The Maikop Culture played the middle-man between civilization to the south and the steppes to the north. So it may have been via Maikop that herders of the steppes, who had already domesticated the horse, learned of wheeled vehicles. Or the technology may have come from the north-west. Pictographs of wagons appear around 3,500 BC in Mesopotamia and on a Funnel Beaker pot from Poland.1D.W.Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language(2007), pp. 65-71, 263, 317; P. L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp. 84-85. Yet the earliest evidence of the wheel (wheeled models) comes from the Late Cucuteni-Tripolye culture on the fringe of the steppe. This successful community was apparently taken over by steppe pastoralists around 3,700 BC. The forest-steppe zone whence this mixed culture sprang had the big trees needed for solid wheels, yet access to plains traversable by wheeled traffic, and so was ideal for the development of wheel vehicles. The oldest surviving wagons and carts were discovered under burial mounds in the steppe grassland of Russia and Ukraine. 2A. Parpola, Proto-Indo-European speakers of the Late Tripolye culture as the inventors of wheeled vehicles: Linguistic and archaeological considerations, in K. Jones-Bley, M.E. Huld, A. Della Volpe and M.Robbins Dexter, (eds.), Proceedings of the 19th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference (2008), pp. 1-59.
J.P. Mallory argued the case for the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the Proto-Indo-European homeland. This was one of many competing theories. Mallory's expertise with both
linguistics and archaeology gave weight to it. The steppe homeland thesis has a long history. In the hands of earlier authors, it had overtones of violent invasion now seen as
simplistic.3Benjamin W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, 2nd edn. (2010), chapter 2.In the
1980s the core idea of social change in the Copper Age was reshaped by Andrew Sherratt into the
Products Revolution. Instead of just killing animals for meat, farmers began to keep them for renewable secondary products, such as milk, cheese and wool, and for transport
and traction.4H.J. Greenfield, The Secondary Products Revolution: thepast, the present and the future, World Archaeology, vol. 42, no
1(March 2010), pp. 29-54. The Indo-Europeans had their own words for this whole package of inventions and appear to have carried them east and west.
However there is not always a clear archaeological trail from homeland to destination.5J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-Europeans(2006), p. 461. Recent work has bridged major gaps. The fall of the Iron Curtain opened up the archaeology of the steppes to western archaeologists, such as David Anthony.6K. Kristiansen, Eurasia in the Bronze and early Iron Ages, Antiquity, vol. 82, no.318 (December 2008), pp. 1113–1118. Like Mallory, Anthony links the Indo-Europeans to the Yamnaya (Pit-grave) culture of the steppes. He knits together the archaeological and linguistic evidence for the breakaway of various language branches from the parent Proto-Indo-European.7D.W. Anthony,The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007). Anthony draws on D. Ringe, T. Warnow, and A. Taylor, Indo-European and Computational Cladistics, Transactions of the Philological Society, vol. 100 (2002), no.1, pp. 59-129; L. Nakhleh, D. Ringe and T. Warnow, Perfect Phylogenetic Networks: A New Methodology for Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of Natural Languages, Language, Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, vol. 81 (2005), no.2, pp. 382-520.
Anthony argues that
The colder climate of 4200-3800 BC probably weakened the agricultural economies of Old Europe at the same time that steppe herders pushed into the
marshes and plains around the mouth of the Danube [for winter fodder and cover] .... Virtually all the cultures that occupied tellsettlements in southeastern Europe abandoned them about 4000 BC
- in the lower Danube valley, the Balkans, on the Aegean coast ... and even in Greece.8D. W.Anthony,The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How
Bronze Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world (2007), pp. 258-59. The worst of the cold period was 3960 to 3821 BC. Radiocarbon dates
show a population collapse even earlier in parts of northern Europe. In Germany and Poland signs of human activity fall dramatically around 4,700 BC, remaining low for over a
millennium. The Linearbandkeramik (LBK) agriculturalists, who had settled so successfully
there, failed to thrive in the long term. 9S. Shennan, K. Edinborough, Prehistoric population history: from the Late Glacial to the Late Neolithic in
Central and Northern Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 34 (2007), pp. 1339-45. It seems that the Funnel Beaker Culture (TRB) which
sprang up in Scandinavia and the north European plain around 4,000 BC was the result of farmers fleeing stricken settlements in the Balkans or Carpathian Basin for the
paradoxically milder climate of Northern Europein this era. Craniometric data suggests a
close relationship between the people of the TRB and those of the Neolithic Körös Culture of the Körös River and Middle Danube.10N. von
Cramon-Taubadel and R. Pinhasi, Craniometric data support a mosaic model of demic and cultural Neolithic diffusion to outlying regions of Europe, Proceedings of the Royal
Society B: Biological Sciences (published online before print February 23, 2011).
