June 21, 2013

The Maikop Singularity

From The Maikop Singularity: The Unequal Accumulation of Wealth on the Bronze Age Eurasian Steppe? by Philip L. Kohl (in Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia)
The Maikop parallels with northern Mesopotamia or, more broadly, with the ancient Near East, and the seemingly consistent and growing number of calibrated radiocarbon determinations (currently more than 40 such dates; E. N. Chernykh personal communication) not only date the Maikop phenomenon more securely but also suggest some connections -albeit hard to specify- with larger historical processes, such as the north Mesopotamian, and later Uruk expansion into eastern Anatolia. The calibrated radiocarbon dates suggest that the Maikop culture seems to have had a formative influence on kurgan burial rituals and what now appears to be the later Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) culture on the Eurasian steppe (Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a: 97). 
In other words, the fact that such a symbolic Mesopotamian practice is attested in the richest known "royal," or chiefly, Maikop burial must have significance not only for the earlier dating of the Maikop culture, but also for determining aspects of its cultural affiliation and formation. 
Other scholars have focused on the northern steppe component of the Maikop culture. ... V. A. Trifonov (2004: 58-60) in a reappraisal and comparison of the so-called royal tomb at Arslantepe with the Novosvobodnaya-phase Maikop burials, reverses the arrow of cultural transmission and borrowing and argues for an eastern Anatolian Chalcolithic origin of the Novosvobodnaya tombs, such as documented at Korucutepe. Thus, if Trifonov is correct, and if the calibrated radiocarbon dates securely place Maikop chronologically before the emergence of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) horizon, then somewhat counterintuitively, the origins of raising large barrows or kurgans above the broad, flat expanse of the steppes may not have been indigenous but may have been derived from eastern Anatolia or the northern periphery of the greater ancient Near East. 
It is probably futile to seek a single source from which the Maikop culture emerged.


Va_Highlander said...


"It is probably futile to seek a single source from which the Maikop culture emerged."

I think that may be a key point, perhaps even the key point. I remain somewhat skeptical of Mesopotamian intrusion, though. The so-called "Uruk expansion" seems a bit too late to explain the Maikop phenomenon, even if it represented migration as is sometimes claimed.

Kurti said...

@Va_highlander Southeast of the Caspian is a much more likely place imo.

Kurti said...

Sorry my bad, I mean Southwest of the Caspian.

Va_Highlander said...


"I mean Southwest of the Caspian."

I think southwest of the Caspian is certainly a candidate and should be considered. In fact, I think it far more probable than a PIE origin in the Pontic steppe.

The Maikop question may be related but I don't think it is quite the same. Ivanova is correct and there seems to be an undeniable connection between Maikop, Iran, and southern Central Asia. But I should not be surprised if there was also a connection with Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia, as well.

mikkelj tzoroddu said...

I think that all relations (if there are any) between Ancient Mesopotamian cultures and, not only Maikop but more generally all the areas surrounding the modern Black Sea, mast be seen through the filter represented by one of the Deluges of mankind: tht one occurred 7500 years ago, when Mediterranean waters filled the original Black Lake. All the populations living in that marvellous very large area, were constrained to fly on the instant.