Central Asia I
People and Cultures
The Silk Road
Late Chalcolithic Collapse
Central Asia is a region which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
It is also colloquially referred to as “the stans” as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan”, meaning “land of”. Depending on different interpretations, Afghanistan and Mongolia are sometimes also considered part of the region.
Major rivers of the region include the Amu Darya, the Syr Darya, Irtysh, the Hari River and the Murghab River. Major bodies of water include the Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash, both of which are part of the huge west-central Asian endorheic basin that also includes the Caspian Sea.
Both of these bodies of water have shrunk significantly in recent decades due to diversion of water from rivers that feed them for irrigation and industrial purposes. Water is an extremely valuable resource in arid Central Asia and can lead to rather significant international disputes.
Because Central Asia is not buffered by a large body of water, temperature fluctuations are often severe, excluding the hot, sunny summer months. In most areas the climate is dry and continental, with hot summers and cool to cold winters, with occasional snowfall. Much of the land of Central Asia is too dry or too rugged for farming.
Today Central Asia (2019) has a population of about 72 million, consisting of five republics: Kazakhstan (pop. 18 million), Kyrgyzstan (6 million), Tajikistan (9 million), Turkmenistan (6 million), and Uzbekistan (33 million).
Historically, the concept of a “Central Asia” traces its origins from many sources. The earliest popularized concept was that of Inner Asia, which is conceptualized as the lands that in between the settled civilizations of China, Persia, Russia, and India and thus at the crossroad of cultures, with an overarching nomadic heritage and the legacy of the silk road, in contrast to the settled civilizations of China or Persia.
While Inner Asia focuses on its contrast with China, and includes the regions of Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang as part of its core regions, another conceptualization of “Central Asia” was introduced in 1843 by the geographer Alexander von Humboldt, which focuses on the Western, Islamic portion of the Eurasian region in contrast with Persia.
The borders of Historically built political geography and geoculture are two significant parameters widely used in the scholarly literature about the definitions of the Central Asia. Humboldt’s definition included these countries: Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
However, the Russian culture has two distinct terms: Srednyaya Aziya or “Middle Asia”, the narrower definition, which includes only those traditionally non-Slavic, Central Asian lands that were incorporated within those borders of historical Russia) and Tsentralnaya Aziya or “Central Asia”, the wider definition, which includes Central Asian lands that have never been part of historical Russia).
The most limited definition was the official one of the Soviet Union, which defined Middle Asia as consisting solely of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, hence omitting Kazakhstan. This definition was also often used outside the USSR during this period.
Soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the leaders of the four former Soviet Central Asian Republics met in Tashkent and declared that the definition of Central Asia should include Kazakhstan as well as the original four included by the Soviets. Since then, this has become the most common definition of Central Asia.
The UNESCO History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, published in 1992, defines the region as “Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, northern and central Pakistan, northern India, western China, Mongolia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics.”
An alternative method is to define the region based on ethnicity, and in particular, areas populated by Eastern Turkic, Eastern Iranian, or Mongolian peoples. These areas include Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Turkic regions of southern Siberia, the five republics, and Afghan Turkestan.
Afghanistan as a whole, the northern and western areas of Pakistan and the Kashmir Valley of India may also be included. The Tibetans and Ladakhi are also included. Most of the mentioned peoples are considered the “indigenous” peoples of the vast region. Central Asia is sometimes referred to as Turkestan.
There are several places that claim to be the geographic center of Asia, for example Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva in the Russian Federation, and a village 320 km (200 mi) north of Ürümqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region of China.
Central Asia is bounded on the north by the forests of Siberia. The northern half of Central Asia (Kazakhstan) is the middle part of the Eurasian steppe. Westward the Kazakh steppe merges into the Russian-Ukrainian steppe and eastward into the steppes and deserts of Dzungaria and Mongolia. Southward the land becomes increasingly dry and the nomadic population increasingly thin.
The south supports areas of dense population and cities wherever irrigation is possible. The main irrigated areas are along the eastern mountains, along the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers and along the north flank of the Kopet Dagh near the Persian border. East of the Kopet Dagh is the important oasis of Merv and then a few places in Afghanistan like Herat and Balkh.
