordinary difficulty of making a case for expansions from Andronovo to northern India, and that attempts to link the Indo-Aryans to such sites as the Beshkent and Vakhsh cultures “only gets the Indo-Iranians to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans”.
Eugene Helimski has suggested that the Andronovo people spoke a separate branch of the Indo-Iranian group. He claims that borrowings in the Finno-Ugric languages support this view.
Vladimir Napolskikh has proposed that borrowings in Finno-Ugric indicate that the language was specifically of the Indo-Aryan type. An alternative possibility for the language of Andronovo may be Burušaski (now spoken in Kašmīr) or Ĥapirti (Elamitic), anciently spoken in Ĥuzistan.
Since older forms of Indo-Iranian words have been taken over in Uralic and Proto-Yeniseian, occupation by some other languages (also lost ones) cannot be ruled out altogether, at least for part of the Andronovo area: i. e., Uralic and Yeniseian.
The earliest historical peoples associated with the area are the Cimmerians and Saka/Scythians, appearing in Assyrian records after the decline of the Alekseyevka culture, migrating into the Ukraine from ca. the 9th century BCE (see also Ukrainian stone stela), and across the Caucasus into Anatolia and Assyria in the late 8th century BCE, and possibly also west into Europe as the Thracians (see Thraco-Cimmerian), and the Sigynnae, located by Herodotus beyond the Danube, north of the Thracians, and by Strabo near the Caspian Sea. Both Herodotus and Strabo identify them as Iranian.
Out of 10 human male remains assigned to the Andronovo horizon from the Krasnoyarsk region, 9 possessed the R1a Y-chromosome haplogroup and one haplogroup C-M130 (xC3). mtDNA haplogroups of nine individuals assigned to the same Andronovo horizon and region were as follows: U4 (2 individuals), U2e, U5a1, Z, T1, T4, H, and K2b.
90% of the Bronze Age period mtDNA haplogroups were of west Eurasian origin and the study determined that at least 60% of the individuals overall (out of the 26 bronze and Iron Age human remains’ samples of the study that could be tested) had light hair and blue or green eyes.
A 2004 study also established that, during the Bronze/Iron Age period, the majority of the population of Kazakhstan (part of the Andronovo culture during Bronze Age), was of west Eurasian origin (with mtDNA haplogroups such as U, H, HV, T, I and W), and that prior to the thirteenth to seventh century BC, all Kazakh samples belonged to European lineages.
In southern Siberia and Kazakhstan, the Andronovo culture was succeeded by the Karasuk culture (1500–800 BCE), which is sometimes asserted to be non-Indo-European, and at other times to be specifically proto-Iranian. On its western border, it is succeeded by the Srubna culture, which partly derives from the Abashevo culture.
The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2300–1700 BCE, located in present day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River).
Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976). Bactria was the Greek name for the area of Bactra (modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, in modern-day southeastern Turkmenistan.
Sarianidi’s excavations from the late 1970s onward revealed numerous monumental structures in many sites, fortified by impressive walls and gates. Reports on the BMAC were mostly confined to Soviet journals, until the last years of the Soviet Union, so the findings were largely unknown to the West until Sarianidi’s work began to be translated in the 1990s.
There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag in the Gorgan Plain in Iran. At Jeitun (or Djeitun), mudbrick houses were first occupied c. 6000 cal. BCE.
The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia. Jeitun has given its name to the whole Neolithic period in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag. At the late Neolithic site of Chagylly Depe, farmers increasingly grew the kinds of crops that are typically associated with irrigation in an arid environment, such as hexaploid bread wheat, which became predominant during the Chalcolithic period.
During the Copper Age, the population of this region grew. Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson, who led the South Turkmenistan Complex Archaeological Expedition from 1946, sees signs that people migrated to the region from central Iran at this time, bringing metallurgy and other innovations, but feels that the newcomers soon blended with the Jeitun farmers. By contrast a re-excavation of Monjukli Depe in 2010 found a distinct break in settlement history between the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic eras there.
Major Chalcolithic settlements sprang up at Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe. In addition there were smaller settlements at Anau, Dashlyji and Yassy-depe. Settlements similar to the early level at Anau also appeared further east – in the ancient Delta of the River Tedzen, the site of the Geoksiur Oasis. About 3500 BCE the cultural unity of the culture split into two pottery styles: colourful in the west (Anau, Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe) and more austere in the east at Altyn-Depe and the Geoksiur Oasis settlements. This may reflect the formation of two tribal groups.
Around 3000 BCE it seems that people from Geoksiur migrated into the Murghab Delta, where small, scattered settlements appeared, and reached further east into the Zerafshan Valley in Transoxiana. In both areas pottery typical of Geoksiur was in use. In Transoxiana they settled at Sarazm near Pendjikent. To the south the foundation layers of Shahr-i Shōkhta on the bank of the Helmand River in south-eastern Iran contained pottery of the Altyn-Depe and Geoksiur type. Thus the farmers of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan were connected by a scattering of farming settlements.
In the Early Bronze Age the culture of the Kopet Dag oases and Altyn-Depe developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Depe. Altyn-Depe was a major centre even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age c. 2300 BCE, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe. It is this Bronze Age culture which has been given the BMAC name.
The inhabitants of the BMAC were sedentary people who practised irrigation farming of wheat and barley. With their impressive material culture including monumental architecture, bronze tools, ceramics, and jewellery of semiprecious stones, the complex exhibits many of the hallmarks of civilization. The complex can be compared to proto-urban settlements in the Helmand basin at Mundigak in western Afghanistan and Shahr-i Shōkhta in eastern Iran, or at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley.
Sarianidi regards Gonur as the “capital” of the complex in Margiana throughout the Bronze Age. The palace of North Gonur measures 150 metres by 140 metres, the temple at Togolok 140 metres by 100 metres, the fort at Kelleli 3 125 metres by 125 metres, and the house of a local ruler at Adji Kui 25 metres by 25 metres.
Each of these formidable structures has been extensively excavated. While they all have impressive fortification walls, gates, and buttresses, it is not always clear why one structure is identified as a temple and another as a palace. Mallory points out that the BMAC fortified settlements such as Gonur and Togolok resemble the qala, the type of fort known in this region in the historical period. They may be circular or rectangular and have up to three encircling walls. Within the forts are residential quarters, workshops and temples. Extensive irrigation systems have been discovered at the Geoksiur Oasis.
Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BCE found at Altyn-Depe are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BCE was found at Altyn-Depe.
The discovery of a single tiny stone seal (known as the “Anau seal”) with geometric markings from the BMAC site at Anau in Turkmenistan in 2000 led some to claim that the Bactria-Margiana complex had also developed writing, and thus may indeed be considered a literate civilization. It bears five markings strikingly similar to Chinese “small seal” characters, but such characters date from the Qin reforms of roughly 100 AD, while the Anau seal is dated by context to 2,300 BCE. It is therefore an unexplained anomaly. The only match to the Anau seal is a small jet seal of almost identical shape from Niyä (near modern Minfeng) along the southern Silk Road in Xinjiang, assumed to be from the Western Han dynasty.
Interactions with other cultures
BMAC materials have been found in the Indus civilisation, on the Iranian plateau, and in the Persian Gulf. Finds within BMAC sites provide further evidence of trade and cultural contacts. They include an Elamite-type cylinder seal and an Harappan seal stamped with an elephant and Indus script found at Gonur-depe.
The relationship between Altyn-Depe and the Indus Valley seems to have been particularly strong. Among the finds there were two Harappan seals and ivory objects. The Harappan settlement of Shortugai in Northern Afghanistan on the banks of the Amu Darya probably served as a trading station.
There is evidence of sustained contact between the BMAC and the Eurasian steppes to the north, intensifying c. 2000 BCE. In the delta of the River Amu Darya where it reaches the Aral Sea, its waters were channeled for irrigation agriculture by people whose remains resemble those of the nomads of the Andronovo Culture. This is interpreted as nomads settling down to agriculture, after contact with the BMAC. The culture they created is known as Tazabag’yad.
About 1800 BCE the walled BMAC centres decreased sharply in size. Each oasis developed its own types of pottery and other objects. Also pottery of the Andronovo-Tazabag’yab culture to the north appeared widely in the Bactrian and Margian countryside. Many BMAC strongholds continued to be occupied and Andronovo-Tazabagyab coarse incised pottery occurs within them (along with the previous BMAC pottery) as well as in pastoral camps outside the mudbrick walls. In the highlands above the Bactrian oases in Tajikistan, kurgan cemeteries of the Vaksh and Bishkent type appeared with pottery that mixed elements of the late BMAC and Andronovo-Tazabagyab traditions.
As argued by Michael Witzel and Alexander Lubotsky, there is a proposed substratum in Proto-Indo-Iranian which can be plausibly identified with the original language of the BMAC. Moreover, Lubotsky points out a larger number of words apparently borrowed from the same language, which are only attested in Indo-Aryan and therefore evidence of a substratum in Vedic Sanskrit. Some BMAC words have now also been found in Tocharian.
Michael Witzel points out that the borrowed vocabulary includes words from agriculture, village and town life, flora and fauna, ritual and religion, so providing evidence for the acculturation of Indo-Iranian speakers into the world of urban civilization.