With farmers facing crop failures, the pastoral tribes from the steppes, rich in animal resources, had the advantage. Mounted on horseback they could move large herds long distances to find pasture. Perhaps such a search eventually introduced the ancestor of Hittite and related languages into Anatolia. This now extinct language branch seems not to have had a PIE-derived word for wagon, but was familiar with the horse, so it is logical to suppose that it left the parent language community before wagons appeared there. Anthony sees this early split from the linguistic parent expressed archaeologically by herder settlements of the Suvorovo group appearing in the Danube valley about 4,200 BC. One group moved into the Transylvanian plateau and then down the Mureş river valley into eastern Hungary. Others remained around the mouth of the Danube. Anthony suggests that groups from this culture entered Anatolia around 3,000 BC, perhaps founding Troy I; those left behind seem to fuse with local populations to emerge into history as Thracians.11The Suvorovo group in the Danube Delta 4,200-3,900 BC appear identical culturally to the contemporary Novodanilovka group north-west of the Sea of Azov, within the broader Sredni (or Sredny) Stog culture. David Anthony considers the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka complex to represent the elite of Sredni Stog. D. W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world (2007), pp.43-48, 75, 249-51, 260-262; J.P. Mallory,In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1989), pp.24-30, 72-3.
The second phase of Indo-European spread was the migration to the high steppe of the Altai Mountains c. 3,500 BC. The copper-working Afanasievo Culture which appeared there is an offshoot of the culture of the Volga-Ural region.12D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 64-65, 307-11. This ties neatly to the linguistic evidence of the breakaway before the Bronze Age of the ancestor of the Tocharian languages, spoken south of the Altai in the caravan cities of the Silk Road around 500 AD. The Tarim Basin, now in the Xinjiang Province of China, was first settled around 2000 BC by descendants of the Afanasievo Culture. 13E. E. Kuzmina, ed. Victor H. Mair,The Prehistory of the Silk Road (2007), p.95; J. Romgard,Ancient Human Settlements in Xinjiang and the Early Silk RoadTrade, Sino-Platonic Papers, vol. 185 (2008); C. P. Thornton and T.G. Schurr, Genes, language and culture: an example from the Tarim Basin,Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol. 23, no. 1 (2004), pp. 83-106.
The arid conditions of the Tarim Basin have conserved bodies to a remarkable degree. These natural mummies astounded archaeologists, since they appeared to be westerners.14J.P.Mallory and V.H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies: The Mystery of the First Europeans in China (2000). DNA analysis of the earliest mummies has confirmed a western origin. The cemetery at Xiaohe, first used about 2000 BC, belongs to a culture linked to Afanasievo. All seven of the males from the oldest burials there proved to carry Y-DNA R1a1a - an Indo-European signature, as we shall see. However the mtDNA of both males and females was mainly the Eastern C4, though the Western Eurasian H and K were also present. So these early arrivals were already a genetic mixture of East and West.15Chunxiang Li et al., Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age, BMC Biology, vol. 8, no. 15 (2010). The first contact had taken place in the Altai. Local foragers to the north-east of the Afanasievo Culture acquired metal objects. The meeting of East and West eventually spread domesticated horses, wheeled vehicles and metallurgy into China.16D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), p. 311; J. Romgard, Ancient Human Settlements in Xinjiang and the Early Silk Road Trade, Sino-Platonic Papers, vol. 185 ( 2008), pp. 30-32.
It wasn't until around c. 3,300 BC that the full Yamnaya archaeology appears on the steppes. This was a mobile, wagon and tent-based herding economy which could use more of the steppe grassland (and needed to in the drier climate). These people are deduced to be the late Proto-Indo-European speakers, whose language included words for wheel and wagon. Other significant words are those for sheep and wool. It seems that wool sheep were bred from around 4,000 BC in the North Caucasus and perhaps the steppe.17D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), chaps 4 and 13. The earliest example of a woven woollen textile comes from a Maikop culture site (3,700-3,200 BC).18N.Shishlina et al, Bronze Age textiles from the North Caucasus: new evidence offourth millenium BC fibres and fabrics, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol. 22 (2003), no. 4, pp. 331-44.