Two projections of the Tian Shan create three “bays” along the eastern mountains. The largest, in the north, is eastern Kazakhstan, traditionally called Jetysu or Semirechye which contains Lake Balkhash. In the center is the small but densely-populated Ferghana valley. In the south is Bactria, later called Tocharistan, which is bounded on the south by the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
The Syr Darya (Jaxartes) rises in the Ferghana valley and the Amu Darya (Oxus) rises in Bactria. Both flow northwest into the Aral Sea. Where the Oxus meets the Aral Sea it forms a large delta called Khwarazm and later the Khanate of Khiva.
North of the Oxus is the less-famous but equally important Zarafshan River which waters the great trading cities of Bokhara and Samarkand. The other great commercial city was Tashkent northwest of the mouth of the Ferghana valley. The land immediately north of the Oxus was called Transoxiana and also Sogdia, especially when referring to the Sogdian merchants who dominated the silk road trade.
To the east, Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin were united into the Chinese province of Xinjiang about 1759. Caravans from China usually went along the north or south side of the Tarim basin and joined at Kashgar before crossing the mountains northwest to Ferghana or southwest to Bactria.
Located in China’s Xinjiang region, the Tarim Basin is sometimes used synonymously to refer the southern half of the province, or Nanjiang (literally: ‘Southern Xinjiang’), as opposed to the northern half of the province known as Dzungaria or Beijiang.
Its northern boundary is the Tian Shan mountain range and its southern boundary is the Kunlun Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The Taklamakan Desert dominates much of the basin. The historical Uyghur name for the Tarim Basin is Altishahr, which means “six cities” in Uyghur.
A minor branch of the silk road went north of the Tian Shan through Dzungaria and Zhetysu before turning southwest near Tashkent. Nomadic migrations usually moved from Mongolia through Dzungaria before turning southwest to conquer the settled lands or continuing west toward Europe.
The Kyzyl Kum Desert or semi-desert is between the Oxus and Jaxartes, and the Karakum Desert is between the Oxus and Kopet Dagh in Turkmenistan. Khorasan meant approximately northeast Persia and northern Afghanistan. Margiana was the region around Merv. The Ustyurt Plateau is between the Aral and Caspian Seas.
To the southwest, across the Kopet Dagh, lies Persia. From here Persian and Islamic civilization penetrated Central Asia and dominated its high culture until the Russian conquest. In the southeast is the route to India.
People and Cultures
The history of Central Asia concerns the history of the various peoples that have inhabited Central Asia. Although, during the golden age of Orientalism the place of Central Asia in the world history was marginalized, contemporary historiography has rediscovered the “centrality” of the Central Asia.
Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) reached Central Asia by 50,000 to 40,000 years ago. The Tibetan Plateau is thought to have been reached by 38,000 years ago. Populations who lived in Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum have also contributed significantly to the populations of both Europe and the Americas.
The history of Central Asia is defined by the area’s climate and geography. The aridness of the region made agriculture difficult, and its distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in the region; instead, the area was for millennia dominated by the nomadic horse peoples of the steppe.
The lifestyle of such people has been determined primarily by the area’s climate and geography. The aridity of the region makes agriculture difficult and distance from the sea cut it off from much trade. Thus, few major cities developed in the region. Nomadic horse peoples of the steppe dominated the area for millennia.
Relations between the steppe nomads and the settled people in and around Central Asia were long marked by conflict. The nomadic lifestyle was well suited to warfare, and the steppe horse riders, due to the devastating techniques and ability of their horse archers, became some of the most militarily potent people in the world, limited only by their lack of internal unity.
Any internal unity that was achieved was most probably due to the influence of the Silk Road, which traveled along Central Asia. Periodically, tribal leaders or changing conditions would cause several tribes to organize themselves into a single almost unstoppable powermilitary force, which would then often launch campaigns of conquest, especially into more ‘civilized’ areas.
A few of these types of tribal coalitions included the Huns’ invasion of Europe, various Turkic migrations into Transoxiana, the Wu Hu attacks on China and most notably the Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia.
In early times Buddhism spread north and throughout much of history warrior kings and tribes would move southeast to establish their rule in northern India. Most nomadic conquerors entered from the northeast. After 1800 western civilization in its Russian and Soviet form penetrated from the northwest.
In the pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was predominantly Iranian, populated by Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians, Chorasmians and the semi-nomadic Scythians and Dahae. After expansion by Turkic peoples, Central Asia also became the homeland for the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Uyghurs; Turkic languages largely replaced the Iranian languages spoken in the area.