The Bactria-Margiana complex has attracted attention as a candidate for those looking for the material counterparts to the Indo-Iranians, a major linguistic branch that split off from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Sarianidi himself advocates identifying the complex as Indo-Iranian, describing it as the result of a migration from southeastern Iran.
Bactrian Margiana material has been found at Susa, Shahdad, and Tepe Yahya in Iran, but Lamberg-Karlovsky does not see this as evidence that the complex originated in southeastern Iran. “The limited materials of this complex are intrusive in each of the sites on the Iranian Plateau as they are in sites of the Arabian peninsula.”
A significant section of the archaeologists are more inclined to see the culture as begun by farmers in the Near Eastern Neolithic tradition, but infiltrated by Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture in its late phase, creating a hybrid. In this perspective, Proto-Indo-Aryan developed within the composite culture before moving south into the Indian subcontinent.
As James P. Mallory phrased it: It has become increasingly clear that if one wishes to argue for Indo-Iranian migrations from the steppe lands south into the historical seats of the Iranians and Indo-Aryans that these steppe cultures were transformed as they passed through a membrane of Central Asian urbanism. The fact that typical steppe wares are found on BMAC sites and that intrusive BMAC material is subsequently found further to the south in Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and Pakistan, may suggest then the subsequent movement of Indo-Iranian-speakers after they had adopted the culture of the BMAC.
However, archaeologists like B. B. Lal have seriously questioned the BMAC and Indo-Iranian connection, and thoroughly disputed the proclaimed relations.
While others maintain there is insufficient evidence for any ethnic or linguistic identification of the BMAC solely based on material remains, in the absence of written records.
Altyndepe (the Turkmen for “Golden Hill”) is a Bronze Age (BMAC) site in Turkmenistan, near Aşgabat, inhabited in the 3rd to 2nd millennia BC, abandoned around 1600 BC. The site is notable for the remains of its “proto-Zoroastrian” ziggurat.
Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BC found at Altyn-Depe are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BC was found at Altyn-Depe.
Gonur Tepe is an archaeological site of about 55 hectares in Turkmenistan that was inhabited by Indo-Iranian peoples until sometime in the 2nd millennium BCE dating back to 2500 BCE. It’s located about 60km north of Mary, Turkmenistan (the capital city of Mary Province).
The site was discovered by Greek-Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi. Sarianidi discovered a palace, a fortified mud-brick enclosure, and temples with fire altars which he believes were dedicated to the Zoroastrian religion. He also found what appears to be the boiler for the ritual drink soma, which is mentioned in the Rigveda and also in the Avesta as haoma. Sarianidi says he also found dishes with traces of cannabis, poppy and ephedrine. According to Sarianidi, this discovery strengthens the theory that these were the ingredients of soma.
The northern part of the complex had a central citadel-like structure about 100m by 180m (350 by 600 feet) in size. A southern complex is about 1.5 hectares in size. The site was most likely abandoned after the Murghab River’s course moved to the west. Gonur is among the largest ruins in the Morghab’s delta region; over 150 ancient settlements dating to the early Bronze Age (2500-1700 BCE) have been found there.
Tepe Fullol (also known as Khush Tepe) is a village in northern Afghanistan where the treasure of Fullol was found, consisting of twenty vessels in gold and silver dated to the Bronze Age. It was accidentally discovered in 1965 by Afghan farmers in a grave cache and provided the first evidence of the Oxus civilisation (also known as BMAC) in northern Afghanistan.
Tepe Fullol is situated in Baghlan Province at the junction of the Khost and Sai valleys. On the basis of iconographic comparisons, the treasure has been dated to between 2600 and 1700 BC. There is also a mound, covering an area 14 by 18 metres (46 by 59 ft) and 20 metres (66 ft) high.
The area’s wealth probably derived from precious materials extracted from the nearby mountains , in particular lapis lazuli from Badakshan, which were widely traded. The vessel’s designs include animal imagery, such as a boar, a stag, snakes and bearded bulls (the latter derived from distant Mesopotamia), indicating that at this early date Afghanistan was already part of an extensive network of trade and cultural exchanges.
Namazga V and Altyndepe were in contact with the Late Harappan culture (ca. 2000-1600 BC), and Masson (1988) tends to identify the culture as Proto-Dravidian.
Proto-Dravidian is the proto-language of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 1500 BC, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points to an earlier split.
As a proto-language, Proto-Dravidian has been reconstructed and is not itself found in the historical record. Due to a dearth of comparative linguistic research in Dravidian studies, not many details as to the grammar, epoch, or location of Proto-Dravidian are known.
Quite a few ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilisations flourished in territories where J2 lineages were preponderant. This is the case of the Hattians, the Hurrians, the Etruscans, the Minoans, the Greeks, the Phoenicians (and their Carthaginian offshoot), the Israelites, and to a lower extent also the Romans, the Assyrians and the Persians. All the great seafaring civilisations from the middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age were dominated by J2 men.
There is a distinct association of ancient J2 civilisations with bull worship. The oldest evidence of a cult of the bull can be traced back to Neolithic central Anatolia, notably at the sites of Çatalhöyük and Alaca Höyük. Bull depictions are omnipresent in Minoan frescos and ceramics in Crete. Bull-masked terracotta figurines and bull-horned stone altars have been found in Cyprus (dating back as far as the Neolithic, the first presumed expansion of J2 from West Asia). The Hattians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Canaaites, and Carthaginians all had bull deities (in contrast with Indo-European or East Asian religions).
The presence of Haplogroup J2 in India, including the subclades M410 and M241 has been an often overlooked clue to the origins of M172. Sengupta et al, in 2005 worked to explain the presence of M172 in India. Their paper provides an immediate acknowledgement of the proposed spread of proto-Elamo-Dravidian speaking peoples into India originating from the Indus Valley and southwest Persia.
The idea that M172 may have been carried into India with proto-Elamo-Dravidian groups is supported by the frequencies of Haplogroup J in one of the only remaining Dravidian Speaking ethnic groups in the Iranian Plateau, the Brahui. 28% of the Brahui, an ethnic Dravidian speaking group from Western Pakistan were found to carry the mutation defining Haplogroup J. Overall Haplogroup J2 in India represented 9.1% of this very populous nation.
In Pakistan, M172 accounted for 11.9% of the Y-Chromosomes typed. Sengupta’s paper broke down the frequencies of Haplogroup J2 into various caste and language groups. J2 was found to be significantly higher among Dravidian castes at 19% than among Indo-European castes at 11%.
J2a-M410 in particular may be a strong candidate for a proposed migration of proto-Dravidian peoples from the Iranian Plateau or the Indus Valley since J2a M410 is a very high component of the haplogroup J2 chromosomes found in Pakistan. Over 71% of the M172 found in Pakistan was M410+.
Another interesting characteristic in the distribution of M172 and more specifically, M410, in India was its higher frequencies in Upper Caste Dravidians. M410+ chromosomes were found in 13% of Upper Caste Dravidians. Sengupta goes on to suggest an Indian origin of Dravidian speakers but from a Y chromosome perspective, the paper seems to acknowledge M172 arriving in India from Middle Eastern and Indus Valley Civilizations.
Despite an apparent exogenous frequency spread pattern of J2a toward North and Central India from the west, it is premature to attribute the spread to a simplistic demic expansion of early agriculturists from the Middle East….it may also reflect subsequent Bronze Age Harappans of uncertain provenance.
Subclades of M172 such as M67 and M92 were not found in either Indian or Pakistani samples which also might hint at a partial common origin. And while there may be multiple events and origins for M172 lineages in India, it does seem likely that the Indus Valley and Elamo-Dravidian speaking groups may be the origin of some of the M172 found in India today.
The sacred bull of Hinduism, Nandi, present in all temples dedicated to Shiva or Parvati, does not have an Indo-European origin, but can be traced back to Indus Valley civilisation. Minoan Crete, Hittite Anatolia, the Levant, Bactria and the Indus Valley also shared a tradition of bull leaping, the ritual of dodging the charge of a bull. It survives today in the traditional bullfighting of Andalusia in Spain and Provence in France, two regions with a high percentage of J2 lineages.
The Kelteminar culture
The Kelteminar culture (5500–3500 BCE) was a Neolithic archaeological culture of sedentary fishermen occupying the semi-desert and desert areas of the Karakum and Kyzyl Kum deserts and the deltas of the Amu Darya and Zeravshan rivers in the territories of ancient Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, dated to the 6th-3rd millennium BCE.
The culture was discovered and first excavated in 1939 by the USSR Chorasmian Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition under leadership of S.P. Tolstoy, who first described it. It is named after a site of the same name. The Kelteminar culture was replaced by the Tazabagyab culture.
The Kelteminar people practised a mobile hunting, gathering and fishing subsistence system. Over time, they adopted stockbreeding. The Kelteminar economy was based on sedentary fishing and hunting.
Scientists hold that Kelteminar culture is related to the Pit–Comb Ware culture and belongs to the Finno-Ugric peoples. The Kelteminar culture is cited as an argument against existence of an Indo-European ancestral homeland in Central Asia.
The Kelteminar people lived in huge houses (size 24m x 17m and height 10m), which housed the whole tribal community of about 100-120 people. They adorned themselves with beads made of shells. They manufactured stone axes and miniature trapezoidal flint arrowheads. For cooking, they used clay vessels produced without the potter’s wheel.
