May 22, 2013

Uruk migrants in the Caucasus

From the paper:
The period between the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C. was the time of great cataclysmic events in the Caucasus; its cultural advances were influenced by changes within its boundaries as well as interactions with the outside world. 
The most significant occurrence of this epoch was the appearance of a large number of peoples of Mesopotamian cultural identity who contributed to speeding up the rhythm of its cultural development, adding “explosive” character to its progress. 
During this period the South Caucasus experienced two powerful waves of Middle Eastern expansion: the first at the time of Late Neolithic culture of Sioni in the 4th-5th millennia B.C., and the second at the period of Tsopi culture in the Late Neolithic Age, at the end of the 5th and the first half of the 4th millennium B.C., which is known as the Uruk expansion era. Later, in the second half of the 4th and throughout the 3 rd millennium B.C., during the Early Bronze Age the Kura-Araxes culture of the Caucasus spread throughout the greater part of the Caucasus, Eastern Anatolia, northern parts of Iran, Middle East and even Europe. 


In this context, recent archaeological finds in the Southern and Northeastern Caucasus gave yet another, entirely new nuance to scientific researches into the ancient past of the Caucasus. They made it clear that incursion of these peoples into the Caucasus was not a onetime event, but continued for a significantly long period. Reasoning by the topography of the archaeological finds in Mesopotamia, it becomes clear that large masses of migrant settlers from that area did not move straight along the route to Transcaucasia in order to reach the destination faster. Actually, they settled down in every region of the Caucasus, in the mountains and flatlands, in areas where they could maintain a lifestyle familiar to them.     
It seems obvious that from that period on, two cultures of the Caucasus that had been at different stages of development could coexist peacefully on the basis of their mutual participation in metallurgical manufacturing; it was this type of communal economy that gave impetus to a speedy development of the local culture. This is well illustrated by the metallurgical items of the Kura-Araxes culture, which is significantly more advanced in comparison with the preAeneolithic culture. 
At present the situation has changed drastically. On the basis of a whole series of radiocarbon analyses, it has been proved [15; 82] that burial mounds of the ancient pit-grave culture are of a significantly later period in comparison with Maikop archaeological sites. This allows scholars to assume that the tradition of building this type of burial mounds emerged precisely in the Maikop culture. Its ties with Levant and Mesopotamian antiquities point to its earlier origin [15: 97]. At the same time, a whole range of chronological data obtained with radiocarbon analysis has established that the settlements and burial mounds of the South Caucasus containing Uruk artefact are coexistent with the Maikop culture [13: 149-153] and, accordingly, the ancient pit-grave culture and its burial mounds belong to a later period. Therefore, today we cannot possibly ascribe the emergence of this kind of burial mounds in the Maikop culture as well as similar contemporaneous sites in the South Caucasus to the influence of the steppe zone cultures. Moreover, there were no adverse conditions that would have prevented emergence of this type of burial mounds in the Caucasus itself  

UPDATE: Also relevant a book chapter on The Caucasus - donor and recipient of materials to and from the ancient near east, and a talk by EN Chernykh in a recent conference on the topic of Caucasus as the Bridge Between the Settled Farming and the Pastor.


Uruk Migrants in the Caucasus

Konstantine Pitskhelauri

ABSTRACT. At the end of the 5th and in the 4th millennia B.C. large masses of Uruk migrants had settled in the South, and later in the North Caucasus. Assimilation of cultures of the newcomers and residents, as a result, caused their “explosive” development paving the way to the formation of the Maikop culture in the North Caucasus and the Kura-Araxes culture in the South Caucasus. © 2012 Bull. Georg. Natl. Acad. Sci.

Link (pdf)


Va_Highlander said...

Natalia Shishlina mentions the "Caucasus Corridor", in her comment on Frachetti's paper, "Multiregional Emergence of Mobile Pastoralism and Nonuniform Institutional Complexity". She specifically mentions it as a parallel to Frachetti's proposed, "Inner Asian Mountain Corridor", stretching from western Tajikistan to the Altai. Looks like this Uruk expansion preceded the expansion of the oases culture of southern Central Asia but not by all that much.

andrew said...

