|Besenyos, Ogur and Oguz||
SREDNY STOG STAGE OF KURGAN CULTURE
The Sredny Stog period carried a number of traits exclusive for the later Türkic people of the historical times, and other features that were shared with the surrounding tribes, some as adopted customs, and some as passed on customs. As a culture, a period, and ethnic affiliation, the Sredny Stog period is still much in dispute, and will probably remain so until the biological picture is developed for the most of the Eastern Europe area and adjacent steppe belts. Great strides were lately made in instrumented dating, closing a number of presumptions, and more are needed to develop a less obscure cause and effect depiction. Among the main topics are the connection of Sredny Stog with its easterly neighbors of Khalynsk, Samara, and N.Caspian (Pre-Caspian when viewed with the Moscow eyes), its social classification that in order to advance the IE hypothesis was once portrayed as militantly patriarchal warlike-class society, the religious interpretation of the goods provided for the deceased for a trip to another world. The linguistic data, much used to braid the Kurgan burial tradition with the emergence of the IE hypothesis, was and still is lively debated, largely for weak allusions, unexclusive arguments, and geographical undeterminable pointers. As far as the kurgans are concerned, only the Türkic people retained well into the historical period the name for a man-made grave marker hill, and they bestowed that name "kurgan" on all surrounding IE and non-IE peoples, precisely because those people did not have a term for a foreign object belonging to a foreign religion from a contrasting culture. The religious task of the kurgan is to provide the deceased with a pasture for the horses, functionally the kurgan pile of fertile soil is identical to provisions like a dish, knife, horse, carriage, chunk of meat, flask of araka, a bow, etc., it is a cash-and-carry type of take-home commodity needed for a voyage to another world. So far this essential point was sorely missing from all IE kurgan-related linguistic speculations. The presumptuous militantly patriarchal perception of the Eneolithic burials profoundly conflicts with the near-identical inventory of the Türkic kurgans in the historical times, which are known as being dual endogamic societies with no exaggerated sexual dominance, just to name the Dulo/Ukil ruling clans of the Hunno-Bulgars, or Ashina/Ashtak ruling clans of the Türks.
Presently, the Sredny Stog is just a likely candidate for a phase in the developing of the Türkic people, with the potential preceding stages in the Itil/Volga-Ural river basins and N.Caucasus, and the arrival of the Sredny Stog into N.Pontic being a result of intrusion and superimposition of its culture on the Dnieper-Donets (in places called massive Cro-Magnon type) and eastward expansion of the Tripolye Mediterranean-type people. The expansions of the Sredny Stog westward and eastward brought about drastic changes in the west, and seemed to be an inherent part of the developments in the east. The spread, although nominally called Sredny Stog, actually is associated with the expansion of the Pit Grave into the Sredny Stog, with consequent advance of the Pit Grave/Sredny Stog agglomeration. The eastern spread of the culture continued until it encountered Tungus (Dunhu) and Chinese civilizations. The Sredny Stog became a an established archeological category after D.Ya.Telegin published its definition in 1973 in "Sredno Stogivska Kultura Epokhi Mid Dumka".
After publication of J.P. Mallory work, F.Kortlandt made a thoughtful observation about the speculative ethnic attribution of the Sredny Stog period:
...the linguistic evidence from our family does not lead us beyond Gimbutas’ secondary homeland and that the Khvalynsk culture on the middle Volga and the Maykop culture in the northern Caucasus cannot be identified with the Indo-Europeans. Any proposal which goes beyond the Sredny Stog culture must start from the possible affinities of Indo-European with other language families. It is usually recognized that the best candidate in this respect is the Uralic language family, while further connections with the Altaic languages and perhaps even Dravidian are possible... What we do have to take into account is the typological similarity of Proto-Indo-European to the North-West Caucasian (i.e. Adyg) languages. If this similarity can be attributed to areal factors, we may think of Indo-European as a branch of Uralo-Altaic which was transformed under the influence of a Caucasian substratum. It now appears that this view is actually supported by the archaeological evidence. If it is correct, we may locate the earliest (Uralo-Altaic) ancestors of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European north of the Caspian Sea in the seventh millennium. [F.Kortlandt, Journal of Indo-European Studies, Volume 18, 1990, p.131]
A similar point was made by M.Gimbutas:
There is now a consensus of linguists and mythologists that the Indo-European linguistic family is closest to the Finno-Ugric. The Indo-Uralic hypothesis, whereby the Indo-European family is classed with the Uralic-Yukaghir, Altaic, and others, is particularly strong (Anttila 1972). [M.Gimbutas, Current Anthropology, Volume 27, Issue 4 (Aug. - Oct., 1986), p. 306]
In search of the Indo-Europeans, J.P. Mallory explored the archaeological evidence in the paths of the 18 IE theories but without acknowledging the PCT theory already published in 1996, exposing its scholarship to a test of its treatment of rival theories. J.P. Mallory evaluated the 18 IE theories as potential staging areas from where the Indo-Europeans would have emanated to reach the IE territories of the historical period, and from that angle to demonstrate (pp.222-223) that
Independently of whether J.P. Mallory succeeded in achieving these objectives, his scholarly overview of the involved cultures brings an updated description of the events, developments, and artifacts associated with the Kurgan Culture. The archeological category of culture is a semantical expression of a "phase" in the life of a community, thus the same people may retain their genetical and spiritual identity while technologically transitioning from Eneolithic Pit Grave to Early Bronze Catacomb to Late Bronze Scythian to Early Iron Scythian, and geographically transitioning from N.Pontic steppes to Urals/Kazakhstan to Minusinsk/Altai, while carrying the technology used at the time of expansion, and keeping burying their dead in the kurgans.