With the Late Glacial warming, up to the Atlantic Phase of the Post-Glacial Optimum, Mesolithic groups moved north into this area from the Hissar (6000–4000 BCE). These groups brought with them the bow and arrow and the dog, elements of what Kent Flannery has called the “broad-spectrum revolution”.
Tepe Hissar is a prehistoric site located just south of Dāmḡān in northeastern Persia. To the north lie valleys rich in flint, lead, wood, fruit, deer, stag, boar, fish and fowl; to the south, the periphery of the great desert (kavir), with known occurrences of copper, gold, turquoise, semi-arid fauna, and herds of gazelles and onagers. Hissar Valley is a vast intermountain hollow with the rivers Kafirnigan, Karatag and Shirkent.
The sacred book of Zoroastrians «Avesta» mentioned this area as «Shumon». For the first time the word «Hissar» («hissor») as a name of a settlement, city or an administrative unit was mentioned in the 11th century. Then this word designated a site of ancient settlement with state armies, crafts, and a market. Way back then the city was the center of the most independent part of Samanid state.
Tepe Hissar shows habitation of settled farmers and herdsmen who lived near Damghan in northeastern Iran during the Aeneolithic period and the Bronze Age. The oldest levels date from the second half of the fourth millennium BC. and are characterized by modeled ceramics with geometric decorations (Hissar I-A).
The subsistence economy was based on agriculture. From Hissar II onward plant remains indicate “an agricultural system based on cereals [glume and free-threshing wheats, naked and hulled barley] and the utilization of local fruit [olive, grapevine] plant resources”. Lentil seeds and legumes were also present. Cattle and sheep figurines indicate herding activities (Mashkour).
Generally, bodies were buried on their sides in a flexed position in simple pits. In period II, however, rare brick cist graves appear.
Based on his analysis of burial ceramics, Erich Schmidt identified three major periods. Period I was subdivided into IA (earliest), IB and IC. The separation between IC and IIA is unclear; the term IC/IIA better reflects this uncertainty.
Period II(B) and III(B and C) are well-defined; IIIA is ephemeral. The 1976 radiocarbon determinations support the following chronology: IC/IIA: about 3980-3865 cal. BCE, IIB: c. 3365-3030 cal BCE, IIIB: ca. 2400-2170 cal. BCE; and IIIC 2170-1900 cal. BCE (Voigt and Dyson, I, pp. 173-74).
Period IB should then be about 4000 BCE and earlier, while IA should be sometime after 5000 BCE, since it clearly follows the Cheshmi Ali (Čašma ʿAli)-Sialk II painted ware horizon of about 5500 BCE (Esfandiari).
The inhabitants lived in adobe brick dwellings. The settlement had a burial ground. Earthenware made on a potter’s wheel, and paintings depicting goats, leopards, and birds were found in subsequent levels (Hissar I-B and II-A); metallurgy was well-developed. The culture of this period exhibits ties with the cultures of central Iran (Sialk III) and southern Turkmenia (Namazga Tepe III).
From the beginning full-time craft specialists mass-produced standardized painted pottery (Hissar I-IIA). Hissar I ware, handmade in IA and wheel-made in IB, consisted of painted buff, painted red, and plain utility ware; a crude late painted ware still occurred in period IIB, along with a coarse ware tempered with crushed slag (Pigott, Howard, and Epstein). Hissar I painted ware is decorated with geometric, plant, and animal motifs (gazelles, ibexes, and birds). Shapes consist of small cups and bowls, and bowls (shallow and deep) on pedestal stems with flaring bases.
Gray ceramics, gradually displacing the painted pottery, appear in the first half of the third millennium BC. (Hissar II-B). Burnished grey ware becomes predominant in period IIB and III, produced in a reducing fire from the same local clays. In IIB cups on high pedestal stands appear; in III canteens and bottle-pitchers replaced them. As with pottery, the uniformity and skill seen in the artifacts (and the quantity of slag and furnace linings) suggests full-time specialists. In Hissar I daggers, knife blades, arrowheads, pins, tacks, points, and needles were made.
In Hissar II and III copper artifacts increase in quality and variety and include personal ornaments (earrings, pendants, bracelets, bands), tools and weapons (bidents, lances, mattocks, chisels, maceheads), and luxury items (vessels, mirrors, boxes and intricately cast pins and rods). Lab study shows “remarkable technological conservatism persisting from Hissar I through III”. In Hissar IIB lead, silver, and gold were added to copper for the first time.
While western connections are visible in the ceramics and button-seals of Hissar I, many connections with Margiana (Marv) and Bactria occur in Hissar IIIC. These include mini-columns, alabaster discs, animal figurines, bidents, tridents, axe-adzes, compartmented copper stamp seals, lanceheads with bent tangs, metal horns, cosmetic bottles, beads with incised circles, etc.
Four rich burials from 1931 belong to this period as does a large “hoard” of pottery copper, gold and alabaster objects (most likely a cenotaph like those found in Baluchistan and Central Asia; Amiet, 1986). The 1976 excavations produced one clay or tablet with signs and nine blank pillow-shaped tablets in Hissar II.
The Hissar culture reached its golden age between the second half of the third millennium BC. and the early part of the second millennium BC. (Hissar III; similar to Namazga Tepe V and VI and more distantly resembling the Maikop culture). While the Hissar III culture continues Near Eastern traditions, the copper artifacts are related to the early Kuban culture of the northern Caucasus, especially Tsarskaya, which like the Majkop slightly earlier clearly represents a fusion of Near Eastern and Kurgan traditions.
Burial sites with rich inventories have been found. An isolated dwelling, apparently belonging to a wealthy patriarchal family, was excavated; this evidence points to the decay of the primitive communal system.
The Altai Mountains in what is now southern Russia and central Mongolia have been identified as the point of origin of a cultural enigma termed the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon. It is conjectured that changes in climate in this region around 2000 BC and the ensuing ecological, economic and political changes triggered a rapid and massive migration westward into northeast Europe, eastward into China and southward into Vietnam and Thailand across a frontier of some 4,000 miles.
This migration took place in just five to six generations and led to peoples from Finland in the west to Thailand in the east employing the same metal working technology and, in some areas, horse breeding and riding.
It is further conjectured that the same migrations spread the Uralic group of languages across Europe and Asia: some 39 languages of this group are still extant, including Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Lappish.
However, recent genetic testings of sites in south Siberia and Kazakhstan (Andronovo horizon) would rather support a spreading of the bronze technology via Indo-European migrations eastwards, as this technology was well known for quite a while in western regions.
Seima-Turbino refers to burial sites dating around 1500 BC found across northern Eurasia, from Finland to Mongolia. The buried were nomadic warriors and metal-workers, travelling on horseback or two-wheeled chariots. These nomads originated from the Altai Mountains. The culture spread from these mountains to the west. Although they were the precursor to the much later Mongol invasions, these groups were not yet strong enough to attack the important social sites of the Bronze Age.
These cultures are noted for being nomadic forest and steppe societies with metal working, sometimes without having first developed agricultural methods. The development of this metalworking ability appears to have taken place quite quickly.
Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou (Wade–Giles: Erh-li-t’ou) period, which some historians argue places it within the range of dates controlled by the Shang dynasty. Others believe the Erlitou sites belong to the preceding Xia (Wade–Giles: Hsia) dynasty.
The U.S. National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the “period between about 2000 BC and 771 BC,” a period that begins with Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule. Though this provides a concise frame of reference, it overlooks the continued importance of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture.
Little is known about the arrival of Proto-Greek speakers from the steppes. The Mycenaean culture commenced circa 1650 BCE and is clearly an imported steppe culture. The close relationship between Mycenaean and Proto-Indo-Iranian languages suggest that they split fairly late, some time between 2500 and 2000 BCE.
Archeologically, Mycenaean chariots, spearheads, daggers and other bronze objects show striking similarities with the Seima-Turbino culture (c. 1900-1600 BCE) of the northern Russian forest-steppes, known for the great mobility of its nomadic warriors (Seima-Turbino sites were found as far away as Mongolia). It is therefore likely that the Mycenaean descended from Russia to Greece between 1900 and 1650 BCE, where they intermingled with the locals to create a new unique Greek culture.
The Qijia culture
The Qijia culture (2400 BC – 1900 BC) was an early Bronze Age culture distributed around the upper Yellow River region of Gansu (centered in Lanzhou) and eastern Qinghai, China, it is regarded as one of the earliest bronze cultures. Johan Gunnar Andersson discovered the initial site at Qijiaping in 1923. Qijia culture was a sedentary culture, based on agriculture, and breeding pigs, which were also used in sacrifices.
Qijia culture is distinguished by a presence of numerous domesticated horses, and practice of oracle divination, the metal knives and axes recovered apparently point to some interactions with Siberian and Central Asian cultures, in particular with the Seima-Turbino complex. Archeological evidence points to a plausible early contacts between the Qijia culture and Central Asia.
During the late stages of the culture, the Qijia culture retreated from the west and suffered a reduction in population size. Qijia culture produced some of the earliest bronze and copper mirrors found in China. Extensive domestication of horses are found at many Qijia sites.
The archaeological site at Lajia, Huangniangniangtai, Qinweijia, and Dahezhuang are associated with the Qijia culture.
Since this is significantly later than the discovery of bronze in Mesopotamia, bronze technology could have been imported rather than discovered independently in China. While there may be reason to believe that bronzework developed inside China separately from outside influence, the discovery of European mummies in Xinjiang suggests a possible route of transmission from the West.
