The Yamnaya culture, also known as the Yamnaya Horizon, Yamna culture, Pit Grave culture or Ochre Grave culture, was a late Copper Age to early Bronze Age archaeological culture of the region between the Southern Bug, Dniester, and Ural rivers (the Pontic steppe), dating to 3300–2600 BC. Its name derives from its characteristic burial tradition: Ямна (romanization: yamna) is a Ukrainian adjective that means 'related to pits (yama)', and these people used to bury their dead in tumuli (kurgans) containing simple pit chambers.
|Dates||c. 3300–2600 BC|
|Preceded by||Sredny Stog culture, Khvalynsk culture, Dnieper–Donets culture, Maykop culture|
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The people of the Yamnaya culture were likely the result of a genetic admixture between the descendants of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and people related to hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus. Their material culture was very similar to the Afanasevo culture.
They are also closely connected to Final Neolithic cultures, which later spread throughout Europe and Central Asia, especially the Corded Ware people and the Bell Beaker culture, as well as the peoples of the Sintashta, Andronovo, and Srubnaya cultures. Back migration from Corded Ware also contributed to Sintashta and Andronovo. In these groups, several aspects of the Yamnaya culture are present. Genetic studies have also indicated that these populations derived large parts of their ancestry from the steppes.
The Yamnaya culture originated in the Don–Volga area, and is dated 3300–2600 BC. An early regional stage of Yamnaya is labeled the Mikhaylovka culture. It was preceded by the middle Volga-based Khvalynsk culture and the Don-based Repin culture (c. 3950–3300 BC), and late pottery from these two cultures can barely be distinguished from early Yamnaya pottery. Earlier continuity from eneolithic but largely hunter-gatherer Samara culture and influences from the more agricultural Dnieper–Donets II are apparent.
According to Anthony (2007), the early Yamnaya horizon spread quickly across the Pontic–Caspian steppes between c. 3400 and 3200 BC.
The spread of the Yamnaya horizon was the material expression of the spread of late Proto-Indo-European across the Pontic–Caspian steppes.
[...] The Yamnaya horizon is the visible archaeological expression of a social adjustment to high mobility – the invention of the political infrastructure to manage larger herds from mobile homes based in the steppes.
According to Pavel Dolukhanov the emergence of the Pit-Grave culture represents a social development of various local Bronze Age cultures, representing "an expression of social stratification and the emergence of chiefdom-type nomadic social structures", which in turn intensified inter-group contacts between essentially heterogeneous social groups.
In its western range, it was succeeded by the Catacomb culture (2800–2200 BC); in the east, by the Poltavka culture (2700–2100 BC) at the middle Volga. These two cultures were followed by the Srubnaya culture (18th–12th century BC).
Some recent DNA-research has led to renewed suggestions of a Caucasian homeland for a 'proto-proto-Indo-European', while other evidence suggests a homeland in the Eastern European steppe for the ancestor of proto-Indo-European or an origin from a mixture of both early Eastern European steppe and early Caucasian languages. According to some researchers, the former also lends support to the Indo-Hittite hypothesis, according to which both proto-Anatolian and proto-Indo-European split-off from a common mother language "no later than the 4th millennium BCE." Haak et al. (2015) states that "the Armenian plateau hypothesis gains in plausibility" since the Yamnaya partly descended from a Near Eastern population, which resembles present-day Armenians. Yet, they also state that "the question of what languages were spoken by the 'Eastern European hunter-gatherers' and the southern, Armenian-like, ancestral population remains open." David Reich, in his 2018 publication Who We Are and How We Got Here, states that "the most likely location of the population that first spoke an Indo-European language was south of the Caucasus Mountains, perhaps in present-day Iran or Armenia, because ancient DNA from people who lived there matches what we would expect for a source population both for the Yamnaya and for ancient Anatolians." Nevertheless, Reich also states that some, if not most, of the Indo-European languages were spread by the Yamnaya people.
Kristian Kristiansen, in an interview with Der Spiegel in May 2018, stated that the Yamnaya culture may have had a predecessor at the Caucasus, where "proto-proto-Indo-European" was spoken. According to Kroonen et al. (2018), Damgaard et al. (2018) aDNA studies "show no indication of a large-scale intrusion of a steppe population", but that "it does fit the recently developed consensus among linguists and historians that the speakers of the Anatolian languages established themselves in Anatolia by gradual infiltration and cultural assimilation." They further note that the earliest attestation of Anatolian names, in the Armi state, must be dated to 3000-2400 BCE, contemporaneous with the Yamnaya culture, concluding that "a scenario in which the Anatolian Indo-European language was linguistically derived from Indo-European speakers originating in this culture can be rejected." They further note that this lends support to the Indo-Hittite hypothesis, according to which both proto-Anatolian and proto-Indo-European split-off from a common mother language "no later than the 4th millennium BCE." Wang et al. (2018) note that the Caucasus served as a corridor for gene flow between the steppe and cultures south of the Caucasus during the Eneolithic and the Bronze Age, stating that this "opens up the possibility of a homeland of PIE south of the Caucasus." However, Wang et al. also comment that some genetic evidence supports an origin of proto-Indo-Europeans in the steppe, where the Yamnaya culture was located, noting: "but the latest ancient DNA results from South Asia also lend weight to a spread of Indo-European languages "via the steppe belt. The spread of some or all of the proto-Indo-European branches would have been possible via the North Caucasus and Pontic region and from there, along with pastoralist expansions, to the heart of Europe. This scenario finds support from the well attested and now widely documented 'steppe ancestry' in European populations, the postulate of increasingly patrilinear societies in the wake of these expansions (exemplified by R1a/R1b), as attested in the latest study on the Bell Beaker phenomenon."