The article also bring about absolute timing, based on scientific instrumented measurements, bridging the murky ditch between measured data on one side, and typological judgment on the other side. Though the typological observation may be amazingly correct, in other cases the typological evaluations are embarrassingly off when juxtaposed against scientific measurements, and in the frequent cases with an absence of the instrumented measurements, the authors have to resort to a listing of a litany of diverging opinions from multiple experts, leaving the time subject in inconclusive suspension, or piling on the heap another private opinion.
Accepted designation and spelling of the archeological cultures are shown in bold. Ukrainian name for the Sredny Stog (accepted English spelling) is Serednyi Stog (also found in literature). Non-author's comments and illustrations are noted in blue. Page numbers are shown in blue at the beginning of the page.
In Search of the Indo-Europeans
Chapter 7 pp. 186-222
The Early Eneolithic of the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe
The Eneolithic cultures of the Pontic-Caspian emerge by 4500 BC and subsequently evolve into Early Bronze Age cultures by about 2500 BC, if not earlier. Since these dates coincide almost precisely with the suspected floruit (if any fact can coincide precisely with something that is only conjecturally suspected to exist, a wonderful example of verbal diddling) of the Proto-Indo-Europeans before the emergence of distinct Indo-European groups, we are justified in examining this period more closely than the preceding one. Our attention will focus on those areas of material culture or behavior that seem to pertain most (i.e. deliberately not exclusive) to our reconstructions of Indo-European society.
In broad terms, all of the cultures which we are about to encounter take their origin from their Neolithic antecedents in the Pontic-Caspian although precise derivations are very much open to debate. The earlier Eneolithic cultures embrace a series of individual cultures, all of which are distinguished in archaeological nomenclature, but which also display recurrent traits that point either to long-standing mutual contacts or underlying genetic relations. These include the Sredny Stog, Novodanilovka, Lower Mikhaylovka- Kemi Oba cultures in the west and the Samara, Khvalynsk and Southern Ural Eneolithic cultures in the east. In addition, residual Neolithic cultures such as the Dnieper-Donets culture lingered in some regions to be contemporary with some of the Early Eneolithic cultures before finally being absorbed by them. By the end of the Eneolithic period, about 3500-2500 BC, most of the Pontic-Caspian region was occupied by the Pit-grave (Russ. Yamnaya) horizon. The successors of the Pit-grave culture are set to a period in which one generally assumes (assume = accept without verification or proof) the emergence of already differentiated Indo-European-speaking peoples. It is during the course of the Eneolithic period that those who support the Pontic-Caspian as the exclusive homeland of the Indo-Europeans argue for their initial expansion. (For those who do not assume or presume, see for example alternate PCT concept)
Map of Sredny Stog (SS) and Pit Grave Kurgan (Y) cultures
Sredny Stog culture 4500-3500 BC
The Sredny Stog culture is easily the best known of the Early Eneolithic cultures of the Pontic-Caspian. It is attested by approximately 100 sites located primarily along the middle Dnieper and extending eastwards to include the Donets and the lowermost reaches of the Don. Both radiocarbon dates and synchronisms with the better-dated Tripolye culture indicate that this culture flourished about 4,500-3,500 BC .
The evidence for settlements in the Sredny Stog culture is not extensive and the site of Dereivka on
the middle Dnieper is by far the most impressive. An area of over 2,000 square meters was apparently
bordered by some form of fence which enclosed several houses, work places and areas of ritual
activity. The houses were slightly sunk into the ground, rectangular in shape, with the largest
measuring 13 by 6 meters. Hearths were found within them. Scattered about the site were various
activity areas including a place for repairing fish gear and processing one's catch, a potter's
workshop, and a place where bones were worked into tools. Semi-subterranean huts are also known from
Alexandria, and surface dwellings, similar to those from Dereivka, have been uncovered at
Konstantinovka on the lower Don. At Dereivka, in addition to more secular activities, there was also
some evidence for ritual. This included a deposit consisting of the head of a stallion accompanied
by the left footbones of a horse, the remains of two dogs, and a figurine in the shape of a wild
boar. Beneath one of the walls of a house was discovered a pit with the burial of a dog.
The economy of the Sredny Stog culture was based on stockbreeding, agriculture, hunting and fishing. The domestic livestock, in terms of the attested number of individuals from five Sredny Stog sites, included horse, sheep/goat, cattle, pig and dog.
