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Afanasiev Archeological Culture

BERNSHTAM A.N.
History of the Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstan from most ancient times to the Mongolian conquest
from Bernshtam A.N. Selected works for archeology and history of Kyrgyzes and Kyrgyzstan

Bernshtam Alexander son of Nathan  (1910 1956) - Soviet archeologist, Doctor of Historical Sciences, leading and outstanding Türkologist now prominently absent from the Russian "Who is Who" lists and equally from the official Russian and some "Türkic" encyclopedias, he surveyed the Jeti-Su, Tian-Shan, Pamir, Altai, Fergana, developed a periodization of the archeological monuments of Central Asia from the 2 millennium BC to the 15th c. AD. Bernshtam's works address ethnogenesis, society, economy of the ancient nomadic peoples of the  Central Asia, and the history of art, culture, epigraphy and numismatics. Bernshtam's opponents blamed him for free-hand handling of the facts and dates, and a black mark of his biography was his possibly not too voluntary involvement in the Stalin's decimation of the country's best scientists, including outstanding archeologists, numismatists, ethnographers, and other undesirable ists and ers.

A.N. Bernshtam wrote at a time when ethno-racial concepts of the Hitler and Russian national-chauvinism type were still on the rise, the Indo-Europeans had Arians as their epitome, and held a patent on unstratified Indo-European Caucasians. Later, this type of scientific thought allowed division of the population into "ours" and "not ours", and homicidal deportation of "not ours". The ethno-racial values of his work are as outdated as are the Indo-European racial proclamations and citations of F.Engels on archeology, but the factual side has a great merit.

Translator's notes

The following excerpts from Chapter 1 of the A.N.Bernshtam's book give a good first-hand description of the Afanasiev Archeological Culture, which, after it coalesced into a definitive concept, was claimed by both Indo-Iranists and Türkologists, with the Indo-European line dominating the field. In a global picture, the Afanasiev Archeological Culture belongs to the eastern-most fringe of the Eurasian Kurgan Culture of the Eurasian steppes. Since A.N.Bernshtam time, the dating and spread of the Afanasevo Culture significantly developed.

Periodization of the cultures:

Afanasiev 2,500 -1,500 BC Kurgan Culture, settled or semi-settled, cattle breeding, domesticated sheep, bull and horse, subsistence hunting and fishing
Andronov 1,500 - 1,000 BC Kurgan Culture, settled and semi-nomadic cattle breeding, domesticated sheep, bull and horse
Karasük 1,000 BC - 500 BC Kurgan Culture, semi-nomadic, cattle breeding,
Tashtyk 200 BC - 200 AD Kurgan Culture, nomadic cattle breeding and settled agriculture

Conceptual map of Bronze Age Kurgan horse husbandry cultures west of China

BERNSHTAM A.N.
History of the Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstan from most ancient times to the Mongolian conquest
Chapter 1
Formation of cattle breeding economy in Yenisei and ethnogenesis of Dinlins

 
Afanasiev Archeological Culture
 
The history of the Kirgiz tribes starts from 201 BC, when Chinese sources for the first time transcribe the name of Kirgiz in a Chinese form Tszyankun (Chinese name for river Orkhon, i.e. generic "Orkhonians", which most of the historians coyly forget to mention, creating a false impression that the name is for a homogenous tribe, and not for a locality - Translator's Note) or Gegun (Chinese name for river Yenisey, i.e. generic "Yeniseyans", which is also coyly dropped, also creating a false impression that the name is for a homogenous tribe, and not for a locality - Translator's Note)(14.) The end of the third century BC is the stage of their history when for the first time they are recorded by written sources, not the exact date of their arrival. That date is connected with information of the Chinese source that Hunnish Shanüy (Chinese rendition of the title "Khan" by the European imminent authors who transcribe hieroglyphs with alphabetic script mirroring all the variations in the phonetics of the 2,000 years ago with the phonetics of the 20th century, and getting fantastic results that do not lend to interpretation,  for example "Shanüy" for the "Khan", "Tu-tszue" for the "Tu-gü" - Turks, "Xsion-nu" for "Hunnu" - Huns, etc. - Translator's Note). Mode or Maotun defeated in the north of his country a number of tribes, among which the ancient Chinese  text mentions a tribe Tszyankun (15). In other words, in the third century BC the Tszyankun already represented some whole tribal formation, which though unsuccessfully, but nevertheless resisted the powerful Hunnish tribal union. From the historical written and archeological materials of the later time these Tszyankun tribes are cattlemen, dwelling in  both the Middle and Upper Yenisei, and being the natives of that territory (16). It is abundantly clear that these cattlemen were a result of a complex historical process, on the basis of which by the 3rd century BC coalesced the Kirgiz tribes. The history of the ancient motherland of Kirgizes, where these tribes formed, their economy and culture draws us in the extreme antiquity,  when the history finds in Yenisei the beginning of the formation of cattle breeding economy (17).