To paraphrase and oversimplify, the early Caucasian metalworking cultures were heavily influenced by the Chalcolithic era Sumerians to the extent that the arrival of the Sumerian gave rise to the ethnogenesis of a new creole culture. The Sumerians urban culture had enough scale and sophistication to explain mineral resources in the Caucusas mountains and Anatolia that was absent in Mesopotamia. This new Caucasian Maikop culture became the highly influential epicenter of metalworking that would eventually spread throughout Western Eurasia. This perspective contrasts stongly with the conventional wisdom that the Sumerian language and culture pretty much died in place without leaving much of a trace except to the extent that it was absorbed by the Akkadians and Egyptians.

The current study also provides archeological support for the hypothesis that the ergative non-Indo-European languages of the Caucuses and pre-Hittite Anatolia (e.g. Hurrian and Hattic) may indeed have a common origin with the ergative Sumerian language, even though the lingistic data aren't comprehensive enough to definitively establish a connection based upon linguistic data alone (I would argue that a similar inferrence is supported in the case of the ergative Elamite language of Southern and Western Persia.)

Going beyond the paper to put it in context, metallurgy technology developed by the Maikop culture was incorporated into cultural packages that fueled the expansion of cultures that lead to the most dramatic reshaping the genetic makeup of Europe since the Neolithic revolution. In the East, this was probably initially an Indo-European culture with the Indo-Europeans borrowing this from their non-Indo-European Maikop neighbors culturally. In the West, this was probably initially by a pre-Vasconic Bell Beaker culture that may have been more directly derived from the Maikop people. (The conversion of the already technologically endowed Bell Beaker societies to Indo-European languages and cultures probably had a fairly modest demic impact by comparison.)

Tiger Mike said...

This is interesting as the Uruks are tied both to the Southern Levant and then to the Trancausia area and possibly inspiring both Kura-Axes and Maykop development. We know there are some very early branches of M269 in the Near East as well as the non M269 R1b-V88 that may have expanded into Africa from there. Of course the Kura-Axes and Maykop area becomes core to the Circumpontic Metallugy Province. We have M269 L23xL51 in the Caucasus and Anatolia and L51 types of R1b showing up with Beakers, metallurgists, in Western Euroope. This is just a speculative thought.

Davidski said...

So archeology shows that perhaps the Caucasus was a technological trigger for two massive expansions into the heart of Europe during the Copper Age, which are now showing very clearly in latest aDNA data from Central Europe.

One of these expansions took an anti-clockwise route and arrived in Central Europe from the west, and can be associated with the Bell Beakers and typically Western European (ie. heavily Mediterranean) genetic structure.

The other expansion came from the east, and can be associated with the Corded Ware (inc. Single Grave and Battle Axe) and Unetice cultures, and typically Baltic (ie. more hunter-gatherer like) genetic structure.

These two waves basically replaced the descendents of the LBK culture in Central Europe, who by all accounts were typically Southwest Asian genetically.

This doesn't leave any room for a Bronze Age invasion of Europe by the Indo-Europeans from West Asia. Although certainly the Caucasus might have played a key role in outfitting the early Indo-Europeans with the technology they needed to expand from Europe during the Copper Age.

Davidski said...

Whoops, I meant clockwise not anti-clockwise.

Dienekes said...

This doesn't leave any room for a Bronze Age invasion of Europe by the Indo-Europeans from West Asia. Although certainly the Caucasus might have played a key role in outfitting the early Indo-Europeans with the technology they needed to expand from Europe during the Copper Age.

If my hypothesis is correct, both Bell Beaker and Corded Ware will be found to have a "West Asian" element lacking in previous Europeans, marking the final major episode of dispersal from the Neolithic "womb of nations".

"One could very well call this boreal population Ancestral Northwest Eurasians (ANWEA) and parallelize it with the Ancestral South Indians (ASI). These Paleolithic substrata frame the Eurasian landmass on opposite latitudinal ends, and were the receptacles of the great chain of migrations which began in the Neolithic womb of nations. One of the final episodes of this process was the dispersal of the Indo-European languages during the Copper and Bronze Ages."