The Tagar culture
The Tagar culture, named after an island in the Yenisey River opposite Minusinsk, succeeded the Karasuk culture. The civilization was one of the largest centres of bronze-smelting in ancient Eurasia.
The Tagar culture was a Bronze Age archeological culture which flourished between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC in South Siberia (Republic of Khakassia, southern part of Krasnoyarsk Territory, eastern part of Kemerovo Province)
The Tagar tribes, whose people use the same burial places, indicating a continuity in settlements, are thought to have been Caucasoids of the Scythian circle. They lived in timber dwellings heated by clay ovens and large hearths. Some settlements were surrounded by fortifications. They made a living by raising livestock, predominantly large horned livestock and horses, goats and sheep. Harvest was collected with bronze sickles and reaping knives.
Their artifacts were heavily influenced by Scythian art from Pazyryk culture, an Iron Age archaeological culture (ca. 6th to 3rd centuries BC) identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost in the Altay Mountains and nearby Mongolia. Perhaps the most striking feature of the culture are huge royal kurgans fenced by stone plaques, with four vertical stelae marking the corners.
Ancient DNA extracted from the remains of six males who dated back to the Tagar culture were determined to be of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a. Extracted mtDNA from two female remains from this cultural horizon revealed they possessed the T3 and H lineages. The study determined that the majority of the individuals had light hair and blue or green eyes.
The Pazyryk culture
The Pazyryk culture is an Iron Age archaeological culture (ca. 6th to 3rd centuries BC) identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost in the Altay Mountains and nearby Mongolia.
The type site are the Pazyryk burials, a number of Iron Age tombs found in the Siberian permafrost in the the Pazyryk Valley of the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia; the site is close to the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Numerous comparable burials have been found in neighboring western Mongolia.
Archaeologists have extrapolated the Pazyryk culture from these finds: five large burial mounds and several smaller ones between 1925 and 1949, one opened in 1947 by Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko. The burial mounds concealed chambers of larch-logs covered over with large cairns of boulders and stones.
The Pazyryk burials are a number of Iron Age tombs found in the Pazyryk Valley of the Ukok plateau in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia; the site is close to the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Numerous comparable burials have been found in neighboring western Mongolia.
Ordinary Pazyryk graves contain only common utensils, but in one, among other treasures, archaeologists found the famous Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest surviving wool-pile oriental rug. Another striking find, a 3-metre-high four-wheel funerary chariot, survived superbly preserved from the 5th century BC.
The mummies are buried in long barrows (or “kurgans”) similar to the tomb mounds of western Scythian culture in modern Ukraine. In fact, some of the first Bronze Age Scythian burials documented by modern archaeologists include the kurgans at Pazyryk in the Ulagan (Red) district of the Altai Republic, south of Novosibirsk in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia (near Mongolia).
Other undisturbed kurgans have been found to contain remarkably well-preserved remains, comparable to the earlier Tarim mummies of Xinjiang. Bodies were preserved using mummification techniques and were also naturally frozen in solid ice from water seeping into the tombs.
They were encased in coffins made from hollowed trunks of larch (which may have had sacral significance) and sometimes accompanied by sacrificed concubines and horses. The clustering of tombs in a single area implies that it had particular ritual significance for these people, who were likely to have been willing to transport their deceased leaders great distances for burial.
Many artifacts and human remains have been found at this location, including the Siberian Ice Princess, indicating a flourishing culture at this location that benefited from the many trade routes and caravans of merchants passing through the area.(State Hermitage Museum 2007) The Pazyryk are considered to have had a war-like life.
Other kurgan cemeteries associated with the culture include those of Bashadar, Tuekta, Ulandryk, Polosmak and Berel. There are so far no known sites of settlements associated with the burials, suggesting a purely nomadic lifestyle.
The tombs are Scythian-type kurgans, barrow-like tomb mounds containing wooden chambers covered over by large cairns of boulders and stones, dated to the 4th – 3rd centuries BCE.
The spectacular burials at Pazyryk are responsible for the introduction of the term kurgan, a Russian word of Turkic origin, into general usage to describe these tombs. The region of the Pazyryk kurgans is considered the type site of the wider Pazyryk culture. The site is included in the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The bearers of the Pazyryk culture were horse-riding pastoral nomads of the steppe, and some may have accumulated great wealth through horse trading with merchants in Persia, India and China.
Trading routes between Central Asia, China and the Near East passed through the oases on the plateau and these ancient Altai nomads profited from the rich trade and culture passing through. There is evidence that Pazyryk trade routes were vast and connected with large areas of Asia including India, perhaps Pazyryk merchants largely trading in high quality horses.
This wealth is evident in the wide array of finds from the Pazyryk tombs, which include many rare examples of organic objects such as felt hangings, Chinese silk, the earliest known pile carpet, horses decked out in elaborate trappings, and wooden furniture and other household goods. These finds were preserved when water seeped into the tombs in antiquity and froze, encasing the burial goods in ice, which remained frozen in the permafrost until the time of their excavation.
The Pazyryk culture has been connected to the Scythians, Iranic equestrian tribes who were mentioned as inhabiting large areas in the central Eurasian steppes starting with the 7th century BC up until the 4th century AD, whose similar tombs have been found across the steppes. The Siberian animal style tattooing is characteristic of the Scythians.
It has been suggested that Pazyryk was a homeland for these tribes before they migrated west. There is also the possibility that the current inhabitants of the Altai region are descendants of the Pazyryk culture, a continuity that would accord with current ethnic politics: Archaeogenetics is now being used to study the Pazyryk mummies.
Craniological studies of samples from the Pazyryk burials revealed the presence of both Mongoloid and Caucasoid components in this population. quoting G. F. Debets on the physical characteristics of the population in the Pazyryk kurgans, records a mixed population. The men would seem to be part Mongoloid and the women Europoid.
The historical appearance of the Iranic equestrian Scythians coincided with the rise of equestrian semi-nomadism from the Carpathian Mountains of Europe to Mongolia in the Far East during the 1st millennium BC.
The “classical Scythians” known to ancient Greek historians were located in the northern Black Sea and fore-Caucasus region, and their territories during the Iron Age were known to classical Greek sources as “Scythia”.
However, other Scythian groups encountered in Near Eastern and Achaemenid sources existed in Central Asia. Moreover, the term “Scythian” is also used by modern scholars in an archaeological context, i.e. any region perceived to display attributes of the “Scytho-Siberian” culture.
Large burial mounds (some over 20 metres high), provide the most valuable archaeological remains associated with the Scythians. They dot the Eurasian steppe belt, from Mongolia to Balkans, through Ukrainian and south Russian steppes, extending in great chains for many kilometers along ridges and watersheds.
From them archaeologists have learned much about Scythian life and art. Some Scythian tombs reveal traces of Greek, Chinese, and Indian craftsmanship, suggesting a process of Hellenization, Sinification, and other local influences among the Scythians.
Kurgan barrows were characteristic of Bronze Age peoples, from the Altay Mountains to the Caucasus, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Ipatovo kurga, a cemetery of kurgan burial mounds, located near the town of Ipatovo in Stavropol Krai, Russia, some 120 kilometers (75 mi) northeast of Stavropol, revealed a long sequence of burials from the Maykop culture c. 4000 BC down to the burial of a Sarmatian princess of the 3rd century BC, excavated 1998–99.
Modern interpretation of historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence has proposed two broad hypotheses when it comes to the origin of the Scythians. The first, formerly more espoused view by Soviet-era researchers, roughly followed Herodotus’ (third) account, stating that the Scythians were an Iranian group who arrived from Inner Asia, i.e. from the area of Turkestan and western Siberia.
An alternative view explains the origin of the Scythian cultural complex to have emerged from local groups of the “Timber Grave” (or Srubna) culture (although this is also associated with the Cimmerians). This second theory is supported by anthropological evidence which has found that Scythian skulls are similar to preceding findings from the Timber Grave culture, and distinct from those of the Central Asian Sacae.
Others have further stressed that “Scythian” was a very broad term used by both ancient and modern scholars to describe a whole host of otherwise unrelated peoples sharing only certain similarities in lifestyle (nomadism), cultural practices and language. The 1st millennium BC ushered a period of unprecedented cultural and economic connectivity amongst disparate and wide-ranging communities.
A mobile, broadly similar lifestyle would have facilitated contacts amongst disparate ethnic groupings along the expansive Eurasian steppe from the Danube to Manchuria, leading to many cultural similarities. From the viewpoint of Greek and Persian ancient observers, they were all lumped together under the etic category “Scythians”.
Accounts by Herodotus of Scythian origins has been discounted recently; although his accounts of Scythian raiding activities contemporary to his writings have been deemed more reliable. Moreover, the term Scythian, like Cimmerian, was used to refer to a variety of groups from the Black Sea to southern Siberia and central Asia.
“They were not a specific people”, but rather variety of peoples “referred to at variety of times in history, and in several places, none of which was their original homeland”. The Bible includes a single reference to Scythians in Colossians 3:11, immediately after mentioning barbarian, possibly as an extreme example of a barbarian.