An analysis by David Anthony (2019) suggests a genetic origin of proto-Indo-Europeans (associated with the Yamnaya culture) in the Eastern European steppe north of the Caucasus, deriving from a mixture of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus. Anthony also suggests that the proto-Indo-European language formed mainly from a base of languages spoken by Eastern European hunter-gathers with influences from languages of northern Caucasus hunter-gatherers, in addition to a possible later influence from the language of the Maikop culture to the south (which is hypothesized to have belonged to the North Caucasian family) in the later neolithic or Bronze Age involving little genetic impact.
The Yamnaya culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) in the Kurgan hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas. It is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (original homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture, now that archaeological evidence of the culture and its migrations has been closely tied to the evidence from linguistics and genetics. Significantly, there were animal grave offerings a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans. The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts. Characteristic for the culture are the burials in pit graves under kurgans (tumuli). The dead bodies were placed in a supine position with bent knees and covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions. The earliest remains in Ukraine of a wheeled cart were found in the "Storozhova mohyla" kurgan associated with the Yamnaya culture.
According to Jones et al. (2015) and Haak et al. (2015), autosomic tests indicate that the Yamnaya people were the result of a genetic admixture between two different hunter-gatherer populations: distinctive "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" with high affinity to the Mal'ta–Buret' culture or other, closely related people from Siberia and a population of "Caucasus hunter-gatherers" who probably arrived from the Caucasus. Each of those two populations contributed about half the Yamnaya DNA. According to co-author Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge:
The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now ... we can now answer that, as we've found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation.
Several genetic studies performed since 2015 have given support to the Kurgan theory of Marija Gimbutas regarding the Indo-European Urheimat – that Indo-European languages spread throughout Europe from the Eurasian steppes and that the Yamnaya culture were Proto-Indo-Europeans. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia), would have expanded from the Pontic–Caspian steppes, along with the Indo-European languages. They also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages in the Bronze Age.
Eastern European hunter-gatherers
According to Haak et al. (2015), "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" who inhabited today's Russia were a distinctive population of hunter-gatherers with high genetic affinity to a c. 24,000-year-old Siberian from Mal'ta–Buret' culture, which in turn resembles other remains of Siberia, such as the Afontova Gora. Remains of the "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" have been found in Mesolithic or early Neolithic sites in Karelia and Samara Oblast, Russia, and put under analysis. Three such hunter-gathering individuals of the male sex have had their DNA results published. Each was found to belong to a different Y-DNA haplogroup: R1a, R1b, and J.
Near East population
The Near East population were most likely hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (CHG), though one study suggested that farmers dated to the Chalcolithic era from what is now Iran may be a better fit for the Yamnaya's Near Eastern descent.
Jones et al. (2015) analyzed genomes from males from western Georgia, in the Caucasus, from the Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,300 years old) and the Mesolithic (9,700 years old). These two males carried Y-DNA haplogroup: J* and J2a. The researchers found that these Caucasus hunters were probably the source of the Near Eastern DNA in the Yamnaya. Their genomes showed that a continued mixture of the Caucasians with Middle Eastern took place up to 25,000 years ago, when the coldest period in the last Ice Age started.
Lazaridis et al. (2016) proposes a different people, likely from Iran, as the source for the Middle Eastern ancestry of the Yamnaya people, finding that "a population related to the people of the Iran Chalcolithic contributed ~43% of the ancestry of early Bronze Age populations of the steppe". That study asserts that these Iranian Chalcolithic people were a mixture of "the Neolithic people of western Iran, the Levant, and Caucasus Hunter Gatherers". However, a different analysis, carried out by Gallego-Llorente et al. (2016), concludes that Iranian populations are not a likelier source of the 'southern' component in the Yamnaya than Caucasus hunter-gatherers.
Haplogroup R1b is the most common Y-DNA haplogroup found among both the Yamnaya and modern-day Western Europeans. In a 2015 study published in Nature, the remains of twelve individuals ascribed to the Yamna culture were analyzed. Eleven individuals were determined to belong to haplogroup R1b1a2 or various subclades of it, while one individual was determined to belong to haplogroup I2a2a1b1b.
The genetic basis of a number of physical features of the Yamnaya people were ascertained by the ancient DNA studies conducted by Haak et al. (2015), Wilde et al. (2014) and Mathieson et al. (2015): they were genetically tall (phenotypic height is determined by both genetics and environmental factors), overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. Despite their pastoral lifestyle, there was little evidence of lactase persistence.