Grey said...

My previous thinking was non IE first farmers in parts of Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent sparking adjacent populations (Including PIE) living in more marginal terrain around the edges of the first farmers into adopting a more animal-centric pastoral package and the herders eventually over-running the farmers.

However maybe metal was the driving force instead with first farmer civilizations seeking metal where it could be found e.g. in the Caucasus mountains, setting off a chain of events in the process.

"This doesn't leave any room for a Bronze Age invasion of Europe by the Indo-Europeans from West Asia"

Maybe it depends on the direction(s) they were invading from? R1a from the north-east after travelling around the Carpathians and R1b from the west after taking the sea-route along the coasts with the length of the journey and the millenia involved diluting the West Asian component?

The combined mob then rampaging down the Danube pushing Dorians and Phrygians into reverse and collapsing the late Bronze Age civs of the Eastern Med?

Slumbery said...


"In the West, this was probably initially by a pre-Vasconic Bell Beaker culture that may have been more directly derived from the Maikop people."

They may have a connected source, but it is hard to make the case of Bell Beaker directly coming from Maikop. It can't come together for me neither genetically, nor archaeologically.

Otherwise I agree with what you written before this sentence.

As for Bell Beaker being Indoeuropean: I personally think that BB was not IE and the British Isles and SW Europe were the last to become IE (due to Celtic and in Iberia possibly even the Roman expansion). This speculation is just as good as the other speculations written here. :)

andrew said...

@ Slumbery. I can't quite tell from your comment, but to be clear, I am stating that BB was not IE as well.

Slumbery said...


That part of my comment was a general statement, only the part about the Maikop-BB connection referred specifically for your earlier comment.
Nevertheless, I still thought that you think BB is IE, so thanky for clarifying.

Simon_W said...

@ andrew

It isn't quite certain that the Uruk period in southern Mesopotamia, i.e. the final period of the local prehistory, was already Sumerian. Some have suggested that the Sumerians were not autochthonous. Although there isn't compelling evidence for this hypothesis either.

I think a genetic relationship between Sumerian and the modern Caucasian languages, dating back to the time of this Uruk expansion, can be pretty much ruled out. Sumerian is quite well known, and the 5th/4th millennium BC is too close to make a putative relationship of this age hardly discernible.

The other ancient languages you mention are less known, so I leave these possibilities open. But from what I've read, Hurrian appears to be related with Northeast Caucasian. This would make a relationship with Sumerian unlikely.

As for the Basques, I think the weakness of their West_Asian autosomal component (0% in French Basques) makes a direct origin in the West Asian highlands completely unlikely. Rather they have to be regarded as the last descendants of the ancient non-cardial megalithic peoples. Their Gedrosia component, possibly reflected in their Dinaroid features, may be a case of parallel evolution. (?) R1b, stemming presumably from West Asia, need not be their original haplogroup. The Native American Ojibwe, for instance, have 79% R1, which clearly results from admixture with Europeans.

Simon_W said...

This two-waves model described by Davidski resembles the proposals Dienekes made a while ago with regards to the expansion of the Balto-Slavic and Germanic branch on the one side and the Italo-Celtic branch on the other side. (Though Davidski only regards the former wave as IE.)

To me the Bell Beaker phenomenon, being an expansion from coastal Portugal, appears in the first place as a continuation of the old megalithic peoples and cultural networks of Western Europe, and as their resuscitation in Central Europe. And as already Coon wrote, in Iberia they are typically of the megalithic type. Consequently, I would predict that the original, Iberian Bell Beaker people were mostly I-M26. To me the question is whether, on their way to Central Europe, they assimilated pockets of West Asian R1b people who had arrived there by sea. Maybe in Southern France, which is still quite Dinaric today? Or was the characteristic skull type of the northern and northwestern Bell Beaker people merely the result of a blending of brachycephalic Borreby people with longheaded West Asian R1b people who had arrived via Southeastern Europe + subsequent selection of a narrow faced, short headed type? The Bell Beaker skulls from central Europe do have some notable similarity with the Danish TRB skulls, according to a cluster analysis some have even more similarity with the latter than the central European Corded skull series with each other.

