Kutuluk III, Nikolaevka III, Bol’shekaranganskii and Bulanovo

Overarching period: Bronze Age, 5,200–2,600 BP
Specific period: The Poltavka and Sintashta Cultures 4,700 to 4,100 BP
Carbon dating: 3,754 - 4,867 years old
Location: Kutuluk III - 53.31° North, 51.15° East
Nikolaevka III - 49.97° North, 44.67° East
Bol’shekaranganskii - 52.64° North, 59.54° East
Bulanovo - 52.45° North, 55.16° East
Site location country: Russia
mtDNA haplogroups: H, J, U
Y haplogroups: R1b

Bronze Age Pot A Bronze Age pot [3]

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 Poltavka Culture:

The Poltavka Culture was an Early and Middle Bronze Age society from the Middle and Lower Volga regions [7] that was very similar to the Yamnaya culture. Many researchers believe that the two cultures were part of the same tradition, with the Poltavka simply being the final stage of the Yamnaya [8]. Many archaeological sites from both cultures significantly overlap in time and geography [9]. Some researchers have suggested that the Poltavka was part of a process of cultural change triggered by a shift in climate change that lead to a more arid conditions and spread of the Yamnaya-associated cultures westwards [10]. Others believe that it was an independent culture stemming from the Eneolithic [8]. Despite disagreement, it is likely that the Poltavka people were either part of or closely-related to the Yamnaya.

The development of metal-working technology played a significant role in the transition to the Copper Age, Bronze Age and Iron Ages [11]. Studies have found clear evidence of mining and metallurgic production associated with both the Poltavka and Yamnaya cultures [12]. It is believed that mining in the Eurasian Steppe began in the Early Bronze Age with the Yamnaya and Poltavka Cultures [11].

It is thought that Poltavka Culture transitioned into the Sintashta-Petrovka Culture around 4,000 years ago. These people engaged in bronze production on an unprecedented scale and went on to build the first known horse-drawn chariots. The Sintashta-Petrovka were likely ancestral Indo-Iranians, whose traditions were later carried into India and Iran. This culture is thought to be the origin of the Indo-Iranian languages [13].

The Individuals of Kutuluk III, Nikolaevka III, Bol’shekaranganskii and Bulanovo:

The five individuals in this sample were found at four sites in present-day Russia. The site of Kutuluk III is north of the village of Krotovka, sixty-five kilometres (forty miles) east of the city of Samara. The site of Nikolaevka III is north of the vaillage of Gusevka, seventy kilometres (forty-three miles) west of the city of Kamyshin. The site of Bol’shekaranganskii is east of the village of Izmaylovskiy, one hundred and fifteen kilometres (seventy-one miles) south of the city of Magnitogorsk. Two individuals were found at the site of Bulanovo, which is in the village of the same name, eighty kilometres (fifty miles) north of the city of Orenburg. The individuals in this sample were carbon dated to between 3,754 and 4,867 years old [14,15].

The sites of Kutuluk III and Nikolaevka III are both Poltavkan cemeteries on a tributary of the Samara River. The individual in this sample found at the site of Kutuluk III was a male, aged twenty-five to thirty-five. His feet were stained with red ochre – which was used for decorative body panting – and he was buried with sheep or goat bones. The individual in this sample found at the site of Nikolaevka III was also a male, aged thrity-five to forty-five [14]. The individual found at the site of Bol’shekaranganskii was female. Of the two individuals found at the site of Bulanovo, one was male, one was female [15].

Genetic analysis of the individuals in this sample revealed that that Bronze Age Eurasia was a time of widescale migrations and population replacements. Furthermore, the presence of European Neolithic farmer ancestry in the Sintashata individuals suggests that the culture may have developed after an eastward migration of the Corded Ware Culture [15].

Two of the individuals in this sample belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup U, which was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [16]. Another two individuals 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 [17]. The final 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 [18]. Individuals of this haplogroup may produce higher body heat – a trait which may have been selected for in northern Europe [19].

Although there are three males in this sample, Y-chromosomal haplogroup data could only be obtained for two. Both of these individuals belonged to the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b, which is probably from the Franco-Cantabrian region [20].


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