The most ancient traces of cattle breeding in Yenisei belong to the time of the 2nd millennium BC.The archeologists discovered there a so-called Afanasiev culture, named so after a Russian name for a local mountain, the Afanasiev mountain, near Minusinsk, where the monuments of this type (18) were uncovered for the first time.

Afanasiev culture is known from the small separate burials, sometimes covered with stone slabs. In a tomb near the deceased were a modest inventory of belongings, and the remains of food, supposedly necessary for his in the other world. The tombs of this type are usually grouped in 20-25 units of kurgan mounds, and from the surface they are barely noticeable from their slightly protruding stone facings forming a circle.

As a rule, the tombs contain one burial, but there are also collective burials containing few diseased, undoubtedly belonging to the same family. So, there are burials of a woman with a child, sometimes burials of men, women and children. The earthen cavity of the burial was sometimes in addition reinforced with timber or stones (stone slabs as internal walls of a tomb).

The inventory is still extremely poor. Mainly, it consist of very typical ceramics, wares from flint, bones and copper, bones of wild and domesticated animals. The craftsmanship was very primitive. The vessels still had poorly developed forms. Predominate the pots with convex bottom, tall egg-shaped vessels, rarely they are of a can type or vase-like. The ceramics was manually made from separate clay stripes. The surface of the vessels was finished with technically simple, but much plentiful ornament of the prints of the combs, lines and dents. The primitive technique of tape crafting of these vessels, their non-uniform and low temperature firing, testifies to the arising technique of the pottery, which only made its first steps (19). The very low level of metal manufacturing is attested be its poor distribution  and the continuation, in that connection, of the wares of stone and bone, which would later completely disappear. It is telling, that the copper serves as a metal, without any addition of tin, which displays the unfamiliarity of the people with manufacturing of the bronze. The metal objects bear traces of forging technique, as the casting, which requires developing high temperature in the melting furnaces, was not known to them yet. About that also tells the low temperature firing of the ceramic objects. The work instruments were still produced from stone and bone. The copper still served, mainly, for making ornaments. Everywhere the discovery of copper, and then bronze, and subsequently likewise of the iron, began with forging these metals and manufacturing of ornament objects, and only subsequently, with a better acquaintance of the people with these materials, the people came to manufacturing tools and introduced the casting technique in the manufacture.

In the culture of the Afanasiev stage the most important fact is the unquestionable evidence about domestication of animals by the people, i.e. about the genesis of the cattle breeding (20). In the burials of the Afanasiev-type archeology of domestic animals were found bones of domesticated sheep, bull and horse. Archeologists do not have any proofs that these animals were used for dairy produce. Probably they were raised only for meat. The primitive cattle breeding was still combined with hunting of deer, wild bull, burunduk, fox, izübr, and also birds. Finds of fish bones, in particular, pikes, tells about important role of fishing in the economy (21). The finds of fishing hooks also testify to that .

The character of the cultural phenomena found in the tombs tells about emergence of cattle breeding from hunting, and the hunting was connected with a more settled way of life (22). The settled way of life is indicated by the presence of fishing and by the character of the dwellings reconstructed by the archeologists from the design of the sepulchral structures. The dwellings are conjectured to be either dugouts, or timber dwellings, or the same dugout with walls reinforced by timber.