Another issue is the origin of the Corded Ware culture. Surely this cannot be deduced from an invasion of Yamnaya people coming from the east. Because, as M. Furholt already noted in 2003, the Corded Ware culture had a dual origin: On the one hand, there's the typical burial rite. A single grave under a tumulus, like in the Yamnaya culture. But unlike in the latter, they positioned the dead differently according to gender. And this burial rite slowly became fashionable after 3000 BC, simultanously over wide parts of Central Europe and Southern Scandinavia. AFAIK the earliest instances of Kurgan type graves in the West could be found in the Baalberge group of the TRB, which flourished around 3500 BC. So, this was more or less contemporary with the early Yamnaya culture, and at the time when the Botai culture in Kasachstan domesticated horses for food and milk. Furthermore, the central European Corded people, with their long and narrow faces, and their high and narrow skulls differed a lot from the low skulled and broad faced Yamnaya people. Some central European Corded people did look Yamnaya-like (and vice versa), but these were among the late ones, not among the early ones. So, apparently there was some diffusion, which probably accounts for the R1a found in some Corded males from central Germany. However, I suppose the Corded Ware Culture wasn't as strongly dominated by R1a as the contemporary Baltic and northern Slavic peoples, which is supported by the recent analysis of some Corded people from Silesia. By the way, the people of the Baalberge group were definitely not Yamnaya intruders, they were very gracile, even more so than the LBK. Coming back to the dual origin of the Corded Ware, the other thing is the typical pottery. This appears to have spread from Poland westwards, but only several centuries after the Corded type burial rite started to appear, after 2750 BC. Furthermore, everywhere it appears as a set of some widespread ceramic types alongside local types, even in the earliest instances in Poland.

Va_Highlander said...


"AFAIK the earliest instances of Kurgan type graves in the West could be found in the Baalberge group of the TRB, which flourished around 3500 BC. So, this was more or less contemporary with the early Yamnaya culture..."

I think you will find that Yamnaya sites are now dated between 3100 and 2400 BCE, postdating Baalberge by some centuries.

andrew said...

"As for the Basques, I think the weakness of their West_Asian autosomal component (0% in French Basques) makes a direct origin in the West Asian highlands completely unlikely."

Very fair point. But, where does the Y-DNA R1b (and probably with it language and cultural innovations) come from? I have a hard time seeing it coming from anywhere but a seed population of BB men very close in time to the earliest appearance of BB in Iberia. I also strongly doubt that imported R1b could become so dominant in Western Europe without leaving a quite measurable autosomal trace. And, it would need to be from somewhere with cattle farming and metallurgy and pottery at more or less the same level as early BB. It is also very hard to know what the genetic makeup of the Levant, Greece, or Anatolia looked like at that great a remove from the earliest good data. Recent genetics/physical anthropology seems to rule out the Czech Republic and vicinity. The Russian steppe looks very pure R1a as far back as samples are available (or R1b free at any rate). Surely not Uralic territory in the far North. Surely not North Africa. Not Sardinia which is G rich and mostly first wave, not second wave. So, where? There aren't a lot of places that fit the bill (Crete might be a good match per the Minoans study that just came out.) And, by land or by sea?

The case that it is indigeneous to Iberia is not very strong (the case that H is local to Iberia and expands with R1b expansion as outsider superstrate men take local wives is more plausible).

Simon_W said...

@ Va_Highlander

In fact, the Baalberge group started well before 3500 BC, maybe 3800 BC from what I've seen. It's considered a subgroup of the TRB, because it used TRB type pottery. But at the same time, it already used a lot of copper and also southeast European pottery. So maybe this was the earliest chalcolithic, possibly West Asian admixed, predecessor of the Corded Ware?

@ andrew

Well, the western European R1b is dominated by M412 which is descended from L150. And L150 in turn is descended from L23. If we look where R1b-L23* is frequently found today, that's e.g. in the Ararat Valley of Armenia (32,7%), among the Bashkirs (32,2%), and in the Valais in Switzerland (27%). So L150 must have originated somewhere in this vast area between Valais, Armenia and Bashkortostan. But not too far in the west, because it also has a Near Eastern daughter variant, L277.