Haak et al. (2015) conducted a genome-wide study of 69 ancient skeletons from Europe and Russia. They concluded that Yamnaya autosomal characteristics are very close to the Corded Ware culture people, with an estimated 73% ancestral contribution from the Yamnaya DNA in the DNA of Corded Ware skeletons from Germany. The same study estimated a (38.8–50.4 %) ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Western, Central, and Northern Europeans, and an 18.5–32.6 % contribution in modern Southern Europeans; this contribution is found to a lesser extent in Sardinians (2.4–7.1 %) and Sicilians (5.9–11.6 %). Haak et al. also note that their results state that haplogroup R-M269 spread into Europe from the East after 3000 BC. Studies that analysed ancient human remains in Ireland and Portugal support the thesis that R-M269 was introduced in these places along with autosomal DNA from the Eastern European steppes.
Autosomal tests also indicate that the Yamnaya are the most likely vector for "Ancient North Eurasian" admixture into Europe. "Ancient North Eurasian" is the name given in literature to a genetic component that represents descent from the people of the Mal'ta–Buret' culture or a population closely related to them. That genetic component is visible in tests of the Yamnaya people as well as modern-day Europeans, but not of Europeans predating the Bronze Age.
Eastern Europe and Finland
In the Baltic, Jones et al. (2017) found that the Neolithic transition – the passage from a hunter-gatherer economy to a farming-based economy – coincided with the arrival en masse of individuals with Yamnaya-like ancestry. This is different from what happened in Western and Southern Europe, where the Neolithic transition was caused by a population that came from the Near East, with Pontic steppe ancestry being detected from only the late Neolithic onward.
Per Haak et al. (2015), the Yamnaya contribution in the modern populations of Eastern Europe ranges from 46.8% among Russians to 42.8% in Ukrainians. Finland has one of the highest Yamnaya contributions in all of Europe (50.4%).
Central and South Asia
Studies also point to the strong presence of Yamnaya descent in the current nations of South Asia, especially in groups that speak Indo-European languages.
According to Pathak et al. (2018), the "North-Western Indian & Pakistani" populations (PNWI) showed significant Middle-Late Bronze Age Steppe (Steppe_MLBA) ancestry along with Yamnaya Early-Middle Bronze Age (Steppe_EMBA) ancestry, but the Indo-European speakers of Gangetic Plains and Dravidian speakers only showed significant Yamnaya (Steppe_EMBA) ancestry and no Steppe_MLBA. The study also noted that ancient south Asian samples had significantly higher Steppe_MLBA than Steppe_EMBA (or Yamnaya). The study infers, "The Rors stand out in South Asia as the population with the highest proportion of Steppe ancestry".
Lazaridis et al. (2016) notes "The demographic impact of steppe related populations on South Asia was substantial, as the Mala, a south Indian Dalit population with minimal Ancestral North Indian (ANI) along the 'Indian Cline' of such ancestry is inferred to have ~ 18 % steppe-related ancestry, while the Kalash of Pakistan are inferred to have ~ 50 % steppe-related ancestry." Lazaridis et al.'s 2016 study estimated (6.5–50.2 %) steppe related admixture in South Asians.
Lazaridis et al. (2016) further notes that "A useful direction of future research is a more comprehensive sampling of ancient DNA from steppe populations, as well as populations of central Asia (east of Iran and south of the steppe), which may reveal more proximate sources of the ANI than the ones considered here, and of South Asia to determine the trajectory of population change in the area directly."
According to Unterländer et al. (2017), Iron Age Scythians from the southern Ural region, East Kazakhstan and Tuva can best be described as a mixture of Yamnaya-related ancestry and an East Asian component, the latter occurring at only trace levels – if at all – among earlier steppe inhabitants.
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- The Eastern European hunter-gatherers were themselves mostly descended from ancient North Eurasians, related to the palaeolithic Mal'ta–Buret' culture.
- Yamnayan cultural aspects, for example, were horse-riding, burial styles, and to some extent the pastoralist economy.
- The animal grave offerings made were cattle, sheep, goats and horses.
- The "Storozhova mohyla" site is near Dnipro, Ukraine, and was excavated by A.I. Trenozhkin.
- Per Haak et al. (2015), adding a north-Siberian people as a fourth reference population improves residuals for northeastern European populations. This accounts for the higher than expected Yamnaya contribution and brings it down to expected levels (67.8–50.4 % in Finns, 64.9–46.8 % in Russians).
- Lazaridis et al. (2016) Supplementary Information, Table S9.1: "Kalash – 50.2 %, Tiwari Brahmins – 44.1 %, Gujarati (four samples) – 46.1 % to 27.5 %, Pathan – 44.6 %, Burusho – 42.5 %, Sindhi – 37.7 %, Punjabi – 32.6 %, Balochi – 32.4 %, Brahui – 30.2 %, Lodhi – 29.3 %, Bengali – 24.6 %, Vishwabhramin – 20.4 %, Makrani – 19.2 %, Mala – 18.4 %, Kusunda – 8.9 %, Kharia – 6.5 %."
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