May 31, 2013

Origins of the Maykop phenomenon

Unfortunately this is in German, so I can only read it with a lot of effort and the help of Google Translate. Anyway, it seems to argue against the "Uruk expansion from Mesopotamia" hypothesis and point towards Central Asia, with the author finding parallels of the Maykop culture in the Kura valley and Lake Urmia area. That would certainly fit the bill of a more "eastern" PIE homeland as I mention in one of my posts below -if we accept, as many do- an IE identity for at least elements within the Maikop culture.

It would be great if ancient DNA was ever able to shed some light on archaeological controversies such as this. It has already done so in Europe, where the discovery of a Mediterranean-like TRB farmer in Sweden destroyed theories of "acculturation" in the diffusion of the Neolithic economy into that continent, and I'm sure that similarly interesting things were taking place during prehistory in other parts of the world.


A couple of related recent posts:

Praehistorische Zeitschrift. Volume 87, Issue 1, Pages 1–28

Kaukasus und Orient: Die Entstehung des „Maikop-Phänomens“ im 4. Jahrtausend v.Chr.

Mariya Ivanova

[English abstract] Graves and settlements of the 5th millennium BC in North Caucasus attest to a material culture that was related to contemporaneous archaeological complexes in the northern and western Black Sea region. Yet it was replaced, suddenly as it seems, around the middle of the 4th millennium BC by a “high culture” whose origin is still quite unclear. This archaeological culture named after the great Maikop kurgan showed innovations in all areas which have no local archetypes and which cannot be assigned to the tradition of the Balkan-Anatolian Copper Age. The favoured theory of Russian researchers is a migration from the south originating in the Syro-Anatolian area, which is often mentioned in connection with the socalled “Uruk expansion”. However, serious doubts have arisen about a connection between Maikop and the Syro-Anatolian region. The foreign objects in the North Caucasus reveal no connection to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris or to the floodplains of Mesopotamia, but rather seem to have ties to the Iranian plateau and to South Central Asia. Recent excavations in the Southwest Caspian Sea region are enabling a new perspective about the interactions between the “Orient” and Continental Europe. On the one hand, it is becoming gradually apparent that a gigantic area of interaction evolved already in the early 4th millennium BC which extended far beyond Mesopotamia; on the other hand, these findings relativise the traditional importance given to Mesopotamia, because innovations originating in Iran and Central Asia obviously spread throughout the Syro-Anatolian region independently thereof.

Link

12 comments:

Nirjhar007 said...

''The foreign objects in the North Caucasus reveal no connection to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris or to the floodplains of Mesopotamia, but rather seem to have ties to the Iranian plateau and to South Central Asia.''
Very significant and another evidence for deep connections between Caucasus and South Central Asia, personally i think with agreeing with this true scholar-
http://new-indology.blogspot.in/
that South Central Asia was the PIE homeland.

AdygheChabadi said...

"The foreign objects in the North Caucasus reveal no connection to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris or to the floodplains of Mesopotamia, but rather seem to have ties to the Iranian plateau and to South Central Asia."

The Elamites?

That time (4th Millenium BCE) and space ("...the Iranian plateau and to South Central Asia.") corresponds to Elam/ Haltamtu (autonym) and Meluhha (Sumerian appellation for what is now termed as the Indus Valley Civilization [IVC]).

Rokus said...

That would certainly fit the bill of a more "eastern" PIE homeland as I mention in one of my posts below -if we accept, as many do- an IE identity for at least elements within the Maikop culture.

Strange enough even Mallory, that found Steppe related arguments for an IE homeland in every tree - as far trees can be found on the steppes - was unconvinced about the purported IE identity of Maikop. This would point indeed rather at a NW Caucasus identity of this culture. A central Asian archelogical origin of this culture would rather be in line with the purported Dené–Caucasian affiliation of this linguistic group, that also includes Burushaski.

Kurti said...

"hypothesis and point towards Central Asia, with the author finding parallels of the Maykop culture in the Kura valley and Lake Urmia area."

I quite don't get it. How can finding parallels in west of the Caspian and North of the Zagros point to an Central Asian origin of Indo Europeans?
It actually should support more an origin in Southwest of the Caspian and Zagros area.

Kurti said...

However it was always clear that very eraly interactions took place between West and Central Asia. It is not unlikely that Central Asian influence came as far as to the Mediterranean, the so called Central Asian corridor.

Va_Highlander said...

"The foreign objects in the North Caucasus reveal no connection to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris or to the floodplains of Mesopotamia, but rather seem to have ties to the Iranian plateau and to South Central Asia."

While I am willing to entertain a Mesopotamian connection, this is not at all surprising, to my mind.

Dienekes:

"Anyway, it seems to argue against the "Uruk expansion from Mesopotamia" hypothesis and point towards Central Asia..."

Perhaps not. From the excerpts you posted, Pitskhelauri argues that "settlements and burial mounds of the South Caucasus containing Uruk artefact are coexistent with the Maikop culture", emphasis mine. Unless I am missing something, he doesn't seem to suggest that Maikop derived from Uruk.

Kepler said...

Thanks for the post!

You are right, nice if there were these DNA tests.
But it is amazing the grave of Maikop hasn't undergone radiocarbon dating and people only derive its possible age (3800-3600 and 3000 BC) from similar North-Caucasian areas.