The full-blown Yamnaya cultural
package is distinctive. Its influence was to spread far and wide. The most visible element of their culture today is the round tumulus or barrow (kurgan in Russian). It placed a new emphasis on the individual by being a single grave, or at least a joint
grave used once, rather than a collective grave often reused, as was common in the Neolithic.
From the Early Bronze Age, burial mounds with one-time burials are found across
Europe not only on the landscape but in the literature. Achilles built a great mound for Patroclus and the Trojans did likewise for Hector.19Karlene
Jones-Bley, Sintashta Burials and their Western European Counterparts, in J. Davis-Kimball, E.M. Murphy, L. Koryakova and L.T. Yablonksy (eds.), Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and
Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age, BAR International Series (2000), pp. 126-34. The idea may have been introduced by the Maikop chieftans.20E. N. Chernykh and L. B. Orlovskaya, The radiocarbon chronology of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) community and the emergence of the Kurgan Cultures, Rossijskaā
arheologiā, no. 1 (2004), pp. 84-99; P.L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp. 58-9. The grave could be further personalised
with an anthropomorphic stela, an idea which seems to have arisen on the Crimean peninsula. Specially rich grave goods (sometimes including wagons) in certain burials suggest that
the Yamnaya people were led by chiefs. Burial with tool-kits shows the special status of metal-workers.21D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and
Language (2007), pp. 331-9.
Metallurgy was revived. New weapon designs included the tanged dagger and the shaft-hole axe, which had been introduced by the Maikop metallurgists. The Yamnaya people wore woven clothes, gold or silver hair rings (lockenringe), distinctive bone toggles and decorated bone discs. Cord decoration was common on pottery. The technical innovations of horse-riding, wheeled transport and metal-working were gradually adopted across Europe. Often they are accompanied by other Yamnaya characteristics which consolidate the link to the cultural progenitor. Either by the spread of ideas or people, Yamnaya influenced cultures including Late Baden and Makó in the Carpathian Basin, Remedello in northern Italy, Funnel Beaker, Globular Amphora, Corded Ware, and Bell Beaker in northern and western Europe. A change of lifestyle was to sweep over Europe.22R. Harrison and V. Heyd, The Transformation of Europe in the Third Millennium BC: the example of ‘Le Petit-Chasseur I + III’ (Sion, Valais, Switzerland), Praehistorische Zeitschrift, vol. 82 (2007), no. 2, pp. 129–214, chap. 9; K. Kristiansen, Whatlanguage did Neolithic pots speak? Colin Renfrew's European farming-language-dispersal model challenged, Antiquity vol. 79,no. 305 (2005), pp. 694–695.People even looked different. Skeletons from Bell Beaker and Corded Ware sites are similar to tall and robust Mesolithic populations, rather than the shorter-limbed, more gracile types found at many sites of the early European Neolithic.23V. Vancata and M. Charvatova, Post-palaeolithic Homo sapiens evolution in Central Europe: changes in body size and proportions in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age,Anthropologie, vol. 39, no. 2-3, (2001), pp. 133-152; A. Gallagher, M.M. Gunther and H. Bruchhaus, Population continuity, demic diffusion and Neolithic origins in central-southern Germany: The evidence from body proportions, Homo: Journal of Comparative Human Biology, vol. 60, no. 2 (3 March 2009), pp. 95-126. The difference in height probably reflects greater protein consumption in the hunters and the milk-drinking pastoralists than the grain-growing farmers. 24J. Piontek, B. Jerszyńska, S.Segeda, Long bones growth variation among prehistoric agricultural and pastoral populations from Ukraine (Bronze era to Iron age), Variability and Evolution, vol. 9, (2001), pp. 61-73.
The transformation spread along multiple routes. The next movement visible in the archaeology flowed to the western end of the steppes, integrating the lowland steppe and upland farming communities in theUsatovo culture around the mouth of the Dniester River. This culture may represent the first link in a long chain of migration that led to the Pre-Germanic dialect splitting away. Later there was migration up the Dniester through Late Cucuteni-Tripolye territory into the widespread north European Corded Ware Culture. 25D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), chap. 14; D. W. Anthony, A New Approach to Language and Archaeology: The Usatovo Culture and the Separation of Pre-Germanic,Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 36 (2008), no1-2, pp. 1-51. Yet Proto-Germanic did not develop until about 500 BC.26Donald Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic (2006), p. 67. So it might be more helpful to visualise this migration as part of the spread of a North-Western dialect which would have been intelligible to Indo-European traders and travellers across a broad expanse of Bronze Age Europe.27J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2006), pp. 78-9.