The horse served both as a meat source, evidenced by the slaughter patterns which specifically reflect the butchering of young males, and for transport. Antler cheekpieces for fixing the bit in the horse's mouth are known from Dereivka and other Sredny Stog sites. This evidence, coupled with the logical requirements of controlling herds of horses from horseback, supports the thesis that the horse was probably ridden at this time. Generally, archaeologists are skeptical that the horse could also have been employed for traction. Both the small size of the animals (average withers height of 136 centimeters) and the absence of a suitable harness would have rendered these earliest domestic horses poorly suited to pull the heavy timber carts or wagons that are first attested in the Eneolithic.
Although the horse would have revolutionized transportation and the mobility of the Sredny Stog
people, it is questionable whether it alone provided the complete prerequisites for true steppe
nomadism involving the cyclic exploitation of steppe pastures on a year-round basis. While sheep
were well suited to the steppe, the presence of domestic pigs on Sredny Stog sites points to a
settled regime, although one that was amassing the technological and economic requirements which
might permit specialized nomadic pastoralism. It is always very difficult to evaluate the
comparative values of stockbreeding versus agriculture in prehistoric sites, yet the evidence for
half a dozen querns (primitive stone hand grinder) and about a dozen grinders from Dereivka at least indicates the processing of
plant foods, although these may not necessarily have been domestic. In general, Soviet
(now Russian) archaeologists assume
(i.e. not assume, but stipulate, based on the refuse bone count) that stockbreeding provided the primary core of the Sredny Stog economy.
Sredny Stog (SS) culture
The wild animals hunted by the Sredny Stog population included a wide range of prey attested throughout Europe. The primary game animals were red and roe deer, elk, wild boar and, again reminding us more forcefully of the riverine environment of these sites, beaver and otter. Badger, wolf, fox and hare are also represented in the faunal samples. Birds such as mallard, pintail duck, goose, teal and coot were recovered as well.
Finally, there can be little doubt that fishing also played a role in the Sredny Stog economy. The discovery of net sinkers, fishhooks, and fish remains at Dereivka confirms the exploitation of wels, perch, roach, red-eye, carp and pike. Unio and Palludino shells were also collected extensively.
The technology of the Sredny Stog culture provides several areas for comment. Ceramics were still bag-shaped with rounded or pointed bases which clearly reflect their local forest-steppe ancestry. The fabric of the vessels was frequently tempered with crushed shell which provides a useful technological, and some would claim ethnic, marker for the Pontic-Caspian region. By the later period of the Sredny Stog culture, the so-called Dereivka period following 4000 BC, cord ornament appears on the pottery setting a pattern which subsequently emerges over much of the rest of Europe at a later date. The implications of this design technique will assume greater importance when we attempt to trace the expansion of the Indo-Europeans (or certainly non-IEs for that matter).
The lithic remains of the Sredny Stog culture contain much of what we might expect of most Eneolithic societies across Europe. Knives, scrapers, arrowheads, spearheads are all known. Among the antler tools, the most interesting are the hammers and mattocks which occur in great abundance at Dereivka. The excavator, Dmitry Telegin, argues that the hammers were close range weapons and served an analogous function to the stone battle-axes which appear later in the Eneolithic. Cheekpieces for horses were also fashioned from antler.
Copper objects are rare in the Sredny Stog culture and generally consist of little more than beads, although Telegin suggests that copper tools did exist at Dereivka as evidenced by traces of copper oxides on worked bone and the requisite techniques employed in working antler into tools. Evgeny Chernykh has demonstrated by spectral analysis that the copper was derived from the Balkan-Danubian region and probably passed eastwards via the Tripolye culture to the Sredny Stog.
A number of Sredny Stog cemeteries have been uncovered and reveal relatively uniform burial rites. The graves are simple pits without any evident surface marker such as a kurgan. The deceased were buried on their backs but with their legs flexed (in distinction to the customary extended positions of the Dnieper-Donets culture), and they were frequently strewn with ochre (like the Dnieper-Donets graves). Grave gifts were few and included pots and tools (the religious concept of the grave goods apparently is identical with the Samara, Dnieper-Donets, and later stage of the Globular Amphorae cultures). At Dereivka one of the graves was accompanied by a pot imported from the Tripolye culture.
The disposition of the burials within the cemetery is also distinguished from the previous (i.e. earlier?, older? genetically related? genetically replaced?) Dnieper-Donets culture where numerous burials were interred in a series in group pits. In the Sredny Stog culture the burials tend to be grouped into small numbers, two to five, which are separated from other small groups within the same cemetery. Soviet archaeologists see in this a shift in social organization where the various small groups indicate family or other kinship units who retained their distinct identities even within their cemeteries.
The Sredny Stog cemeteries also provide information about both the physical appearance and
life-spans of the population. In general, the Sredny Stog people are described as proto-Europoids of
medium to tall stature, more gracile than the Dnieper-Donets people but still quite robust when
compared with their contemporaries in the Tripolye culture. From the small Sredny Stog cemetery on
Igren island, Ina Potekhina has examined the demographic structure of the population. Males who had
achieved adulthood died on average about the age of thirty-six years while the few females in the cemetery, contrary to the usual
pattern observed in prehistoric cemeteries, outlived the men and died at about forty-four years of
age. If the very high rate of infant mortality is taken into consideration, the average age at death
for the entire population was about twenty-seven years.