Ivanova says a lot of copper objects have similar appearance in the Iranian Plateau (not so in the Syrian-Anatolian region) - like the handle dagger.
The metal processing - copper with other metals or the hammering of gold and silver - seems to be more of an influence from Iran.

Some pearls and half-gemstones found in the North Caucasus were definitely imported from Central Asia.

I just went through some of the pages. She is referring to a lot of Russian research work, which probably hasn't been translated before.

eurologist said...

I think the main point is that the author sees a transition region in Armenia/ Azerbaijan/ NW Iran that funneled new technologies from the Iranian Plateau and neighboring Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Baluchistan/ SW Pakistan westwards.

It's a very good review paper toward that goal and demonstrating early 5th/4th century transition trade routes between the Caucasus, N Iran, and beyond.

I think she makes numerous convincing points. However, how this is related to PIE is a completely different story, since free, uninhibited and unforced trade does not equal language flow, while the 5th millennium BC Northern Caucasus shows a clear connection to the West Pontic and SE European Copper Age culture(s). This is a vast region, and one with many thriving urban centers - especially along the Western Pontic.

Usually, climate disruptions during the 4th millennium are cited as an explanation for the quick and dramatic changes in the Pontic region. The combination of a thriving culture with high population density, and its interruption and dispersal at the expected time of IE expansion lets me believe that this region is responsible - at least for any expansion westward, southward, and northward, and not regions farther east. Of course, the North Caucasus itself might have been a way station to introduce IE to regions farther east.

It should be noted that the dry and hot source region(s) for Maikop investigated here, with exotic predatory animals, don't match a PIE language vocabulary origin.

Grey said...

"It has already done so in Europe, where the discovery of a Mediterranean-like TRB farmer in Sweden destroyed theories of "acculturation" in the diffusion of the Neolithic economy"

Surely it did both?

It showed the original neolithic package spread very widely by immigration but if modern Scandinavians are closer to the hunter-gatherers than the farmers it also implies the original package farmers were in a low density with local acculturation of a modified more cattle-centric package?

So a mixture of immigrant seed-planting and native acculturation leading to a farming package suitable to the climate.

Dr Rob said...

IF true, this paper would certainly be interesting for the Maikop "problem": ie the apparently 'sudden' rise of very rich burials and wide-repertoire of metalwork in a region with a rather *dull* preceding Chalcolithic. However, one has to remember that, ultimately, the rise of Maikop was due to the local 'chiefs' command of ores and trade routes. No doubt wide-ranging trade lines with, variously, the Balkano-Pontic region, Mesopotamia, and perhaps now, also Iran - southern central Asia, all played a role.

To try and identity single, ultimate 'source regions' is simplistic and would be a misunderstanding of how exchange networks, and the ideological-cultural-political (& and linguistic?) connections associated with that, operated.

Simon_W said...

@ Kurti

I quite don't get it. How can finding parallels in west of the Caspian and North of the Zagros point to an Central Asian origin of Indo Europeans?
It actually should support more an origin in Southwest of the Caspian and Zagros area.


The article doesn't deal with the IE problem, but mentions various technological innovations, imports and stylistic influences that spread from the Iranian plateau and southern central Asia to the north Caucasus.

However, early Kurgans similar to those of the Maikop culture were found in the Kura valley and Lake Urmia area only.

And a particular type of pottery in the Maikop culture, the German text calls it „Häckselware“, has a widespread distribution and is ultimately of Mesopotamian origin. But it's also found in NW-Iran, especially in the Urmia area, so the author thinks it may have reached the northern Caucasus from there, rathern than via a direct Uruk migration.

The author suggests that the region around Lake Urmia may have been the place where the eastern influences from Iran and southern central Asia and the Caucasus cultures got into contact.

@ Va_Highlander

From the excerpts you posted, Pitskhelauri argues that "settlements and burial mounds of the South Caucasus containing Uruk artefact are coexistent with the Maikop culture", emphasis mine. Unless I am missing something, he doesn't seem to suggest that Maikop derived from Uruk.

As far as I understood Pitskhelauri's article he (or she?) mentions several times „large masses of Uruk migrants“ settling down everywhere in the Caucasus and triggering the explosive development of the Maikop culture. And the present article ascribes the triggering more to Iranian/south central Asian influence.

Va_Highlander said...

Simon_W, many thanks.

I look forward to looking at both articles in greater detail. A lack of time has kept me away from Pitskhelauri's article and my ignorance of German has limited my access to Ivanova. Google Translate is a big help but it is still a slow process.

Personally, I should not be at all surprised to learn that Maikop was part of an extensive trade network that included southern Central Asia and Iran, since obviously such a network flourished in the fourth millennium BCE and trade routes between Iran and Anatolia had existed since the Neolithic. I am also in full agreement with Dr Rob, above, when he attributes the rise of Maikop to local control of trade routes and mineral resources.

Attributing Maikop to Uruk immigrants seems like a typical product of the classical, diffusionist theory of civilization, that it begins with an agricultural surplus in one of the known and accepted cradles and then spreads to the periphery. I think history suggests that it was more a complex of interacting forces and not nearly so simple as once assumed.