From the mid-19th century until almost the end of the 20th century, most of Central Asia was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, both Slavic-majority countries and the five former Soviet “-stans” are still home to about 7 million ethnic Russians and 500,000 Ukrainians. Stalinist-era forced deportation policies also mean that over 300,000 Koreans and 170,000 ethnic Germans continue to reside in the region.
The Silk Road
Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road, a network of trade routes which connected the East and West. It primarily refers to the land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe.
The Silk Road was central to the economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century. The Silk Road trade played a significant role in the development of the civilizations of China, Korea, Japan, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations.
It derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning in the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE). The Han dynasty expanded the Central Asian section of the trade routes around 114 BCE through the missions and explorations of the Chinese imperial envoy Zhang Qian, as well as several military conquests.
The Han dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC–220 AD), preceded by the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). Spanning over four centuries, the Han period is considered a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China’s majority ethnic group refers to themselves as the “Han Chinese” (Han Zu) and the Chinese script is referred to as “Han characters”.
The Chinese took great interest in the security of their trade products, and extended the Great Wall of China, the collective name of a series of fortification systems generally built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against various nomadic groups of the steppe and their polities, to ensure the protection of the trade route.
Though silk was the major trade item exported from China, many other goods and ideas were exchanged, including religions (especially Buddhism), syncretic philosophies, sciences, and technologies like paper and gunpowder. So in addition to economic trade, the Silk Road was a route for cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.
It has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. This crossroads position has intensified the conflict between tribalism and traditionalism and modernization.
Human activity in the region began with the extinct Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus one million–800,000 years ago in the Karatau Mountains and the Caspian and Balkhash areas. Neanderthals were present from 140,000 to 40,000 years ago in the Karatau Mountains and central Kazakhstan.
Modern Homo sapiens appeared from 40,000 to 12,000 years ago in southern, central, and eastern Kazakhstan. After the end of the last glacial period (12,500 to 5,000 years ago), human settlement spread across the country and led to the extinction of the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros. Hunter-gatherer communes invented bows and boats, and used domesticated wolves and traps for hunting.
The Neolithic Revolution was marked by the appearance of animal husbandry and agriculture, giving rise to the Atbasar, Kelteminar, Botai, and Ust-Narym cultures. The Botai culture (3600–3100 BCE) is credited with the first domestication of horses, and ceramics and polished-stone tools also appeared during this period.
The fourth and third millennia witnessed the beginning of metal production, the manufacture of copper tools, and the use of casting molds. In the second millennium BCE, ore mining developed in central Kazakhstan.
The change in climate forced the massive relocation of populations in and out of the steppe belt. The dry period which lasted from the end of the second millennium to the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE caused the depopulation of the arid belts and river-valley oasis areas; the populations of these areas moved north to the forest steppe.
Following with the end of the arid period at the beginning of the first millennium BCE, nomadic populations migrated into Kazakhstan from the west and the east, repopulating abandoned areas. These included several Indo-Iranians, often known collectively as the Saka.
During the fourth century CE the Huns controlled Kazakhstan, absorbing 26 independent territories and uniting a number of steppe and forest peoples into a single state. The Huns migrated west. The future Kazakhstan was absorbed into the Turkic Kaganate and successor states.
Several independent states flourished in Kazakhstan during the Early Middle Ages; the best-known were the Kangar Union, Western Turkic Khaganate, the Oghuz Yabgu State, and the Kara-Khanid Kaganate.
In the 13th century Kazakhstan was under the dominion of the Mongol Empire, and remained in the sphere of Mongol successor states for 300 years. Portions of the country began to be annexed by the Russian Empire in the 16th century, the remainder gradually absorbed into Russian Turkestan beginning in 1867. The modern Republic of Kazakhstan became a political entity during the 1930s Soviet subdivision of Russian Turkestan.
The Hissar culture (ca. 7th–4th millennium BC) shows a continuation of Mesolithic material culture related to the Yubetsu tradition. As in the Atbasar culture, the introduction of new Neolithic components is seen in the late stage, with blade production using indirect percussion, flake production by direct percussion (hard hammer), and the presence of trapezes and polished axes, linked to domestic activities related to leather, skin, and woodworking (Brunet 2012).