There are quite marked similarities between the burials of the Sredny Stog culture and those of the Novodanilovka group which also occupied the lower Dnieper and the steppe region of the Ukraine contemporary with the early Sredny Stog culture. The Novodanilovka burials are grouped into small cemeteries, generally not exceeding half a dozen burials, among which Chapli, Yama, Voroshilovgrad (renamed back to Luhansk) and Petro Svistunovo are the best known. The burials are in the supine position with legs flexed, orientation is to the east or northeast, and the deceased was sprinkled with ochre - all of which are characteristics also seen in the Sredny Stog culture. Where they differ is in the elaboration seen both in the construction of the tombs and in the grave goods. Generally, the grave pits are lined with stone slabs and the burials are richly accompanied with a wide assortment of goods. Included among these are stone tools of which long flint knives, arrowheads and spearheads are quite typical. The flint is of high quality and was obtained from the Donets region. Polished stone axes, fashioned from slate or serpentine, maces made from stone, antler or even copper also occur. About a dozen copper bracelets are known; their function is indisputable, as they have been found about the lower arm bones of a burial at Chapli. Other ornaments include rings, beads and pendants of copper, and pendants fashioned from boar's tusk, animal teeth and shell. Globular vessels with slightly pointed bases also occur with the burials.
The interpretation of the Novodanilovka group is made extremely difficult because of the total absence of any settlement sites. Other than a few hoards of copper or flint objects, such as the Goncharovka hoard with 150 knife-like blades, the Novodanilovka burials are without a clear cultural context. They were initially assigned to the Sredny Stog culture but are now recognized by Ukrainian archaeologists as an independent group, putatively composed of specialist flintworkers engaged in the long-distance exchange of flint and possibly copper.
Sredny Stog (SS) culture Novodanilovka cemetery
That future discoveries within the Sredny Stog settlements may extend the range of its objects and practices to include the more exotic items found in Novodanilovka burials is always possible, and it has been suggested that these graves merely represent wealthier members of the Sredny Stog culture. What is most important is the pattern of broad general (and biological) similarity between the different cultures and groups occupying the Dnieper-Ural area.
The third major Ukrainian cultural entity of the earlier Eneolithic is the Lower Mikhaylovka-Kemi Oba culture which spans the region between the lower Dnieper and the Crimea. The lower Dnieper variant, the Lower Mikhaylovka culture, synchronizes roughly with the later part of the Sredny Stog culture, while the Kemi Oba culture of the Crimea extends into the later Eneolithic.
Some settlements have been ascribed to the Lower Mikhaylovka culture, the most famous being the eponymous site of Mikhaylovka where the Lower Mikhaylovka remains underlie the later Pit-grave settlement and fortifications. Here semi-subterranean houses were found, one of which measured about 15.5 by 5 meters. The faunal remains from Lower Mikhaylovka were not abundant but include sheep/goat, cattle, horse, pig and dog, in that order, with some traces of hunting. The ceramics are different from the Sredny Stog culture and are flat-based with raised necks. Of special note is a low pedestalled bowl which may be interpreted as a censer, analogous to similar ritual paraphernalia encountered regularly in this region throughout later prehistory.
Burials and associated rituals have attracted special attention. The burials are placed in low
kurgans (mounds) and the presence of stone rings, cromlechs, is frequently noted. Hearths have been
discovered built on top of the kurgans, on their periphery or within the burial pit itself. Grave
goods are rare but may include pottery, copper awls or shell ornaments
(i.e. the same cultural and religious pattern later recorded among Huns and Turkic people accross
the steppe zone).
One of the more striking recent discoveries of the Lower Mikhaylovka group is the existence of altars or offering places. Beneath a kurgan at Kalanchak was found a circular area on which lay the fractured remains of an anthropomorphic stone stela with traces of ochre; potsherds; and animal bones. Similar deposits have been found elsewhere (i..e. area associated with Sredny Stog traditions).
To the south, in the Crimea, are the remains of the Kemi Oba culture which is primarily represented by small cemeteries. Besides those features which are similar to the Lower Mikhaylovka group, for example, kurgans, cromlechs, eastern orientation, and so forth, there are several other features of considerable interest. A number of the tombs which have been built as stone cists have included painted ornament on the walls. Of greater representational interest are the carved stone stelae on which are depicted the heads and arms of figures, and which are covered with both geometric and more realistic ornament. A fine example of this is the stone stela that derives from Kernosovka. The stela stood 1.2 meters high and depicts the head, including a face with a moustache and beard; arms; and phallus. On the front surface of the stela are carved images of what have been interpreted as tools such as mattocks, a battle-axe, and animals including two horses. There are about seventy such figures known from the Pontic region. Considerable evidence exists that they were employed in Later Eneolithic burials, especially in the construction of Pit-grave graves where they were used to cover the deceased. This was clearly not their original purpose since they were constructed to stand upright, and Dmitry Telegin suggests that they were originally manufactured by the Lower Mikhaylovka-Kemi Oba culture and later appropriated by Pit-grave tribes who reused them in their own burials.