The emergence of the cattle breeding manifests the beginning of patrilocal marriage and patriarchal family. It is a base for a phaseout of the old patrilocal clans (23). It is probably found in Afanasiev culture dated by archeologists to 2500-2000 years BC.

Of the archeological facts testifying to the beginning of this process at Afanasians are paired burials of a man and a woman, carrying a testament of the patrilocal marriage, when after a death of the husband  his wife was killed and also laid with him in the tomb. Typically, in single burials prevail only women, and only skeletons of small children, who after the death of the mother could not be left without care, are laid with them. The woman has not yet finally lost her dominant position. About it tells one very interesting burial uncovered near village Syda (25). There in the center of the burial was a skeleton of a woman with a child, with comparatively rich inventory, near her without any inventory were laid the skeletons of three men and three women.

The Afanasiev culture is comparatively self-contained and typical for Minusinsk depression. Identical monuments are found only in Altai, in the adjacent areas the similar monuments are few (26). The Altai monuments have, though minor, but still differences with the Minusinsk's ones. So, the Minusinsk's burials have less evidence of the cattle breeding, the burials differ in funeral ritual of sprinkling the dead with ochre (27). The distinctions in the funeral ritual indicate some tribal differences between the Altaians and Minusins. At the same time archeologists noted among the inventory the objects unknown in the Minusinsk territory. These are the shells of fresh-water mollusk Corbiwla fluminalis, now preserved only in the Chyhun/Amu-Daria delta and at the coast of the Aral Sea (28). In the Siberia area this mollusk is known only in the tertiary sediments. This shell served as an ornament, and had a drilled hole that can be made only in a fresh shell, not in those found in the tertiary sediments. The finds of these mollusks used as ornaments seemingly points to the presence of the exchange in 3rd millennium BC. This exchange, however, could not have yet a large spread, and probably was intertribal exchange. The beginning of exchange usually begins with the beginning of cattle breeding.

The links with a far southwest, where was discovered a culture of a similar type of the later time (29), develop during the subsequent epoch in the 1,500-1,000 BC. This is the following stage of development of the economy and social constitution of the ancient Minusinsks, the so-called Andronov culture. It is named after the village Andronovo of the Achin district of the Minusinsk province, where were found the first monuments of this type (30).

Externally, the burials of the Andronov culture are very similar to the burial of the previous in time Afanasiev culture (31). The Andronov burials display more advanced culture than Afanasiev. Afanasiev vessels have round bottom designed to be embedded in the ashes of the fire, and the Andronov vessels are flat-bottomed testifying to a smooth floor in the dwellings and the presence of a permanent hearth. The Andronov culture of Yenisei, being mostly a result of the spontaneous development of the previous Afanasiev cultures, represents a variation in the development of the extensive culture from Yenisei to Urals, and it was brought to life by the rise of the cattle breeding, which in a combination with agriculture and hunting bore a base for the creation of the patriarchal family and for the first tribal unions, which united the related tribes of shepherds-cattlemen, or possibly ethnically homogeneous tribes. The sources of formation of the Kirgiz tribes, and also consequently a history of Kirgiz people, should begin from the archeological monuments of the Afanasiev culture, from the analysis of the Dinlin ethnogenesis, from which comes the ancient Kirgiz society.

The early Tashtyk masks, in their shade and character of the face show long-headed and blond type, completely corresponding to the craniological material of the Minusinsk burials starting from the Afanasiev burials, in other words they reproduce the Dinlin type. Transpires certain cultural unity of the above-named area with the area limited in the West by a meridian of Tomsk, in the east, to the north from Baikal, a meridian of Irkutsk. On the north this culture reaches the parallel of Krasnoyarsk, in the south goes down to the parallel of Ulan-Bator and even Peking.

The unity of this culture if the described area coincides with the area of the long-headed racial type with dolichoprozopic face, narrow humped nose and an prominent nape (70). Undoubtedly they are those Dinlins and Boma of the Chinese annals, which especially amazed the inhabitants of China with their blue eyes, auburn hair and general light disposition (71).

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Kurgan Afanasiev Culture 2,500 -1,500 BC
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11/20/2005
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