Early physical analyses have unanimously concluded that the Scythians, even those in the east (e.g. the Pazyryk region), possessed predominantly “Europioid” features, although mixed ‘Euro-mogoloid” phenotypes also occur, depending on site and period.
Numerous ancient mitochondrial DNA samples have now been recovered from Bronze and Iron Age communities in the Eurasian steppe and Siberian forest zone, the putative ‘ancestors’ of the historical Scythians. Compared to Y-DNA, mtDNA is easier to extract and amplify from ancient specimens due to numerous copies of mtDNA per cell.
The earliest studies could only analyze segments of mtDNA, thus providing only broad correlations of affinity to modern ‘west Eurasian’ or ‘East Eurasian’ populations. For example, a 2002 study, the mitochondrial DNA of Saka period male and female skeletal remains from a double inhumation kurgan at the Beral site in Kazakhstan was analysed. The two individuals were found to be not closely related. The HV1 mitochondrial sequence of the male was similar to the Anderson sequence which is most frequent in European populations. On the other hand the HV1 sequence of the female suggested a greater likelihood of Asian origins.
More recent studies have been able to type for specific mtDNA lineages. For example a 2004 study studied the HV1 sequence obtained from a male “Scytho-Siberian” at the Kizil site in the Altai Republic. It belonged to the N1a maternal lineage, a geographically “west Eurasian lineage” Another study by the same team, again from two Scytho-Siberian skeletons found in the Altai Republic, were phenotypically males “of mixed Euro-Mongoloid origin”. One of the individuals was found to carry the F2a maternal lineage, and the other the D lineage, both of which are characteristic of “East Eurasian” populations.
These early studies have been eloborated by an increasing number of studies by Russian scholars. Conclusions which might be drawn thus far, from an mtDNA persepctive, are (i) an early, Bronze Age mixture of both west and east Eurasian lineages, with western lineages being found far to the East, but not vice-versa; (ii) an apparent reversal by Iron Age times, with increasing presence of East Eurasian lineages in the western steppe; (iii) the possible role of migrations from the sedentary south: the Balkano-Danubian and Iranian regions toward the steppe.
Ancient Y-DNA data was finally provided by Keyser et al in 2009. They studied the haplotypes and haplogroups of 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk area in Siberia were dated from between the middle of the 2nd millennium BC and the 4th century AD (Scythian and Sarmatian timeframe). Nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R-M17.
The authors suggest that their data shows that between Bronze and Iron Ages the constellation of populations known variously as Scythians, Andronovians, etc. were blue- (or green-) eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people who might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin civilization.
Moreover, this study found that they were genetically more closely related to modern populations of eastern Europe than those of central and southern Asia. The ubiquity and utter dominance of R1a Y-DNA lineage contrasts markedly with the diversity seen in the mtDNA profiles.
However, this comparison was made on the basis of STRs. Since the 2009 study by Keyser et al, population and geographic specific SNPs have been discovered which can accurately distinguish between “European” R1a (M458, Z 280) and “South Asian” R1a (Z93)(Pamjav 2012.
Re-analyzing ancient Scytho-Siberian samples for these more specific subclades will further elucidate if the Eurasian steppe populations have an ultimate Eastern European or South Asian origin, or perhaps, both.
This, in turn, might also depend on which population is studied, i.e. Herodotus’ European “classical’ Scythians, the Central Asian Sakae or un-named nomadic groups in the far east (Altai region) who also bore a ‘Scythian” cultural tradition.
The Pazyryk culture flourished between the 7th and 3rd century BC in the area associated with the Sacae, a Scythian tribe or group of tribes of Iranian origin. B. N. Mukerjee has said that it is clear that ancient Greek and Roman scholars believed, all Sakai were Scythians, but not all Scythians were Sakai.
Modern confusion about the identity of the Saka is partly due to the Persians. According to Herodotus, the Persians called all Scythians by the name Sakas. Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, AD 23–79) provides a more detailed explanation, stating that the Persians gave the name Sakai to the Scythian tribes “nearest to them”. The Scythians to the far north of Assyria were also called the Saka suni “Saka or Scythian sons” by the Persians. The Assyrians of the time of Esarhaddon record campaigning against a people they called in the Akkadian the Ashkuza or Ishhuza. Hugo Winckler was the first to associate them with the Scyths which identification remains without serious question.
They were closely associated with the Gimirrai, who were the Cimmerians known to the ancient Greeks. Confusion arose because they were known to the Persians as Saka, however they were known to the Babylonians as Gimirrai, and both expressions are used synonymously on the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 BC on the order of Darius the Great. These Scythians were mainly interested in settling in the kingdom of Urartu, which later became Armenia. The district of Shacusen, Uti Province, reflects their name. In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri (Gomer).
Pliny also mentions Aseni and Asoi clans south of the Hindukush. Bucephala was the capital of the Aseni which stood on the Hydaspes (the Jhelum River). The Sarauceans and Aseni are the Sacarauls and Asioi of Strabo.
Asio, Asi/Asii, Asva/Aswa, Ari-aspi, Aspasios, Aspasii (or Hippasii) are possibly variant names the classical writers have given to the horse-clans of the Kambojas. The Old-Persian words for horse, “asa” and “aspa, have most likely been derived from this.”
If one accepts this connection, then the Tukharas (= Rishikas = Yuezhi) controlled the eastern parts of Bactria (Chinese Ta-hia) while the combined forces of the Sakarauloi, Asio (horse people = Parama Kambojas) and Pasinoi of Strabo occupied its western parts after being displaced from their original home in the Fergana valley by the Yuezhi. Ta-hia (Daxia) is then taken to mean the Tushara Kingdom which also included Badakshan, Chitral, Kafirstan and Wakhan According to other scholars, it were the Saka hordes alone who had put an end to the Greek kingdom of Bactria.
The language of the original Saka tribes is unknown. The only record from their early history is the Issyk inscription, a short fragment on a silver cup found in the Issyk kurgan. (Eastern) Saka or Sakan is a variety of Eastern Iranian languages. It is a Middle Iranian language.
The inscription is in a variant of the Kharoṣṭhī script, and is probably in a Saka dialect, constituting one of very few autochthonous epigraphic traces of that language. Harmatta (1999) identifies the language as Khotanese Saka, tentatively translating “The vessel should hold wine of grapes, added cooked food, so much, to the mortal, then added cooked fresh butter on”.
The only known remnants of what is nowadays called the Saka language is Khotanese Saka language of the ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Khotan and Tumshuq in the Tarim Basin, in what in now southern Xinjiang, China, which was ruled by the Saka. The language there is widely divergent from the rest of Iranian belongs to the Eastern Iranian group. It also is divided into two divergent dialects. The two kingdoms differed in dialect, their speech known as Khotanese and Tumshuqese. Both dialects share features with modern Wakhi and Pashto, but both of the Saka dialects contain many borrowings from the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit. Many Prakrit terms were borrowed from Khotanese into the Tocharian languages.
Tumshuqese was more archaic than Khotanese, but it is much less understood because it appears in fewer manuscripts compared to Khotanese. According to the LINGUIST List, Khotanese and Tumshuqese are distinct Eastern Iranian languages. Khotanese is classified under the Southeastern Iranian family. Tumshuqese is classified as a “Sakan-Tumshuqese” language under the “Sogdian-Khotanese” subgroup, which in turn belongs to the Scythian branch of the Northeastern Iranian group of languages.
The two known dialects of Saka are associated with a movement of Scythian people. No invasion of the region is recorded in Chinese records and one theory is that two tribes of Saka, speaking the dialects, settled in the region in about 200 BC before the Chinese accounts commence.
The Tashtyk culture
The Tashtyk culture, named after an island in the Yenisey River opposite Minusinsk, succeeded the Tagar culture. The Tashtyk culture, an archaeological culture that flourished in the Yenisei valley in Siberia from the first to the fourth century CE, perhaps equivalent to the Yenisei Kirghiz.
According to recent historical findings, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 BC. The early Kyrgyz lived in the upper Yenisey River valley, central Siberia (see Yenisei Kirghiz for details). Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7th–12th centuries AD describe the Kyrgyz as red-haired with fair complexion and green (blue) eyes.
First appearing in Chinese records of the Grand Historian as Gekun or Jiankun, and later as part of the Tiele tribes, they were once under the rule of Göktürks and Uyghurs. The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed on the other hand by the recent genetic studies (The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity).
Remarkably, 63% of the modern Kyrgyz men share Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles (56%) and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) is believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language speakers.
Kyrgyz genesis legend tells about an ancestor and father of all Kyrgyzes Kyzyl Taigan (Red Dog). A daughter of the khan was in the habit to take long walks in a company of 40 maidens-servants. Once, on return home after her usual walk, the Princess saw that her native aul was ravaged by an enemy. In the aul they found only one alive creature, a red dog.
The princess and her 40 maids become mothers, in a company with only one male attraction, a red dog. By the number of matrons, the posterity of 40 maidens, kyrk-kyz, began to be called Kyrgyz people. The cult of the Heavenly Dog was widespread between the tribes west and east of the ancient China.
The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 AD. Then Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years.
In the 12th century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altay Range and the Sayan Mountains as a result of the rising Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. Various Turkic peoples ruled them until 1685, when they came under the control of the Oirats (Dzungars).
Tashtyk settlements and hill-forts have been unearthed throughout the Yenisei region, particularly the Sayan canyon area. Their most imposing monuments were immense barrows-crypt structures; these have yielded large quantities of clay and metal vessels and ornaments. In addition, numerous petrographic carvings have been found.