Kernosovka stelae of Sredny Stog culture
From Dnepropetrovsk Historical museum collection of 86 stelae ranging from Sredny Stog to Kipchak
These major cultural groups Sredny Stog, Novodanilovka and the Lower Mikhaylovka-Kemi Oba cultures - all constitute the primary Eneolithic cultures of the lower and middle Dnieper to the lower Don region in the period 4500~3500 BC. Their origins are by no means clearly understood though no one would deny a strong degree of continuity from the preceding Surski (aka Surski-Dnieper culture, mixed cattle, pig and sickle Neolithic culture on the right bank of Dnieper, connected with Tripolye or extension of Tripolye) and Dnieper-Donets cultures in their development. But other impulses, seen in ceramics, metal working, and the elaboration of burial ritual by using stone, point to more distant contacts with the Tripolye culture to the west, and especially the Eneolithic cultures of the north Caucasus to the southeast (i.e. strong degree of the Eneolithic cultures of the north Caucasus, lesser degree of the Tripolye culture, and the least Surski extension of Tripolye and Dnieper-Donets cultures, in this ranking order).
We have already noted the potential importance of the Caucasus in stimulating the Neolithic economy in the Pontic-Caspian region. The association of the northern Caucasus with the Pontic-Caspian is much more clearly seen in the Eneolithic period. One of the earliest north Caucasian sites of importance is the cemetery at Nalchik. Here were found 147 burials placed under very low kurgans which together formed an extensive low kurgan covering an area of about 300 square meters. Although twelve of the burials were found in the supine position with legs flexed (as we frequently encounter in the steppe), the majority were deposited on their sides, males on their right and females on their left. Ochre frequently accompanied the burials. Grave goods included pendants fashioned from animal teeth, flint tools, and a series of marble bracelets. The earliest burials at Nalchik are dated to the Eneolithic. Other than a few other burials and a single settlement site, there is little local context for the Nalchik cemetery which appears to straddle the world of both the steppe and the Caucasus.
Nalchick precedes the Maykop culture which takes its name from the famous royal barrow at Maykop southeast of the Sea of Azov. The massive quantity of gold and silver ornaments and vessels has long been the subject of archaeological debate: what were their precise chronological and cultural relations with the Bronze Age cultures of the Near East, Anatolia, and their neighbors in the Caucasus? The sites of the Maykop culture appear to cluster in the Kuban region from whence they extend eastwards across the northern Caucasus. Burials are typically found beneath kurgans which generally employ stone constructions such as cromlechs and stone cists. The deceased are found buried either in the supine position with legs flexed, or on their sides. Copper objects are a frequent burial accompaniment.
The origins, interpretation and absolute dates of Nalchik and the Maykop culture are perennial
topics of debate. Their origin, for example, is variously attributed to a yet unidentified local
Neolithic population, or to a northward expansion of the Eneolithic cultures of the Caucasus. More
important from our poinf of view is the elaboration of their burials, with stone constructions which many
archaeologists see as a source for the stone-built tombs encountered in the Lower Mikhaylovka
and Kemi Oba cultures.
Similarly, they offer ceramic parallels for some of the cultures on the steppe. Finally, in their strategic position between the steppe and the major metallurgical centers of the Caucasus, the northern Caucasus becomes an important factor in the cultural development of the Pontic-Caspian in the Later Eneolithic and Bronze Ages.
Early Eneolithic in the East
The Eneolithic successors of the earlier Seroglazovo culture (11th-9th millennium BC) are the Samara culture (ca 5500–4800 BC) of the middle Volga forest-steppe, and the Pre-Caspian culture to its south. Both cultures are still very poorly known and their formulation as cultural entities is relatively recent.
Samara culture ca 5500–4800 BC
The Samara culture, which takes its name from the river Samara, was only discovered in 1973. Its major site is the cemetery of Sezzhee where many of the practices and some of the grave goods encountered in the Dnieper-Donets culture are paralleled. The burials are in flat graves, extended on their backs, and often powdered with ochre, especially the graves of children. The majority of graves were accompanied by goods that included polished stone axes, shell beads, pendants of animal teeth, bone tools, ceramics, and small plates fashioned from boar tusk or shell which would be sewn on garments, a practice most notably attested in the Dnieper-Donets cemetery at Mariupol. In addition, figures carved from tusk or bone also occur in the graves. They were fashioned into the shapes of horses, cattle and ducks. The possibility that the horse was employed ritually in the burial rite is suggested by the discovery of horse skulls and other bones in the overburden of the cemetery.
