Afanasievo culture

The Afanasievo culture, or Afanasevo culture (Russian Афанасьевская культура Afanas'yevskaya kul'tura; "[the] Afanasevan culture"), is the earliest known archaeological culture of south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin and the Altai Mountains during the eneolithic era, c. 3300 to 2500 BC. It is named after a nearby mountain, Gora Afanasieva (Russian: Гора Афанасьева, lit. 'Afanasiev's mountain') in what is now Bogradsky District, Khakassia, Russia.[2]

Afanasievo culture
Alternative namesAfanasevo culture; Afanasevans
Geographical rangeSouth Siberia
Dates3300 BCE — 2500 BCE
Major sitesMinusinsk Basin
Followed byOkunev culture, Andronovo culture[1]

David W. Anthony believes that the Afanasevans were descended from people who migrated c. 3700–3300 BCE across the Eurasian Steppe from the Repin culture of the Don-Volga region (and possibly members of the neighbouring Yamnaya culture).[3] Because of its geographical location and dating, Anthony and earlier scholars such as Leo Klejn, J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair have linked the Afanasevans to the Proto-Tocharian language.[4][5][6][7]


Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date at around 2000–2500 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains.[8] The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.[9]


Mass graves were not usual for this culture.[10] Afanasevo cemeteries include both single and small collective burials with the deceased usually flexed on his back in a pit. The burial pits are arranged in rectangular, sometimes circular, enclosures marked by stone walls. It has been argued that the burials represent family burial plots with four or five enclosures constituting the local social group.

The Afanasevo economy included cattle, sheep, and goat. Horse remains, either wild or domestic, have also been found. The Afanasevo people became the first food-producers in the area. Tools were manufactured from stone (axes, arrowheads), bone (fish-hooks, points) and antler. Among the antler pieces are objects that have been identified as possible cheek-pieces for horses. Artistic representations of wheeled vehicles found in the area has been attributed to the Afanasevo culture. Ornaments of copper, silver and gold have also been found.[4]

Biological anthropology

At Afanasevo Gora, two strains of Yersinia pestis have been extracted from human teeth. One is dated 2909–2679 BCE; the other, 2887–2677 BCE. Both are from the same (mass) grave of seven people, and are presumed near-contemporary.[10] This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response; so it was not a bubonic plague.[11]


According to Allentoft et al. (2015) and Haak et al. (2015), Afanasevo were genetically indistinguishable from Yamnaya people, whose culture strongly resembles that of the Afanasevans.[12][1]

The paternal lineage of three Afanasevo male samples, like those of most Yamnaya males, belong to haplogroup R1b, with two of them belonging to subclade M269, the most numerous both among the Yamnaya people and in modern Western Europe.[13]

Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, the Afanasevans are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking.[4] However, state of the art bio-archaeological studies have demonstrated that Afansievo was replaced by the Siberian-originating Okunevo culture, becoming locally extinct. Thus, there is no link between Afansievo and Tocharians which emerged thousands of years later.[14]

Numerous scholars have suggested that the Afanasevo culture was responsible for the introduction of metallurgy to China.[15][16]


The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Okunev culture, which is considered as an extension of the local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region.[4] The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively.[17][18]

Allentoft et al. (2015) study also confirms that the Afanasevo culture was replaced by the second wave of Indo-European migrations from the Andronovo culture during late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.[1][note 1] Tarim mummies were also found to be genetically closer to the Andronovo culture[1] than to the Yamnaya culture or Afanasevo culture.[1][12]


  1. According to Allentoft et al (2015): "Afanasievo culture persisted in central Asia and, perhaps, Mongolia and China until they themselves were replaced by fierce warriors in chariots called the Sintashta (also known as the Andronovo culture)".


  1. Allentoft 2015.
  2. Vadetskaya, E., Polyakov, A., and Stepanova, N. (2014). The set sites of the Afanasievo culture. Barnaul: Azbuka.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. Anthony 2010, p. 307-310.
  4. Mallory 1997, pp. 4–6
  5. Anthony 2010, pp. 264–265, 308
  6. Mallory & Mair 2000
  7. Клейн Л. С. Миграция тохаров в свете археологии // Stratum plus. Т. 2. С. 178—187.
  8. S. Svyatko et al. 2009. New Radiocarbon Dates and a Review of the Chronology of Prehistoric Populations from the Minusinsk Basin, Southern Siberia, Russia. Radiocarbon 2009.1, 243–273 & appendix I p.266
  9. D. W. Anthony, Two IE phylogenies, three PIE migrations, and four kinds of steppe pastoralism, The Journal of Language Relationship, vol. 9 (2013), pp. 1-21.
  10. Rasmussen, S15-16. These samples are marked "RISE509" and "RISE511".
  11. Rasmussen, 575.
  12. Haak 2015.
  13. Clémence Hollard (2014). Peuplement du sud de la Sibérie et de l'Altaï à l'âge du Bronze : apport de la paléogénétique (phd) (in French). University of Strasbourg.
  14. New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations, by Hollard et al., Am J Phys Anthropol. (2018)
  15. Baumer 2012, p. 122
  16. Keay 2009
  17. "Central Asian Arts: Neolithic and Metal Age cultures". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  18. "Stone Age: European cultures". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 2, 2015.


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