The Kelteminar culture, located in modern Uzbekistan around the Kyzyl Kum desert, represents the colonisation of the Tugias forests and typical steppe close to river deltas and lakes, with a technical tradition derived from the local Mesolithic background.
The early stage of the culture (ca. 7th-6th millennium BC), concentrated on the region of the Zeravshan Valley, shows several lithic production systems—including microblades, bladelets, and blades—with at least two techniques, the most common being controlled indirect percussion, the other being the bullet-shaped core method, but there is little evidence for pressure knapping techniques. Therefore, it was probably Mesolithic Ural groups in direct contact with this culture who was the ones to introduced the technique.
During the second stage (5th–4th millennium BC), a significant development of blade and bladelet production is seen, requiring more elaborated skills. Among the tools seen, the Kelteminar arrowhead and the horned trapeze show a wide distribution in parts of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Northern Afghanistan), suggesting a symbolic value, and thus a way to define social identity.
During that period, pressure knapping technique becomes prominent in blade production, with new relationships—evidenced by decoration in pottery—probably being developed in Chorasmia with agropastoral communities of southern Turkmenistan.
The Atbasar culture (ca. 5th–4th millennium BC) of the forest-steppe zone of Northern Kazakhstan also developed from the local Mesolithic microblade production using bullet-shaped cores as pressure knapping technique.
The introduction of few regular blades and new formal tools can be seen during this period, such as points, trapezes, triangular arrowheads with a basal notch, bifacial pieces, and leaf-shaped bifacial points, possibly with different functional and socioeconomic contexts.
This and the introduction of pottery with incised or combed decoration, and the domestic horse at the end of the period, suggest migrations in northern Kazakhstan at the same time as those seen among similar post-Mesolithic cultures of eastern Kazakhstan, Altai, and eastern Siberia.
The Botai-Tersek culture (ca. 3700–3000 BC) probably emerged from groups of Atbasar foragers in the steppes of northern Kazakhstan who developed a specialised economy as horse riders who hunted essentially horses. Their main diet consisted preferentially of horses, but it included also wild animals like large bovids, elks, deers, bears, etc.
The small temporary settlements in the steppes, the evidence for herd-driving hunting techniques, as well as the management and transport of great quantities of horses, together with evidence for bitted and ridden horses prove the appearance of horseback riding ca. 3700–3500 in the northern Kazakh steppes.
Perforated antler objects discovered at Dereivka and other sites contemporary with Suvorovo have been identified as cheekpieces or psalia for horse bits. This identification is no longer widely accepted, as the objects in question have not been found associated with horse bones, and could have had a variety of other functions.
However, through studies of microscopic wear, it has been established that many of the bone tools at Botai were used to smooth rawhide thongs, and rawhide thongs might have been used to manufacture of rawhide cords and ropes, useful for horse tack. Similar bone thong-smoothers are known from many other steppe settlements, but it cannot be known how the thongs were used.
Recent discoveries in the context of the Botai culture (c. 3700–3100 BCE), an archaeological culture of prehistoric Kazakhstan and North Asia, suggest that Botai settlements in the Akmola Province of Kazakhstan are the location of the earliest domestication of the horse.
David W. Anthony connects the Botai culture to the eastward migration of peoples from the Volga-Ural steppe in the mid-4th millennium BCE, which would lead to the establishment of the Afanasevo culture in South Siberia.
A 2018 paleogenetic study took samples from three different Botai individuals for DNA extraction and analysis. Two of them turned out to be genetically male, and another one is genetically female.
Two of the samples were taken from crania curated in Petropavlovsk Museum, denoted as “Botai Excavation 14, 1983” and “Botai excavation 15”. Botai 14 has a calibrated radiocarbon date range from 3108–3517 cal BCE, and Botai 15 from 3026–3343 cal BCE.
Autosomally, Botai population turned out to be closer to the Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) component, the name given to an ancestral component that represents descent from the people similar to the Mal’ta–Buret’ culture or a population closely related to them, than the Yamnaya population. No significant gene flow between Botai and Yamnaya was observed.