The distinctive shell-tempered Samara ceramics are known on other sites throughout this region and, according to Igor Vasiliev, ceramically influenced the forest cultures to the north. This provides a point of mutual contact between a segment of what we presume to have been Proto-Indo-European speakers and the region most often favored as the probable homeland of the Uralic languages (and the acceptance of the Altaic Türkic speakers would make it a point of mutual contact between a segment of Türkic and Uralic speakers, provided that at that time they were differentiated, see F.Kortlandt citation above).
Distribution of Eneolithic cultures of the Caspian-middle Volga region
After Mallory "In search of", p. 206
Pre-Caspian culture 5000-3000 BC
The Pre-Caspian culture to the south is very poorly known with little more than twenty sites identified. These are generally on heavily eroded dune surfaces where material from different periods has been mixed together. The sites are, as a rule, situated along the shores of dry lakes and are composed of flat-based ceramics, quartzite tools and occasionally animal bones. Both the Samara and Pre-Caspian cultures are synchronized with the Dnieper-Donets culture to the west.
The successor to both the Samara and Pre-Caspian cultures is known as the Khvalynsk culture which takes its name from the major cemetery of Khvalynsk, situated on the right bank of the Volga. This cemetery covered an area of about 1,100 square meters and revealed the remains of 158 burials. The cemetery reflects striking similarities with both the Dnieper-Donets and Sredny Stog cemeteries. While there are forty-five individual burials, the majority were placed in group pits ranging from a pair to as many as seven together. The burials were normally in the supine position with legs flexed, often covered with ochre, and orientated from north to east. The graves were simple pits, though a number had been covered with stones.
The grave goods from the Khvalynsk cemetery are exceedingly rich and include about fifty pots, again
employing crushed shell temper; beads fashioned from Unio shell, bone and stone; dentalium shell
pendants; stone arrowheads and axes; bone harpoons, fishhooks and knives; and animal bones. Here,
too, were uncovered figures carved from boar tusk and shell, and about forty copper objects. These
included spiral bracelets and rings and, like the Sredny Stog copper, spectral analysis indicates
that the copper was originally derived from the Balkan-Danubian region far to the west. In the
overburden of the graves there were found the bones of domestic horse, cattle and sheep/goat.
Igor Vasiliev points out that, excluding the differences in ceramics, there are striking similarities in burial ritual and technology between the Khvalynsk and the Sredny Stog cultures. To these we may add, naturally, the presence of domestic horse, which is apparently known as early in the middle Volga-south Urals as on the middle Dnieper. The similarities suggest to Vasiliev that there was a broad Sredny Stog-Khvalynsk horizon embracing the entire Pontic-Caspian during the Eneolithic. This, he suggests, replaced an earlier broadly uniform horizon, associated with the Dnieper-Donets culture, that not only occupied the west but also evidenced strong influences on the middle Volga Seroglazovo and Samara cultures.
In attempting to explain why we should have such widely similar material and ritual behavior across the entire Pontic-Caspian, Vasiliev touches on the issue of cultural priority. In the Ukraine, the later phases of the Dnieper-Donets culture appear to coexist with the Sredny Stog culture until they are finally absorbed, In such a situation, according to Vasiliev, it is doubtful that one can argue for an entirely local evolution from the Dnieper-Donets to the Sredny Stog. Rather, he directs our attention eastwards to the middle Volga where the transition between the intervening cultures of the Neolithic and Eneolithic clearly indicate local development. The possibility that the Sredny Stog-Khvalynsk horizon was achieved by impulses moving from east to west can be proposed even if Ukrainian archaeologists emphasize what they perceive to be continuity between the Neolithic and Eneolithic. Indeed, this hypothesis, that the Ukrainian Eneolithic cultures were in part derived from movements from the Volga, has been argued by a number of Soviet archaeologists, though previously there was little chronological control of the data, nor was there the evidence for cultural development on the middle Volga.
We are still far from understanding precisely why there should have developed such a broad band of
similar cultures across the Pontic-Caspian during the Early Eneolithic. Obviously, a general Drang
nach Westen would help explain the uniformity of the stockbreeding vocabulary of the
Proto-Indo-Europeans (only few, non-uniform, and quite late examples,
assembled under maximally relaxed criteria, with indulgent excises for admissibility, are
cited on pages 111-119: cattle, sheep, goat, horse, dog. The vocabulary of horse-related
*reconstructed [i.e. non-attested, *putative] words are all "*words", *ekwo- (a horse), *kwel- (a
wheel), *rot(h)o- (a wheel, a chariot), *hois- (a pole of a carriage), *iugom- (a yoke), *dhur- (to
harness), *uegh- (to convey), *iaH- (to drive a carriage, clearly not extensive enough vocabulary to
establish far-reaching inductions. The artificial character of these philological compositions makes
inductions based them contingent on their conditional realness), but this should not be accomplished at the expense of other pertinent
archaeological data. It is clear that metallurgy was diffusing in the opposite direction, and we
must envisage a very broad area which formed a sphere of constant mutual relations, especially with
regard to exchange. The increased mobility produced by the domestication of the horse was also
probably an important factor. The extent to which actual folk movements were involved is not yet
clear, but they can hardly be dismissed. The ultimate result of these interactions and possible
movements is to be seen in the Late Eneolithic. Here the greatest similarities arise with the
Pit-grave culture, one of the major cultural-historical entities of prehistoric Europe,
The Pit-grave cultural-historical area 3,600-2,200 BC
The final Eneolithic culture of the Pontic-Caspian region, and the last cultural entity which may putatively be assigned a Proto-Indo-European date, is the the Pit-grave (Russ. Yamnaya) culture. The major floruit of this culture, substantiated by more than seventy radiocarbon dates, is about 3,600-2,200 BC. Its territory embraced the entire Pontic-Caspian from the Bug and Dniester rivers on the west across to the Ural and Emba rivers on the east. Such a territory, stretching 3,000 kilometers across, is so vast that many archaeologists accept the terminology of Nikolai Merpert and refer to a Pit-grave cultural-historical area rather than to a single culture.
