Verkhni Askiz Village, Utyevka IV and Stepnoe VII


Overarching period: Bronze Age, 5,200–2,600 BP
Specific period: The Potapovka, Okunev, and Sintashta Cultures 5,000 to 3,000 BP
Carbon dating: 3,896 - 4,340 years old
Location: Verkhni Askiz Village - 53.16° North, 90.21° East
Utyevka IV - 52.91° North, 50.99° East
Stepnoe VII - 53.88° North, 59.08° East
Site location country: Russia
mtDNA haplogroups: H, T, J, A
Y haplogroups: -

Sun Stone Example of a carving on an Okunev stellae, believed to be a depiction of a solar deity [11]

The Russian Bronze Age:

Bronze Age Russia was preceded by a period known as the Eneolithic, which was preceded by the Neolithic hunter-gatherer era. In Russia, around 7,000 years ago, the Neolithic cultures suddenly and simultaneously disappeared. They were replaced by groups capable of processing copper. Throughout the Eneolithic, settlements became larger and animal husbandry became more intense. Burial rituals also got more complex – graves with mounds were built alongside flat graves; social stratification became clear from grave goods; the crouch position in graves became more common rather than the supine position [1]. All of this suggests that society was becoming more complex.

Bronze is an alloy made of copper and tin and is harder than copper alone. The Bronze Age, defined by the ability of people to make bronze, occurred in Russia around 5,000 years ago. It is also believed that the horse was domesticated at the dawn of the Bronze Age, revolutionising war and transport [2].

The Sintashta Culture:

The Sintashta Culture was a Bronze Age culture in present-day Russia. They relied on cattle, sheep, horses, goats, dogs and pigs [4], and practiced large-scale animal sacrifice [5]. The culture appears to have emerged suddenly near the Ural mountains, between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago [4] and is characterised by complex settlements with fortification systems, metal production and innovative warfare technologies, such as spoke-wheeled chariots [4,6]. Because of this, many believe that the Sintashta Culture represents the emergence of complex hierarchal societies, in the form of chief leadership and territorial control. The people may have spoken an early version of the Indo-Iranian languages [5].

The Sintashta people appear to have originally lived in oval-shaped settlements. Over time, these developed into larger, rectangular shaped settlements, surrounding the original ones. Settlements were spaced roughly twenty to thirty kilometres (twelve to nineteen miles) apart. It has been suggested that some settlements were fortified whereas some were not, representing the social status of the inhabitants [5].

The Sintashta economy was mainly based on the livestock herding of cattle and horses, although there is also evidence for fishing and copper metallurgy. Surprisingly, there is no evidence for the farming of plants. It is believed that they lived off of fish and milk and meat from a variety of livestock. They also appear to have eaten some wild plants, such as wild strawberries, and used other wild plants for building, such as birch [4].

It is believed that only higher status individuals were permitted to be buried in cemeteries, and the position of someone’s grave within a cemeteries was determined by their social position [6]. It is believed that high status warriors or chieftains would be given chariot burials, in which the individual is buried in their chariot [5].

The Potapovka Culture:

The Potapovka Culture was a Bronze Age culture of the Eurasian steppe [6]. There was social stratification in the Potapovka Culture, with elites being buried separately from lower status individuals [7].

The presence of evidence of military activity in places where the Potapovka and Sintashta cultures lived nearby one another suggests that the two people occasionally fought. However, genetic evidence suggests that the two cultures were actually closely related, and there was probably some degree of interbreeding between the two [7].

The Potapovka Culture burials were covered with a small mound of dirt on top, and were very similar to those of the Sintashta Culture. Again, this indicates that there was significant admixture between the two cultures, leading some to believe that they were actually two branches of the same culture [8].

The Potapovka Culture had their own type of pottery, which is believed to have emerged locally. Furthermore, every single site identified to both the Potavka and Sintashta Cultures has their own unique style of pottery, which suggests that Bronze Age Russia was a time of cultural genesis [8].

The Okunev Culture:

The Okenuv Culture appeared around 4,000 years ago. It was first identified at a site in Khakassia, Southern Central Russia. The culture may have developed from a Neolithic group in the neighbouring republic of Tuva, before spreading across parts of the Eruasian steppe. Evidence suggests that there was a complex interaction between these people and the indigenous Neolithic population, and other immigrants. They are believed to have interbred with both of these groups, and much of their burial practices are clearly influenced by other groups of immigrants [9].

The Okunev Culture had pottery decorated with geometric designs, such as triangles, grooves, and rhomboids. Comb-impressed pottery and pottery decorated with fir trees, typical of earlier cultures in the region, are also commonly found at Okunev sites [9]. The Okunev people would put stelae (large upright stone slabs) on their graves. These stelae would be carved with imagery, often of the local mountains [10].

The Individuals of Verkhni Askiz Village, Utyevka IV and Stepnoe VII:

The four individuals in this sample were found at three sites in present-day Russia. Two of the individuals were found at the site of Verkhni Askiz Village, which is seventeen kilometres (eleven miles) west of the village of Askiz, in the republic of Khakassia. The site of Utyevka IV is one kilometre (two thirds of a mile) northeast of the village of Utyevka in the region of Samara. The site of Stepnoe VII is ten kilometres (six miles) west of the town of Verkhneuralsk. The individuals in this sample were carbon dated to between 3,896 and 4,340 years ago [12,13].

The site of Verkhni Askiz is seen as a classic Okunev burial [14]. The two individuals in this sample found at this site were both female [13]. The individual found at site of Utyevka IV was also female, aged over forty-five years old. She was buried with the bones of sheep or goat, and belonged to the Potapovka culture [12]. The individual in this sample found at the site of Utyevka IV is the only male in this sample, and belonged to the Sintashta Culture [13].

Genetic analysis of the individuals in this sample revealed that Bronze Age Eurasia was a time of widescale migrations and population replacements. Furthermore, the presence of European Neolithic farmer ancestry in the Sintashata individual suggests that the culture may have developed after an eastward migration of the Corded Ware Culture. There was genetic similarity between the Okunevo individual and present-day Native Americans, suggesting that this culture was related to the people in the Neolithic who contributed genetic material to the Native Americans [13].

One of the individuals in this sample belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup H, which is commonly found in Europe today and is known to have Middle Eastern origins. It has been found in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and existed in Europe prior to the arrival of agriculture [15]. One individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup T, which is probably Middle-Eastern in origin. Today it is found in low frequencies in Europe, and is also found throughout Central Asia [16,17]. One individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup J, which can be found in about 12% of the present European population and is also found in Middle East and North-East Africa. It originated in the Paleolithic (45,000 years ago), potentially in the Caucuses area [16]. Individuals of this haplogroup may produce higher body heat – a trait which may have been selected for in northern Europe [18]. The final individual belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup A, which, despite originating in Siberia, is uncommon in modern Asians and virtually non-existent in modern Europeans. However, it is the most common haplogroup among American Hispanics and Native Americans [19]. Although one of the individuals was male, Y-chromosomal haplogroup data could not be obtained.


References:

  1. Parzinger H. 2013. Ukraine and South Russia in the Bronze Age. The Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age.
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  11. Example of a carving on an Okunev stellae, believed to be a depiction of a solar deity: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%A1%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B5_%D0%B1%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%BE.jpg
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