Regarding Y-DNA, Botai 14 was determined to carry a derived allele at R1b1a1-M478 (that occurs almost exclusively in non-European populations, and reaches the highest frequencies in populations surrounding the Altai region), and Botai 15 belonged to the basal haplogroup N*-M231. Regarding mitochondrial DNA, the Copper Age Botai sample BOT2016 belonged to the haplogroup Z1a, Botai 15 – to R1b1, and Botai 14 – to K1b2.
A study in 2018 revealed that the Botai horses did not contribute significantly to the genetics of modern domesticated horses, and that therefore a subsequent and separate domestication event must have been responsible for the modern domestic horse.
Botai horses were primarily ancestors of Przewalski’s horses, and contributed 2.7% ancestry to modern domestic horses. Thus, modern horses may have been domesticated in other centers of origin.
Asko Parpola believes that the language of the Botai culture cannot be conclusively identified with any known language or language family. He speculatively suggests that the Proto-Ugric word *lox for “horse” is a borrowing from the language of the Botai culture. The word is neither of Uralic nor Indo-European origin, nor does it resemble any of the words for “horse” in known Eurasian language families.
Late Chalcolithic Collapse
Another aridization about 4500–3800 BC with short humid periods was weaker but longer. This event is also identified on the Balkan Peninsula, correlated with an ecological catastrophe recorded in the southern areas of Macedonia, Albania, Italy, Thessaly and Thrace about 4500 BC.
The Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, is commonly used as a transitional period between the
Neolithic and Bronze Age because it does not fit into the classic three Three-Age System. It is also commonly referred to as the Eneolithic in Bulgaria. In the Balkans, the Copper Age deserves its own proper distinction because it lasted for so long there (as long or longer than the bronze age) and produced such a unique society.
It was perhaps one of the most densely populated regions on Earth at its climax in the
mid-fifth millennium. It is in Serbia that we actually find evidence of some of the oldest copper smelting at 7000 years old. If not the oldest, then certainly independent from Southwest Asian or Caucasian sources at least. We also find the first gold ornaments and possible evidence of social elites at the necropolis at Varna in the mid-5th millennium.
Research into the Balkan Chalcolithic often overlooks the dramatic changes in society that occurred beginning in the late Fifth Millennium BCE. Most settlements were abandoned along with changes in mortuary customs, ceramic and decorative traditions, domestic rituals, crafts, housing styles, mining, and metallurgy.
The Chalcolithic period in Southeast Europe was a remarkable and dynamic time in
prehistory. It was an autonomous cultural-complex that was on the verge of what we would call civilized life with its achievements in the metallurgical industry, architecture, trade, art, ideology and the rise of craft productions and divisions of labor.
It was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced regions in the world. The Copper Age was a crucial period for the development of both technology and social complexity. There is no evidence of social hierarchy prior to this period.
The centuries between 5000 and 3500 B.C. can now be seen as a crucial transition period during which early Europeans began to use metal tools, develop more complex social structures, and established far reaching cultural and trading networks.
Yet perhaps even more remarkable and deserving of research is how these societies
ended. One of the most dramatic and overlooked changes to occur in the Old World prehistory was that which took place in the fourth millennium BC in Southeast Europe during what is called the Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age transition.
It was more than just a change in metallurgical technology. There is uncontestable evidence of an entire restructuring of society throughout the whole region. There were ubiquitous transformations in settlement and land use, technology, material culture, and even perhaps ideology and language.
Much like the Late Bronze Age Collapse that is marked by the collapse of many of the great Bronze Age civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Late Chalcolithic collapse in the Balkans remains mysterious with a number of different hypothetical causes.
These changes happened at a time when these Chalcolithic societies seemed to be at their peak. Theories as to what caused these changes include migrations/invasions, anthropogenic environmental degradation, gradual internal changes through innovation and outside contacts, and climate change.
The initial strongest aridity of the Atlantic period in Eastern Europe is dated about 6300–6000 BC. It was not a local phenomenon, also noted in Anatolia and in different parts of Europe. The 8.2-kiloyear event was a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BC, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries.
This event defines the start of the Northgrippian age in the Holocene epoch. Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell before it but more severe than the Little Ice Age after it, the 8.2-kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum. This time is connected with the spread of farming and the beginning of Neolithization in Europe.
A similar situation developed in the northern Black Sea area. The 8.2-kiloyear event caused aridization of climate seriously and reduced available hunting resources of the steppe region. This aridization could have been the impulse that resulted in the spreading of domesticated animals and borrowing of pottery from the Rakushechny Yar culture, a Neolithic culture in the Low Don River region 7050–6450 BC.