The immediate origins of the Pit-grave culture are complicated and still very much disputed, although there is general agreement that both the Sredny Stog and Khvalynsk cultures were the primary foundations for the Pit-grave groups of their respective regions. While these certainly underlie some of the local Pit-grave variants, it should be noted, however, that Merpert envisages nine different regional variants in this vast continuum.
The Pit-grave culture is overwhelmingly evidenced by the remains of its burials rather than from settlements. Evidence for occupation sites is almost unknown in some of its regional variants, and where they do occur in sizeable numbers, they frequently tend to be insubstantial camp sites suggesting a mobile form of economy. This is especially true in the steppe region of the Volga where Pit-grave remains are recovered from the same type of dune camps as in the preceding Neolithic period.
There are, however, some major exceptions to this pattern, especially along the lower Dnieper where the site of Mikhaylovka offers the most substantial remains of a Pit-grave settlement. Here, overlying the earlier Lower Mikhaylovka phase, were stratified twro substantial phases of the Pit-grave culture. The earlier occupied an area of about 1,500 square meters. Both semi-subterranean and surface structures, the latter with stone foundations, were recovered, along with a great quantity of ceramics, tools and faunal remains.
The later Pit-grave phase saw the expansion of the settlement to cover an area of 1.5 hectares, and the erection of fortifications consisting of both a ditch and stone walls which still stand to a height of 2.5 meters.Several varieties of solidly constructed houses were discovered, including both small oval-shaped dwellings similar to the previous phase, and large rectangular houses with one to three rooms. These structures mere built on stone foundations up to a meter high and then completed in wood and daub. Although Mikhaylovka is the largest of the fortified Pit-grave sites it is not unique, and several other stone fortified sites are known.
Mikhaylovka offers by far the largest single sample of economic remains from the Pit-grave culture. Here were recovered over 50,000 identifiable bones of domestic and wild animals. The domestic fauna consisted primarily of cattle and then sheep/goat, with substantial remains of horses and some pig. The most typical wild fauna included the onager, red deer, aurochs, wild boar, saiga (the steppe antelope), and a variety of other species such as otter, fox, wolf, hare and beaver. Querns and flint sickle blades indicated that agriculture was practiced. The faunal remains from the site of Repin on the Don were primarily those of domestic horse.
While the existence of agriculture in the Pit-grave culture is not disputed, the general opinion is
that the culture was overwhelmingly centered on stockbreeding which may have become so specialized in
some of its regional variants that it permitted pastoral nomadism. Valentin Shilov has called
attention to the natural conditions of the open steppe where salty soils and sands would have
precluded any serious development of agriculture yet would have provided excellent conditions for
pastoral economies. It is in precisely these areas that Pit-grave camp sites have been encountered in
the Volga-Ural region. Furthermore, Pit-grave burials are known from the deep steppe far from the major rivers that might have provided the regime necessary for stable farming settlements.
Although the primary source of faunal remains for much of the Pit-grave region is to be found in grave offerings, these do indicate a marked predominance of ovicaprids, precisely the animals that would best exploit the steppe environment. Even in areas such as the lower Dnieper, Ukrainian archaeologists argue that such sites as Mikhaylovka may have served as centers on which camp sites of semi-nomadic pastoralists depended.
The general picture of the Pit-grave economy is varied and dependent on the natural conditions in which its populations found themselves. In the major river valleys, where agricultural soils and forested environment provided the necessary basis for mixed farming settlements, the Pit-grave culture appears to have followed such an economy. Nevertheless, the increased development of stockbreeding, especially the utilization of both the sheep and domestic horse, assisted in the expansion of human settlement out from the river valleys into the deep steppe. Another obvious factor in the development of mobile economies was the invention of wheeled vehicles.
Wagons are first attested in the Pontic-Caspian during the Pit-grave period. Quite numerous remains of wheels, and even some entire wagons, have been recovered from Pit-grave burials. They show the use of both the two-wheeled cart and the four-wheeled wagon. There is consensus that the means of traction was oxen, as the vehicles with their heavy solid wooden wheels would have been far too heavy for horses to pull at this time. The wagon is traditionally seen as one of the prerequisites for successful exploitation of the open steppe, since it provided the necessary mode of transport for both family and property which was necessary in a mobile economy. Horse riding, which we have already seen in the Sredny Stog culture, is also evidenced in the Pit-grave culture. A pair of wooden cheekpieces was recovered from a Pit-grave kurgan at Vinogradovka, near Odessa.