During his excavations of the Oglahty cemetery south of Minusinsk, Leonid Kyzlasov discovered a number of mummies with richly decorated plaster funerary masks showing Western Eurasian features, though this would not rule out some East Asian admixture, as revealed by ancient DNA (see below). There were also intact fur hats, silk clothes, and footwear (now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).
Some of the graves contained leather models of human bodies with their heads wrapped in tissue and brightly painted. Inside the models there were small leather bags probably symbolising the stomach and containing burned human bones. Scaled-down replicas of swords, arrows and quivers were placed nearby.
Extracted mitochondrial DNA from five female Tashtyk remains of 100–400 AD from Bogratsky region, Abakano-Pérévoz I, Khakassia Republic, revealed that four possessed the Western Eurasian HV, H, N9a, and T1 haplogroups, while the other carried the East Asian haplogroup C. The Western Eurasian Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1a was extracted from one male. The same haplogroup was found among the remains of the preceding Tagar culture. The study determined that the majority of the individuals had light hair and blue or green eyes.
The Hunza people
The Hunza people, or Hunzakuts, descend from the principality of Hunza. The Burusho or Hunzakuts (Hunza people), are an ethnic group indigenous to the Hunza and Yasin valleys of Gilgit Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The Hunzas are predominantly Shia Ismaili Muslims. Their language, Burushaski, has not been shown to be related to any other.
The Burusho claim to be descendants of the soldiers who came to the region with Alexander the Great’s army in the 4th century BC. In 2008 the Macedonian Institute for Strategic Researches “16.9” organized a visit by Hunza Prince Ghazanfar Ali Khan and Princess Rani Atiqa as descendants of the Alexandran army.
The Hunza delegation was welcomed at the Skopje Airport by the country’s prime minister Nikola Gruevski, the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Archbishop Stephen and the then-mayor of Skopje Trifun Kostovski. Academics dismiss the idea as pseudoscience and doubts exist that party leaders actually believe the claims either.
Burusho legend maintains that they descend from the village of Baltir, which had been founded by a soldier left behind from the army of Alexander the Great—a legend common to much of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. However, genetic evidence supports only a very small, 2% Greek genetic component among the Pashtun ethnic group of Pakistan and Afghanistan, not the Burusho.
DNA research groups the male ancestry of the Hunza with speakers of Pamir languages (Afghans) and the Sinti Romani (Gypsies), due primarily to the M124 marker (defining Y-DNA haplogroup R2a), which is present at high frequency in all three populations. However, they have also an East Asian genetic contribution, suggesting that at least some of their ancestry originates north of the Himalayas.
The Hunzakuts and the region of Hunza has one of the highest literacy rates as compared to other similar districts in Pakistan. Hunza is a major tourist attraction in Pakistan, and many Pakistani as well as foreign tourists travel to the region to enjoy the picturesque landscape and stunning mountains of the area.
The district has many modern amenities and is quite advanced by Asian standards. Local legend states that Hunza may have been associated with the lost kingdom of Shangri La. The people of Hunza are by some noted for their exceptionally long life expectancy, others describe this as a longevity narrative and cite a life expectancy of 53 years for men and 52 for women, although with a high standard deviation.
A variety of NRY Haplogroups are seen among the Burusho. Most frequent among these are R1a1 – a lineage associated with Central/Southern Eurasians and likely related to the Bronze Age migration into South Asia c. 3000 BCE; and R2a, probably originating in South/Central Asia during the Upper Paleolithic. The subcontinental lineages of haplogroup H1 and haplogroup L3 are also present, although haplogroup L, defined by SNP mutation M20, reaches a maximum of diversity in Pakistan.
Other Y-DNA haplogroups reaching considerable frequency are haplogroup J2, associated with the spread of agriculture in, and from, the neolithic Near East, and haplogroup C3, of Siberian origin and possibly representing the patrilineage of Ghenghis Khan. Also present at lower frequency are haplogroups O3, an East Eurasian lineage, and Q, P, F, and G.
The Hunza live alongside the Wakhi and the Shina. The Wakhi reside in the upper part of Hunza locally called Gojal. Wakhis also inhabit the bordering regions of China, Tajikstan and Afghanistan and also live in Gizar and Chitral district of Pakistan. The Shina-speaking people live in the southern part of Hunza. They have come from Chilas, Gilgit, and other Shina language speaking areas of Pakistan.
Shina is a language from the Dardic sub-group of the Indo-Aryan languages, while Wakhi is an Indo-European language in the branch of Eastern Iranian language family and is intimately related to other Southeastern Iranian languages in the Pamir languages group.
Wakhi is one of several languages that belong to the Pamir language group. A reflection of this is the fact that the Wakhi people are occasionally called Pamiris. The origin of this language is Wakhan in Afghanistan and it is, according to sources, more than four thousand years old. It is spoken by the inhabitants of the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan, parts of Gilgit–Baltistan (the former NAs) of Pakistan, Gorno-Badkhshan (mountainous-Badakhshan, in Russian) region of Tajakistan, and Xinjiang in western China.
The Pamiris are composed of people who speak the Pamiri languages, the indigenous language in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province, and adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam.
The Pamiris share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan, the Sarikoli speakers in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Province in China, the Wakhi speakers in Afghanistan and the Wakhi speakers in Upper Hunza Gojal region of Northern mountainous areas of Pakistan.
In the Pamiri languages, the Pamiris refer to themselves as Pamiri or Badakhshani, a reference to the historic Badakhshan region where they live.
The Pamir languages are a group of the Eastern Iranian languages, spoken by numerous people in the Pamir Mountains, primarily along the Panj River and its tributaries. This includes the Badakhshan Province of northeastern Afghanistan and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of eastern Tajikistan.
Smaller communities can be found in the adjacent areas of Pakistan where many have settled in recent decades. Sarikoli, one of the languages of the Pamir group, is spoken beyond the Sarikol Range on the Afghanistan-China border, and thus qualifies as the easternmost of the extant Iranian languages.
The Ethnologue lists Pamir languages along with Pashto as Southeastern Iranian, however, according to Encyclopedia Iranica, Pamir languages and Pashto belong to the North-Eastern Iranian branch. The only other living member of the Southeastern Iranian languages is Pashto. Members of the Pamir language group include Shughni, Sarikoli, Yazgulyam, Munji, Ishkashimi language, Wakhi, and Yidgha. They have the subject–object–verb syntactic typology.
The vast majority of Pamir languages speakers in Tajikistan and Afghanistan also use Tajik (Persian) as literary language, which is—unlike the languages of the Pamir group—a Southwestern Iranian tongue. The language group is endangered, with total number of speakers roughly around 100,000 (as of 1990).
Ossetic is among the remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across Central Asia. Other surviving languages closely related to Ossetic are Yaghnobi, Pashto and Pamiri languages, all spoken more than 2,000 km to the east in Afghanistan, northwestern Pakistan and some parts of Tajikistan.
The Xiongnu were ancient nomadic-based people that formed a state or confederation located north of China. Most of the information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources. What little is known of their titles and names comes from Chinese transliterations of their language.
The identity of the ethnic core of Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses, because only a few words, mainly titles and personal names, were preserved in the Chinese sources. Proposals by scholars include Turkic, Mongolic, Yeniseian, Tocharian, Iranian, and Uralic. They also possibly practiced Tengriism. The name Xiongnu may be cognate to the name Huns, but the evidence for this is controversial.
Chinese sources from the 3rd century BC report them as having created an empire under Modu Chanyu, the supreme leader after 209 BC. This empire stretched beyond the borders of modern-day Mongolia. After defeating the previously dominant Yuezhi in the 2nd century BC, Xiongnu became a dominant power on the steppes of central and eastern Asia. They were active in regions of what is now southern Siberia, Mongolia, Southern Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. Relations between early Chinese dynasties and the Xiongnu were complex, with repeated periods of military conflict and intrigue alternating with exchanges of tribute, trade, and marriage treaties.
From 209 BC Modu Chanyu united the steppe tribes of Mongolia into the first large Steppe empire. Soon the new Han Dynasty was paying them tribute. From 133 BC Emperor Wu adopted an aggressive policy and pushed Chinese power west and north. Around 50 AD, following the second Xiongnu civil war, the southern Xiongnu submitted to China while the Northern Xiongnu remained independent. By around 100 AD the Xiongnu had been replaced by the Xianbe. Xiongnu remnants and descendents remained on the northern frontier and in the period around 250-450 AD they formed several short-lived dynasties in North China.
The original geographic location of the Xiongnu is disputed among steppe archaeologists. Since the 1960s, the geographic origin of the Xiongnu has attempted to be traced through an analysis of Early Iron Age burial constructions. No region has been proven to have mortuary practices that clearly match that of the Xiongnu.
The sound of the first Chinese character has been reconstructed as /hoŋ/ in Old Chinese. The Chinese name for the Xiongnu was a pejorative term in itself, as the characters have the meaning of “fierce slave”. The Chinese characters are pronounced as Xiōngnú in modern Mandarin Chinese.