I guess that the autosomal trace of R1b is most of all West_Asian admixture. According to Dienekes' Globe10 calculator this is found at 8,3% in France, 7,4% in Argyll and 7,5% in Andalusia. It's also found at lower percentages in the rest of western Europe, down to 4,1% in Cantabria and Aragon. It's really only among the Basques that this component reaches 0%.

So far we've only got two Bell Beaker males from central Germany who were R1b. Although from this one might conclude that the Bell Beaker culture as a whole and from the beginning on was dominated by R1b, this would be jumping to conclusions. Physical anthropology shows that there cannot have been complete population replacement by southwestern Bell Beaker people, since those from Portugal and those from central Europe were craniometrically quite distinct. The recent mt-DNA study showed that the central German Bell Beaker people's haplogroup H was very much Iberian-like, and this proves that there was indeed some gene flow from Iberia, but surely the Bell Beaker people didn't exclusively have mt-DNA H. In fact, Desideri's study on tooth morphology showed that among the Czech Bell Beaker people, the males were more often of local origin than the females, suggesting that the Iberian gene flow in this region was more due to female migration than to male migration, which in turn would show more strongly in mt-DNA than y-DNA.

Simon_W said...

Looking at Desideri's plot of the different Bell Beaker groups based on dental non-metric traits, I see a Spanish-Southern French-Swiss group on the left hand side, a Czech group on the right hand side, another Spanish group on the top and a Hungarian-Czech group, which also includes a French sample on the bottom:

From Coon we know that the Hungarian Bell Beaker people were excklusively dolicho- to mesocephalic. Since the other Southern French sample groups with the Spanish sample, it seems like the Southern French Bell Beaker people were probably longheaded too.

Unfortunately Desideri didn't include samples from Germany. The Rhenish Bell Beaker people were particularly brachycephalic according to Coon.

But judging by the craniometric cluster analysis by Schwidetzky, the Bell Beaker groups of western Germany (13), central Germany (6) and the Czech republic (9) were very similar to each other, and together they resembled the TRB of Denmark (14, 15, 16):

So, therefore we can probably use Desideri's Czech samples as proxies of the German Bell Beaker people as well.

On the whole this doesn't look like a Dinaric population penetrating into central Europe from the southwest, but rather as local, TRB related population which probably had acquired some West Asian admixture along with some R1b during the Chalcolithic.

It's also striking that the oldest daughter variant of western European R1b-M412, namely L11*, is found in Denmark, northern Poland, central England and eastern Switzerland. This fits well with an original, exclusive presence of R1b-L11 in the Bell Beaker east group only.

As a conclusion I would say that both Corded Ware and eastern Bell Beakers appear like different daughter variants of ultimately TRB origin, representing different ancestries and perhaps different evolutionary tendencies, probably enhanced by ethnical differences. Both were chalcolithic and probably had some West Asian admixture.

Va_Highlander said...


"So maybe this was the earliest chalcolithic, possibly West Asian admixed, predecessor of the Corded Ware?"

Unfortunately, I lack the expertise necessary to have a well-informed opinion. I commented because I am familiar with the modern dates for Yamnaya, refuting as they do the claim that the Afanasevo of Siberia were a descendant culture.

blogmaster said...

"Some have suggested that the Sumerians were not autochthonous. Although there isn't compelling evidence for this hypothesis either."

There IS compelling evidence against an autochthonous origin for Sumerians. Most of their art was derived from proto-Elamite (ie susanian) soures. In the same region, counting tokens were the precursor to written language. And the oldest ziggurat in W. Iran, served as a model for their architecture. And their own myths refer to an Eastern homeland, naming many Iranian places.

The ultra rare, R1b M269 has some of it's highest frequencies among persians and Zorostrians, supporting NW iran as a homeland for PIE. In contrast, there is virtually no evidence for a southern movement from the Steepes into Iran, and even less, for a model which suggests BMAC or Andronovan arrival onto the plateau.