The range of Pit-grave technology is not extensive. In addition to the variety of flint tools employed
in the subsistence economy there is also a range of weapons - for example, flint arrowheads,
daggers, stone battle-axes and maces. Bone and antler tools such as mattocks, harpoons and awls have
also been recovered. Ceramics vary according to region but in some instances continue the pattern of
shell and sand-tempered wares with decoration executed by cords and comb stamping. There is more
copper than in earlier periods, with the production of awls, knives, chisels and adzes. While
previous metallurgical developments appeared to be the result of long-distance contacts with the
Balkan-Danubian region, we now find the beginnings of localized Pit-grave metallurgical centers. In
the lower Dnieper copper appears to have been acquired from the Caucasus region and developed under
its stylistic influence, although with its own independent production, as evidence for copper
working at Mikhaylovka suggests. In the Volga-Ural region local copper resources began to be
The primary evidence for the Pit-grave culture, as mentioned above, is burials. In general the burial ritual involved the digging of a shaft (the yama = pit grave) and depositing the body of the deceased, at least in the earlier periods, on the back with legs flexed and head oriented east or northeast. Some extended supine burials are also known. The deceased might lie directly on the floor of the pit, but there are also frequent traces of wooden planks or reeds and rushes being employed as a floor. The use of ochre is quite frequent and hence the culture is often termed the Ockergrabkultur (ochre-grave-culture) in German archaeological literature. The burial might be surrounded by a cromlech, or covered with stones, or timber planks might form a roof over the pit and a hearth might be placed next to the burial. The most notable feature, however, was the erection of a kurgan over the grave. Into this kurgan might be deposited subsequent Pit-grave burials or indeed burials from later periods extending all the way to the Middle Ages. In terms of grave goods, these might range from none, especially with the majority of typologically early graves, to an impressive quantity of items. Goods might include pots, copper knives and awls, boar-tusk pendants, and an assortment of bone and stone tools such as flint sickle blades, scrapers, stone axes and harpoons. Occasionally bird bones, generally interpreted as primitive flutes (in reality milking devices), have been found. Wheeled vehicles or individual wheels might accompany a burial.
Animal bones are an intriguing accompaniment to many burials and the principal species represented
were ovicaprids, cattle, horse, dog and some wild animals. These remains may often be interpreted
simply as joints of meat presented as food offerings; however, other rituals were also at play.
Frequently the skull and forelegs of a sheep, or much more rarely of a horse, are encountered in a
grave and indicate the presence of a 'head and hooves' cult. In some cases the forepart of the
animal might have been erected directly over the burial (this prominent,
radically distinctive, and without equal trait seems being directly taken directly from the textbook
on Türkic burial traditions. Like the kurgan burials themselves, this religious rite survived and is
well documented until the Middle Ages, and like the kurgan burials themselves, this religious rite
was never as a traditional custom among Indo-European or Finno-Ugrian peoples during the historical
Knucklebones of sheep were also found frequently. Knucklebones are, of course, a familiar gaming device, and the association between the knucklebone, or astragalus, and words for dice is known in various Indo-European (and many other) languages. Their presence in Pit-grave burials may be explained as offerings of gaming pieces but one should also note that they show a very strong correlation with the burials of young children. At Berezhnovka on the Volga, for example, one child was accompanied by sixteen astragali which may have served as toys or ornaments.
The origin of the Pit-grave culture is still a topic of debate. Essentially, the major issues concern which area of the Pontic-Caspian exhibits the greatest continuity of culture between the earlier and later Eneolithic, and whether chronologically earlier burials might be attributed to a particular region. Some archaeologists, such as Igor Vasiliev and Marija Gimbutas, argue that the earliest Pit-grave burials occur in the Volga region, and that the evidence for continuity between the Neolithic across the Eneolithic is so unassailable that one must attribute a priority to this region with regard to Pit-grave origins. Others, such as Dmitry Telegin, would find that the Pit-grave burials of the Ukraine are so distinctly related to the preceding Sredny Stog culture that it is unnecessary to seek an external origin. Although there are a great number of radiocarbon dates, none pertains to what are universally admitted to being the most archaic Pit-grave burials. At present, we can only surmise that there was a very rapid expansion of distinct ceramic types and burial ritual over a vast area. Nikolai Merpert has suggested that the almost instantaneous spread of elements so closely associated with expressing ethnic identity - ceramic style and burial ritual - may indicate the existence of substantial tribal unions engaged in intense contacts with one another. This would certainly be in accordance with our image of the Pontic-Caspian region as an enormous sphere of continual interaction and mutual influences, in which cultural traits and human groups traversed with great rapidity. If the inhabitants of the regions also shared a broadly similar language at this time, this would no doubt have assisted in the rapid diffusion of common cultural traits, and the creation of a broadly similar cultural horizon.
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