The supposed Old Chinese sound of the first character has a possible similarity with the name “Hun” in European languages. The second character appears to have no parallel in Western terminology. Whether the similarity is evidence of kinship or mere coincidence is hard to tell. It could lend credence to the theory that the Huns were in fact descendants of the Northern Xiongnu who migrated westward, or that the Huns were using a name borrowed from the Northern Xiongnu, or that these Xiongnu made up part of the Hun confederation.
As in the case of the Rouran with the Avars, oversimplifications have led to the Xiongnu often being identified with the Huns, who populated the frontiers of Europe. The connection started with the writings of the 18th-century French historian Joseph de Guignes, who noticed that a few of the barbarian tribes north of China associated with the Xiongnu had been named “Hun” with varying Chinese characters. This theory remains at the level of speculation, although it is accepted by some scholars, including Chinese ones, the majority of Anglophone scholars flatly reject it. DNA testing of Hun remains has not proven conclusive in determining the origin of the Huns.
Ancient DNA tests have revealed that the Xiongnu were already a hybrid Eurasian people 2,000 years ago, with mixed European and North-East Asian Y-DNA and mtDNA. Modern inhabitants of the Xiongnu homeland have approximately 90% of Mongolian lineages against 10% of European ones.
Autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA analyses from the Krasnoyarsk area, South Siberia, dated from between the middle of the second millennium BC. to the fourth century AD. reveal that whereas few specimens seem to be related matrilineally or patrilineally, nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans.
In the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominant European settlement, suggesting an eastward migration of Kurgan people across the Russo-Kazakh steppe. The south Siberians were blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people and might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin civilization.
It is likely that some mtDNA lineages were carried to southern Siberia from the Volga–Ural region. Incidentally, in the fifth century BC, Herodotus mentioned transit trade occurring in Central Asia along a route that stretched from the Urals in the west to the Altai and the Minusinsk Basin in the east (Hemphill and Mallory 2004).
In Altai, the presence of the R1a1 haplogroup in the middle of the fifth century BC is confirmed by the sample SEB 96K2 of Ricaut et al. (2004) which was found to belong to this Y-haplogroup. The boundary of the eastern European influence seems to be fixed at the peri-Baikal area since no R1a1 haplogroup was found in the Xiongnu specimens of the Northern border of Mongolia.
Analysis performed on Xiongnu specimens revealed that whereas none of the specimens from the Egyin Gol valley bore this haplogroup, the Scytho-Siberian skeleton from the Sebÿstei site exhibited R1a1 haplogroup.
The finding that the Bronze Age population, like that of Krasnoyarsk Siberians belonged exclusively -as far as sampling allows- to Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a1 raises the issue of when and how exactly the diverse extant Y-chromosome gene pool of Central Asia came about.
We can now confidently say that even at the early age of ~4ky BP an R1a1-bearing population of presumably western Eurasian origin had acquired a mixed mtDNA gene pool consisting of both west- and east-Eurasian mtDNA, which agrees with what was presented in the aforementioned documentary, in which many of the seemingly Caucasoid mummies had East Eurasian mtDNA.
The boundary of the Europeoid movement is clearly fixed at Lake Baikal. To the east of Baikal no palaeoanthropological find bears any traces of Europeoid admixture.
Virtually all R1a today seems to trace back to the founding lineage of 5,000 ya. That means that before the most succesful clade of R1a arose, haplogroup R1a must have been very limited, in geography and/or frequency, such that today we can hardly find any traces of members of R1a who might belong to a clade ancestral to the super-succesful R1a clade that was born 5,000 years ago.
Haplogroup R1a1a is widely distributed inEurasia: it is mainly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Siberia,ancient Siberia, but rare in East Asia.
In the 1920s, Pyotr Kozlov’s excavations of the royal tombs at Noin-Ula in northern Mongolia that date to around the 1st century CE, provided a glimpse into the lost world of the Xiongnu. Other archaeological sites have been unearthed in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere; they represent the Neolithic and historical periods of the Xiongnu’s history.
Those included the Ordos culture, many of them had been identified as the Xiongnu cultures. The region was occupied predominantly by peoples showing Mongoloid features, known from their skeletal remains and artifacts. Portraits found in the Noin-Ula excavations demonstrate other cultural evidences and influences, showing that Chinese and Xiongnu art have influenced each other mutually. Some of these embroidered portraits in the Noin-Ula kurgans also depict the Xiongnu with long braided hair with wide ribbons, which are seen to be identical with the Turkic Ashina clan hair-style.
Well-preserved bodies in Xiongnu and pre-Xiongnu tombs in the Mongolian Republic and southern Siberia show both ‘Mongoloid’ and ‘Caucasian’ features but are predominantly Mongoloid with some admixture of European physical stock, nonetheless the Xiongnu shared many cultural traits with their Indo-European neighbors, such as horse racing, sword worship. Analysis of skeletal remains from sites attributed to the Xiongnu provides an identification of dolichocephalic Mongoloid, ethnically distinct from neighboring populations in present-day Mongolia.
Russian and Chinese anthropological and craniofacial studies show that the Xiongnu were physically very heterogenous, with six different population clusters showing different degrees of Mongoloid and Caucasoid physical traits. These clusters point to significant cross-regional migrations (both east to west and west to east) that likely started in the Neolithic period and continued to the medieval/Mongolian period.
Presently, there exist four fully excavated and well documented cemeteries: Ivolga, Dyrestui, Burkhan Tolgoi, and Daodunzi. Additionally thousands of tombs have been recorded in Transbaikalia and Mongolia. In addition to these, the Tamir 1 excavation site from a 2005 Silkroad Arkanghai Excavation Project is the only Xiongnu cemetery in Mongolia to be fully mapped in scale. Tamir 1 was located on Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu, a prominent granitic outcrop near other cemeteries of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Mongol periods. Important finds at the site included a lacquer bowl, glass beads, and three TLV mirrors. Archaeologists from this project believe that these artifacts paired with the general richness and size of the graves suggests that this cemetery was for more important or wealthy Xiongnu individuals.
The TLV mirrors are of particular interest. Three mirrors were acquired from three different graves at the site. The mirror found at feature 160 is believed to be a low-quality, local imitation of a Han mirror, while the whole mirror found at feature 100 and fragments of a mirror found at feature 109 are believed to belong to the classical TLV mirrors and date back to the Xin Dynasty or the early to middle Eastern Han period.
The archaeologists have chosen to, for the most part, refrain from positing anything about Han-Xiongnu relations based on these particular mirrors. However, they were willing to mention the following: “There is no clear indication of the ethnicity of this tomb occupant, but in a similar brick-chambered tomb of late Eastern Han period at the same cemetery, archaeologists discovered a bronze seal with the official title that the Han government bestowed upon the leader of the Xiongnu. The excavators suggested that these brick chamber tombs all belong to the Xiongnu (Qinghai 1993).”
Classifications of these burial sites make distinction between two prevailing type of burials: “(1). monumental ramped terrace tombs which are often flanked by smaller “satellite” burials and (2) ‘circular’ or ‘ring’ burials.” Some scholars consider this a division between “elite” graves and “commoner” graves. Other scholars, find this division too simplistic and not evocative of a true distinction because it shows “ignorance of the nature of the mortuary investments and typically luxuriant burial assemblages [and does not account for] the discovery of other lesser interments that do not qualify as either of these types.”
A study based on mitochondrial DNA analysis of human remains interred in the Egyin Gol Valley of Mongolia concluded that the Turkic peoples originated from the same area and therefore are possibly related.
A majority (89%) of the Xiongnu mtDNA sequences can be classified as belonging to Asian haplogroups, and nearly 11% belong to European haplogroups. This finding indicates that the contacts between European and Asian populations were anterior to the Xiongnu culture, and it confirms results reported for two samples from an early 3rd century BC. Scytho–Siberian population (Clisson et al. 2002).
Another study from 2004 screened ancient samples from the Egyin Gol necropolis for the Y-DNA haplogroup N-Tat. The Egyin Gol necropolis, located in northern Mongolia, is ~2300 years old and belongs to the Xiongnu culture. This Tat-polymorphism is a biallelic marker – that defines the N1c (N3-Tat) Y-DNA haplogroup – what has so far been observed only in populations from Asia and northern Europe. It reaches its highest frequency in Yakuts and northern Uralic peoples, with significant parts also in Buryats and northeastern Siberian populations. Opinions differ about whether the geographic origin of the T-C mutation lies in Asia or northern Eurasia. Zerjal et al. suggested that this mutation first arose in the populations of Central Asia; they proposed Mongolia as a candidate location for the origin of the T-C polymorphism. In contrast, for Lahermo et al. the wide distribution of the mutation in north Eurasian populations suggests that it arose in northern Eurasia. According to them, the estimated time of the C mutation is ~2400–4440 years ago. (According to some more recent researches of the Y-DNA Hg N the presence of N1c and N1b in modern Siberian and other Eurasian populations is considered to reflect an ancient substratum, probably speaking Uralic languages.) Concerning the Xiongnu people, two of them from the oldest section harboured the mutation, confirming that the Tat polymorphism already existed in Mongolia 2300 years ago. The next archaeogenetical occurrence of this N-Tat ancient DNA was found in Hungary among the so-called Homeconqueror Hungarians. Also three Yakuts’ aDNA from the 15th century, and of two from the late 18th century were this haplogroup.
Additionally two mtDNA sequence matches revealed in this work suggest that the Xiongnu tribe under study may have been composed of some of the ancestors of the present-day Yakut population.