A more archaeologically visible flow westward between about 3,100 and 2,800 BC suggests the Pre-Italic and Pre-Celtic dialects splitting away. The two language families are closely related, so this might be better classed as pre-Proto-Italo-Celtic, or even just North-Western at this stage.28F.Kortlandt, Italo-Celtic Origins and Prehistoric Development of the Irish Language (2007); J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams,The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2006), pp. 78-9. Yamnaya herders moved through and past the Usatovo culture into the Danube valley ending up in what is now eastern Hungary. The evidence lies in their kurgan cemeteries. This was a true folk movement leaving thousands of burials. 29D.A. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 361-67; J. I. Giblin, Strontium isotope analysis of Neolithic and Copper Age populations on the Great Hungarian Plain,Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 36, no. 2 (2009), pp. 491-497 looks at evidence for the shift to a more pastoral economy. The earliest of the eastern Bell Beakers were found near Budapest in Hungary, and radiocarbon dated about 2,800-2,600BC. From there Bell Beaker ware spread into what is now Austria and South Germany,30J. Muller and S. van Willigen, New radiocarbon evidence for European Bell Beakers and the consequences for the diffusion of the Bell Beaker Phenomenon, in Franco Nicolis (ed.), Bell Beakers today: Pottery, people, culture, symbols in prehistoric Europe (2001), pp. 59-75. where we can imagine Yamnaya dialects eventually developing into Proto-Celtic.
Another part of the Proto-Italic-Celtic trail is more complex and is pursued in the Bell Beaker section. For the moment we note that a branch of the same movement of Yamnaya herders up the Danube introduced the Bronze Age into what is now Albania and Bosnia. Their characteristic tumulus burials mark their arrival. The abrupt incursion of the new culture is particularly clear at Maliq, Albania.31J.P.Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1989), pp. 73-76; E. E. Jacques, The Albanians: An ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present(1995), pp. 11-13. The Vučedol Culture in Croatia begins at the right time to be Indo-European - c. 3,000 BC. Its people appear different from the preceding farmers of the region.32Z. Hincak, Anthropological analysis of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age skeletons: a classical and molecular approach (East Slavonia, Croatia), Collegium Antropologicum, vol. 31 (2007), no. 4, pp. 1135-1141.Vučedol is followed by the Cetina Culture, where the elite were buried with archers' wrist guards, as in the Bell Beaker Culture. From then on a continuous culture appears in the archaeology until the appearance in history of the Illyrian tribes, who spoke a branch of the Indo-European language family.33P. della Casa, The Cetina group and the transition from Copper to Bronze Age in Dalmatia, Antiquity, vol. 69 (1995), no. 264, pp. 565-576; V. Heyd, When the West meets the East: The eastern periphery of the Bell Beaker phenomenon and its relation with the Aegean Early Bronze Age, in I. Galanaki et al (eds.), Between the Aegean and the Baltic Seas: Prehistory across borders: Proceedings of the International Conference, Bronze and Early Iron Age Interconnections and Contemporary Developments between the Aegean and the Regions of the Balkan Peninsula, Central and Northern Europe University of Zagreb, 11-14 April 2005, Aegaeum 27 (2007), pp. 91-104. The Albanian language is the only possible modern descendant, the remainder having vanished with the Slavic invasions of Illyria.
Steppe groups penetrated Late Cucteni-Tripolye towns on the Middle Dnieper, together with elements of Globular Amphora and Corded Ware, creating a hybrid that gradually became its own distinct culture. This seems to represent the dialect which became Proto-Balto-Slavic. Linguists calculate that it split into Baltic and Slavic branches around 1400 BC. The community remained together long enough to leave Baltic river names in the area, before a group moved north to the area around the Upper Volga and Oka (the Fatyanovo Culture), eventually to settle on the Baltic and develop Lithuanian and Latvian, as well as the now dead Prussian language. Baltic river and lake names show that the Proto-Baltic people were spread over a wider area than that in which Latvian and Lithuanian are spoken today. However this was a thickly-forested region, mainly unsuited to agriculture, and only thinly settled. The Slavic peoples by contrast seem to have had a relatively small homeland where Proto-Slavic developed, probably between the Middle Dnieper and Upper Dniester, as the ones who stayed behind as riverine farmers.34D.A. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 343-48; V. Bla˛ek, On the internal classification of Indo-European languages: survey, Linguistica online (November 2005). From there the Slavs burst out in all directions early in the Middle Ages. Henning Andersen argues on linguistic grounds that both Balts and Slavs moved into areas where previous waves of Indo-Europeans had gone before them. He pictures the forests of north-eastern Europe penetrated time after time by small groups whose descendants were absorbed linguistically by the succeeding wave.35H. Andersen, Slavic and the Indo-European Migrations, in H. Andersen (ed.), Language Contacts in Prehistory: studies in stratigraphy, Current Issues in Liguistic Theoryvol. 239 (2003), pp. 45-76.