Local populations began to move to more humid areas – the basins of such rivers as the Dnieper, Dniester, and Don, and the northern steppe. In these regions the Early Neolithic population kept the old type of economy with a considerable role for hunting. At the same time, these migrations changed the cultural situation in southeastern Europe.
The builders of Grebeniki monuments occupied a steppe between the Dniester and South Bug rivers, and some penetrated into the Azov Sea area (Matveev Kurgan group). Steppe inhabitants were engaged in animal husbandry and agriculture, but pottery is known only for the Rakushechny Yar culture.
Colonization of Ukrainian part of Lower Danube began in the interval 7.5–7.0kaBP, when the regional landscape was mesophilousmeadow steppe. Forest plots with small percentages of deciduous vegetation were present in river valleys, temporary estuaries, and onridges. The faunal complex was dominated by aurochs, red deer, and wild boar.
High biomass density, combined with the fact that theregion had not been intensively explored previously, allowed relatively stable forms of human adaptation. This is illustrated by thepresence of the base camp Mirnoe, the seasonal settlements Zaliznychne and Vasylivka, which display diverse forms of livelihoodactivity, and by the distinctive pattern of site distribution pattern.
The formation and primary phases of both the Grebeniky and Anetovka cultures’ ethnic history took placein the central part of the northwestern Black Sea Steppe region. The Lower Dniester region is recognized as the Grebeniky birthplace, while Anetovka is usually connected with the Pivdenny Bug basin.
Recently, another version of the invasion of the Lower Danubian region was proposed. These authors supposed that integration of Grebeniki and Anetivka culture transmitters had started already in theDnister–Pibdenny Bug interﬂuve, and the Lower Danubian region was inhabited by an already integrated population.
However, both versions of Anetivka and Grebeniki population penetration to the Lower Danubian region imply that their movement to the west was caused by the necessity toenlarge foraging territory, in response to a borealecological crisis: their traditional livng area could not satisfy their subsistence needs. Their joint occupation without apparent traces of conﬂict is perceived as an indicator that they adapted in the region successfully, and had no need to ﬁght for territory and its resource base.
At the beginning of this aridity, about 6300 BC, two new Neolithic cultures originated. One was the Surskaja culture in the middle Dnieper basin. Migration of the Grebeniki population from the steppe Azov Sea area to the Dnieper valley, where this river
moderated the dry conditions, caused its coexistence with local Kukrek inhabitants and the formation of a new culture on the bases of their traditions.
The oldest site of the Surskaja culture is Surskoy Island 1, located in the northern part of the steppe zone in the Dnieper basin. Most likely this site correlates to the beginning of the aridity, when forest with numerous wild animals (red deer, roe, wild boar and wild bull) was preserved in that region as indicated by the species composition of skeletal materials from archaeological sites with only a minor presence of cattle and domestic pig. The forest in the Dnieper valley was a favorable place for pasture for only those types of domestic animals.
About 6200 BC, during the peak of aridity, the native vegetation zones moved north. The steppe landscape occupied the forest–steppe zone. The southern steppe became unfavorable for life. The middle steppe could not provide sustenance for numerous pastoralist populations, and some groups of the Rakushechny Yar and Surskaja cultures moved along the rivers further to the north to find a more favorable environment to retain the traditional economy.
Due to that expansion, the Neolithization of modern forest–steppe and forest zones of Ukraine and adjacent areas of Russia began, with the major Dnieper–Donets culture established in Ukraine. Probably in this period, the valleys of the small rivers in the southern and central parts of the steppe became depopulated or were only occasionally visited by people.
According to the radiocarbon dates obtained for the Semenovka 1 and Kamennaja Mogila 1 sites, some Surskaja inhabited the basin of the Molochnaya river. At the same time, the principal inhabitation area of the Surskaja culture included the northern part of the modern steppe zone in the Dnieper valley.
During the arid period, Surskoy Island 2 was inhabited. Cattle herding and wild-animal hunting (red and roe dear, boar) gave equal percentages of meat to the Surskaja population. Cattle were the most numerous in herds, but some horses, pigs and few small cattle were bred as well. Fishing played an important role.