Another study of 2006, using genetic and archeological data from a Siberian grave of Pokrovsk recently discovered near the Lena River and dated from 2,400 to 2,200 years B.P., as well as modern Buryats, Khanty, Mansi, Evenk, and Yakuts, provided evidence for the existence of early contact between autochthonous hunters of the Siberian taiga and nomadic horse breeders from the Altai-Baikal area (Mongolia and Buryatia). The similarity of the mitochondrial haplotype of the Pokrovsk subject with a woman of the Egyin Gol necropolis of the 2nd/3rd century AD ( mtDNA D haplogroup) shows that this contact would have occurred by the end of the Xiongnu period, and possibly prior to the 3rd century BC.. This contact could have been through either the expansion of the Xiongnu and other steppe peoples westwards to new areas of Siberia, or northwards along riverways. The Yenisei (Ienissei) river in particular contributed to extensive east-west gene flow. The combined evidence demonstrates the close relationship between the Xiongnu and the Siberian populations.
Another 2006 study observed genetic similarity among Mongolian samples from different periods and geographic areas including 2,300-year-old Xiongnu population of the Egyin Gol Valley. This results supports the hypothesis that the succession over time of different Turkic and Mongolian tribes in the current territory of Mongolia resulted in cultural rather than genetic changes. Furthermore, it appears that the Yakuts probably did not find their origin among the Xiongnu tribes as previously hypothesised.
A research study of 2006 focused on Y-DNAs of the Egyin Gol site, and besides the confirmation of the above mentioned two N3-Tats, it also identified a Q-M242 haplogroup from the middle period and a C-M130 haplogroup from the later (2nd century AD).
The Q-M242 is one of the haplogroups of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (though this is not this subclade), and minor across Eurasia. Only two groups in the Old World are high majority Q-M242 groups. These are the Samoyedic Selkups (however, only 1 study made) and the Yeniseian Kets. They live in western and middle Siberia, together with the Ugric Khantys. The Kets originally lived in southern Siberia. The Uralic-Samoyedics were an old people of the Sayan-Baikal region, migrated northwest around the 1st/2nd century AD. According to the Uralistic literature the swift migration and disjunction of the Samoyedic peoples might be connected to a heavy warring in the region, probably due to the dissolution of the Xiongnu Empire in the period of the Battle of Ikh Bayan. The mutation defining haplogroup C-M130, is restrained in North and Eastern-Asia and in America (Bergen et al. 1998. 1999.) (Lell et al. 2002.). The highest frequencies of Haplogroup C3 are found among the populations of Mongolia and the Russian Far East, where it is generally the modal haplogroup. Haplogroup C3 is the only variety of Haplogroup C-M130 to be found among Native Americans, among whom it reaches its highest frequency in Na-Dené populations.
A research project of 2007 (Yi Chuan, 2007) was aimed at the genetic affinities between Tuoba Xianbei and Xiongnu populations. Some mtDNA sequences from Tuoba Xianbei remains in Dong Han period were analyzed. Comparing with the published data of Xiongnu, the results indicated that the Tuoba Xianbei presented some close affinities to the Xiongnu, which implied that there was a gene flow between Tuoba Xianbei and Xiongnu during the two southward migrations.
A recent examination in a Xiongnu cemetery in Duurlig Nars revealed a Western Eurasian male with maternal U2e1 and paternal R1a1 haplogroups and two other DNAs: a female with mtDNA haplogroup D4 and a male with Y-haplogroup C3 and mtDNA haplogroup D4.
A study of 2010 analysed six human remains of a nomadic group, excavated from Pengyang, Northern China. From the mtDNA, six haplotypes were identified as three haplogroups: C, D4 and M10. The analyses revealed that these individuals were closely associated with the ancient Xiongnu and modern northern Asians. The analysis of Y chromosomes from four male samples that were typed as haplogroup Q-M242 indicated that these people had originated in Siberia.
The Tarim Basin, located on the ancient Silk Road, played a very important role in the history of human migration and cultural communications between the West and the East. However, both the exact period at which the relevant events occurred and the origins of the people in the area remain very obscure, but analyses of both Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) derived from human remains excavated from the Xiaohe cemetery, the oldest archeological site with human remains discovered in the Tarim Basin thus far, has been done.
Besides the East Eurasian lineage, two West Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups H and K were found among the Xiaohe people. H lineage is the most common mtDNAhaplogroup in West Eurasia, but haplogroup H with a 16260T was shared by only nine modern people in Genbank, including one Italian, one German, one Hungarian,one Portuguese, one Icelander and four English people.
Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that the Xiaohe people carried both the East Eurasian haplogroup (C) and the West Eurasian haplogroups (H and K), whereas Y chromosomal DNA analysis revealed only the West Eurasian haplogroup R1a1a in the male individuals.
Haplogroup K, a western Eurasian–specific haplogroup, is mainly distributed in Europe, central Asia, and Iran. However, haplogroup K with 16134T, found in the Xiaohe people, has not been found in modern people to our knowledge.
Given the unique genetic haplotypes and the particular archaeological culture, the time of this admixture could be much earlier than the time at which the Xiaohe people were living at the site. This means that the time of their mingling was at least a 1000 years earlier than previously proposed. The admixture probably occurred elsewhere, before immigration into the Tarim Basin. The Xiaohe people might well have been an admixture at the time of their arrival. Afanasievo and other steppe cultures is identified as related to the Xiaohe people. This is not very surprising as the Afanasievo people were described in the anthropological literature as prominent-nosed Caucasoids of western origin, although individual skulls show Mongoloid influences.
The admixture took place in Siberia, and an already admixed population found its way to Xiaohe by ~4ky BP. Quite often we find in the northern belt from Europe to China populations with typically Western/Eastern Y-haplogroups accompanied by the “opposite” (Eastern/Western) mtDNA. This is due to the patriarchal nature of mobile Eurasian societies (whether nomads or hunters) in which the “clan” maintains its Y-chromosome gene pool but incorporates foreign females.
Thus, the absence of non-R1a1 chromosomes can be explained by the fact that non-R1a1 male individuals were not incorporated into the “western” tribe that made its way across Eurasia from Europe to China, but Eastern Eurasian-mtDNA bearing females were gradually absorbed; such would have been plentiful among the indigenous Mongoloid populations that lived east of the Urals since the Paleolithic. Thus, at the eastern end of this migration, we ended up with an R1a1-pure/East Eurasian mtDNA-heavy population.
Years later, the pendulum of Eurasian migration swung backwards, with some of the Asian R1a1-bearing individuals returning towards Europe (starting with the Scythians) to meet their distant cousins, this time shedding whatever east Eurasian mtDNA gene pool they had acquired, for the regular west Eurasian mtDNA gene pool that would have been reinforced in the return journey.
Turkic speakers and R1a
The present-day inhabitants of Central Asia, from Xinjiang to Turkey and from the Volga to the Hindu Kush, speak in overwhelming majority Turkic languages. This may be surprising as this corresponds to the region where the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European speakers expanded, the Bronze-Age Andronovo culture, and the Iron-Age Scythian territory.
So why is it that Indo-European languages only survives in Slavic Russia or in the southern part of Central Asia, in places like Tajikistan, Afghanistan or some parts of Turkmenistan? Why don’t the Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs, or the modern Pontic-Caspian steppe people (Crimean Tatars, Nogais, Bashkirs and Chuvashs) speak Indo-European vernaculars? Genetically these people do carry Indo-European R1a, and to a lesser extent also R1b, lineages. The explanation is that Turkic languages replaced the Iranian tongues of Central Asia between the 4th and 11th century CE.
Proto-Turkic originated in Mongolia and southern Siberia with such nomadic tribes as the Xiongnu. It belongs to the Altaic linguistic family, like Mongolian and Manchu (some also include Korean and Japanese, although they share very little vocabulary in common).
It is unknown when Proto-Turkic first emerged, but its spread started with the Hunnic migrations westward through the Eurasian steppe and all the way to Europe, only stopped by the boundaries of the Roman Empire.
The Huns were the descendants of the Xiongnu. Ancient DNA tests have revealed that the Xiongnu were already a hybrid Eurasian people 2,000 years ago, with mixed European and North-East Asian Y-DNA and mtDNA. Modern inhabitants of the Xiongnu homeland have approximately 90% of Mongolian lineages against 10% of European ones.
It appears that Turkic quickly replaced the Scythian and other Iranian dialects all over Central Asia. Other migratory waves brought more Turkic speakers to Eastern and Central Europe, like the Khazars, the Avars, the Bulgars and the Turks. All of them were in fact Central Asian nomads who had adopted Turkic language, but had little if any Mongolian blood. Turkic invasions therefore contributed more to the diffusion of Indo-European lineages (especially R1a1) than East Asian ones.
Turkic languages have not survived in Europe outside the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Bulgarian language, despite being named after a Turkic tribe, is actually a Slavic tongue with a mild Turkic influence. Hungarian, sometimes mistaken for the heir of Hunnic because of its name, is in reality an Uralic language (Magyar). the The dozens of Turkic languages spoken in the world today have a high degree of mutual intelligibility due to their fairly recent common origin and the nomadic nature of its speakers (until recently). Its two main branches Oghuz and Oghur could be seen as two languages about as distant as Spanish and Italian, and languages within each branch like regional dialects of Spanish and Italian.