A final Yamnaya expansion from the eastern end of the steppes to Sintashta apparently set the Indo-Iranian languages on their way. One major attraction was the copper deposits in the Ural Mountains. Here the first fortified settlements appeared on the steppe. They housed communities of metal-workers. It is here that the earliest evidence of chariots has been unearthed. Sintashta and other fortified settlements of what has been called the country of towns are the earliest manifestation of the wider-spread Andronovo culture, abandoned c. 1,600 BC as its population moved to Iran and India.36D.A. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 371-82, 389-411, 452-57; E. E. Kuzmina, The origin of the Indo-Iranians (2007), p. 233; R. Blench, Re-evaluating the linguistic prehistory of South Asia, in T. Osada and A. Uesugi (eds.),Occasional Paper 3: Linguistics, Archaeology and the Human Past(2008), pp. 159-178. Eventually Iranian-speakers would meet up with Tocharian-speakers on the great Silk Road that joined China to the West.37Descendants of the Andronovo culture followed the Yili River Valley from the steppe, and traversed the Chawuhu pass to enter the Tarim Basin about three centuries after the Tocharians. J. Romgard,Ancient Human Settlements in Xinjiang and the Early SilkRoad Trade, Sino-Platonic Papers, vol. 185 ( 2008), pp. 14-5, 24-9. The remaining Indo-European horsemen of the steppe first appear in history as the Cimmerians and Scythians. Herodotus describes how the Cimmerians were driven from the Pontic-Caspian steppe by the fierce Scythians from further east.38Herodotus, The Histories, book 4. The Scythians appear to have cultivated trade. This was the probable source of their wealth, express in spectacular royal kurgans, containing silk and gold, exquisitely worked to portray wild animals.39E. E.Kuzʹmina and V. H. Mair, The Prehistory of the Silk Road(2007); C.I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (2009), chap. 2.
No doubt arguments will continue over exactly why the peoples of the steppes were so successful in expanding across Europe. Some point to their warlike culture and mastery of the chariot. Others have been keen to stress the signs of peaceful integration with Neolithic people. Some see the key as the collapse of Old Europe. Others envision a diaspora led by trade, driven partly by the need for metals, especially tin, the rare, vital component of true bronze. Then there is the idea of lactase persistence enabling them to out-breed other people. Probably the picture is too complex for any one explanation. If we look at the driving forces behind historic colonisations, we see an array of motives. We see mankind's restless curiosity and desire to explore. We see the gleam of gold, that can lure men to camp in a wilderness for years in the hope of finding it. We see people seeking to escape hard times. When drought strikes, the prospect of rain could be the greatest lure of all. Yet there are other motives - religious and political - which we would scarcely guess from the material remains left behind.
The Late Copper to Bronze Age cultures of Europe were more mobile, more socially stratified, more dispersed in the landscape, than the cultures they supplanted. There was a new stress on the individual, visible in single graves. Their elite members were buried with pomp. This new way of living fits the picture we get from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary. They had chiefs and warriors. They spread new technology across Europe - horse-riding, wheeled vehicles, the potter's wheel and metallurgy in gold, copper and bronze.40J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (2006). In most places that cultural package represented progress. In those northern fringes still untouched by the Neolithic, it was a giant leap forward.
And yet in some ways the early Indo-European-speaking peoples were less advanced than the earliest civilizations. These wanderers were neither urban nor literate. So as they
advanced there was a fascinating collision of cultures in key zones, out of which sprang the great civilizations of the Classical world. The Indo-European speakers absorbed a great
deal from the cultures they overran. We first see this pattern in Anatolia, where incoming pastoralists arrived perhaps around 3,000 BC, to coexist with an established and
successful agricultural society. Their speech gradually evolved into Hittite and other Anatolian languages. It was over a thousand years later that Hittite warlords took over
Hattic kingdoms, borrowing the vocabulary to go with them, such as
queen. They also acquired the literacy that is so useful to state rulers. The first writing
in any Indo-European language is the archive (on clay tablets) of Hittite bureaucracy.41D. Anthony,The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007),
pp. 43-48. The pattern continued in the early empires of Europe: see Minoans and Mycenaens;
Etruscans and Romans.
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