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Thursday, June 21, 2018

A potentially violent end to the Kura-Araxes Culture (Alizadeh et al. 2018)


The Kura-Araxes Culture dominated large parts of West Asia during the Early Bronze Age. It's generally accepted that the peoples associated with this archaeological phenomenon were speakers of early Hurra-Urutian dialects, and that they eventually morphed into the Hurrians and other related groups across the northern Near East.

However, it has also been hypothesized that in and around the Caucasus Mountains they were harried and even violently displaced by invaders pushing down from the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe.

A new paper at the AJA Online by Alizadeh et al. explores this angle in detail for an Kura-Araxes site at Nadir Tepesi in the Mughan Steppe, Iranian Azerbaijan, and concludes that it's a very plausible scenario indeed (open access here). Also worth noting in this context, I'd say, is my own recent discovery based on ancient DNA of the rather obvious signals of Yamnaya-related incursions into an area of what is now northwestern Iran not far from the Mughan Steppe (see here). From the paper, emphasis is mine:

By the late fourth to early third millennium B.C.E., Kura-Araxes (Early Transcaucasian) material culture spread from the southern Caucasus throughout much of southwest Asia. The Kura-Araxes settlements declined and ultimately disappeared in almost all the regions in southwest Asia around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. The transition to the “post–Kura-Araxes” time in the southern Caucasus is one of the most tantalizing subjects in the archaeology of the region. Despite current knowledge on the origins and spread of the Kura-Araxes culture, little is known about the end of this cultural horizon. In this field report, we argue that the Kura-Araxes culture in the western Caspian littoral plain ended abruptly and possibly violently. To demonstrate this, we review the current hypotheses about the end of the Kura-Araxes culture and use results from excavations at Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan.

...

Following the decline of the relatively dense distribution of the Kura-Araxes settlements, some striking transformations are reflected in material culture. These include a large reduction in the number of settlements, an increase in burial sites, the appearance of collective burials and impressive royal kurgans, increased mobility, and changes in ceramic traditions (i.e., the appearance of Martkopi-Bedeni ceramics). In addition, there was a clear increase in metalwork, especially in the gold and silver attested mostly in rich burials. [10] To some scholars, all these transformations suggest the arrival of new groups of people with a new lifestyle based on transhumant pastoralism. [11]

...

We postulate that around the mid third millennium B.C.E. Nadir Tepesi was abandoned by the Kura-Araxes community. The end of the Kura-Araxes occupation in TTB and TTC is marked by a characteristic red-orange deposit that suggests a large-scale fire. It is unknown whether the destruction covers the whole settlement or is limited to its southwestern portion. However, it is hard to imagine that the fire was accidental since it represents the end of the Kura-Araxes occupation and an abrupt change in the cultural sequence at the site. The last Kura-Araxes occupational layer was immediately followed by a completely different archaeological repertoire. The thick destruction level followed immediately by a decisive break in the material culture suggests a violent end to the Kura-Araxes community at the site.

...

Tracing population movement and identifying evidence of migration are major methodological challenges for archaeologists. [49] On one hand, Puturidze argues that there is no evidence supporting the notion of a migration of people into the southern Caucasus. [50] Rather, she associates all the changes in the post–Kura-Araxes period with influences from Near Eastern societies as a result of developing interactions by the end of the third millennium B.C.E. On the other hand, Kohl hypothesizes the possibility of a “push-pull process” [51] in which new groups of people with wheeled carts and oxen-pulled wagons gradually moved from the steppes of the north into the southern Caucasus, and the Kura-Araxes communities subsequently moved farther south. [52]

Kohl also reminds us of the evidence of increased militarism from the Early to the Late Bronze Age that is reflected in more fortified sites, new weaponry, and an iconography of war as seen on the Karashamb Cup. [53] The appearance of defensive mechanisms such as fortification walls, which can be seen at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement near Chaldran in Iranian Azerbaijan, further emphasizes the increase of inter-group conflicts and militarism during the Early Bronze Age, before the Kura-Araxes culture came to an end. [54] Kohl argues that, while the number of Kura-Araxes settlements decreased in the southern Caucasus, archaeological research indicates that the Kura-Araxes culture spread to western Iran in the Zagros region and to the Levant. [55] In Kohl’s view, as new groups of people moved in, the Kura-Araxes communities abandoned the southern Caucasus and moved farther south, where some of them already resided.

...

We believe that the evidence supports a less uniform scenario. The Kura-Araxes culture may have disappeared in various ways; the transition to the post–Kura-Araxes time may not be explained by a single model. Different Kura-Araxes settlements may have ended differently. The evidence from Nadir Tepesi could support a violent end at that site, and it is possible that similar evidence will be found at other sites in the Mughan Steppe. At some sites, such as Köhne Tepesi in the Khoda Afarin Plain, [58] the Kura-Araxes occupation also ended abruptly but without any sign of destruction. In other regions, there may be evidence supporting the coexistence of newcomers with Kura-Araxes communities for some period. [59]


Alizadeh et al., The End of the Kura-Araxes Culture as Seen from Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan, American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 3 (July 2018), pp. 463–477, DOI: 10.3764/aja.122.3.0463

See also...

Yamnaya isn't from Iran just like R1a isn't from India

16 comments:

Aram said...

In Armenia we also have a site with traces of violence (Berkaber) but some others are simply abandoned.

Sites on the territory of modern Turkey were affected less. And some even continued to flourish and became cities.

ADW said...

https://www.familytreedna.com/public/Azerbaijan/default.aspx?section=yresults

Not sure if there is any relationship, but most of the R1b guys will likely turn out to be L277 or L584. Just like we saw with the greater Caucasus paper on Maykop, the Middle Eastern groups such as L, J2, G are associated with the "Maykop" metallurgy burials and the "Maykop Steppe" groups such as Q1 and R1b are associated with the wagon burials.

Romulus said...

Wasn't Kura Araxes R1b?

vacuouswastrel said...

So both the hypothesis of an original steppe homeland for Indo-Hittite AND the hypothesis of a familial relationship to the languages of the Caucasus could be right...

(if NWC and/or NEC represent later migrations into the caucasus from the steppe, they could represent steppe cousins of PIE - or at least members of a steppe sprachbund)

Leron said...

South of the Caucasus, if these invaders were IE they must have vanished into thin air because they didn't leave any trace we can directly connect to IE people. South of the Caspian Sea is another story, but those came much later.

Davidski said...

@Romulus

Wasn't Kura Araxes R1b?

Well, you don't have to ask me, you can check this for yourself. But here you go, one R1b in a late Kura-Araxes male.

Kura-Araxes ARM002 Kaps (Armenia) 3341-3030 calBCE Y-HG G2b

Kura-Araxes VEK007 Velikent (Dagestan) NO DATE Y-HG J1

Kura-Araxes I1635 Kalavan (Armenia) 2619-2465 calBCE Y-HG R1b (xM269)



Davidski said...

@Leron

South of the Caspian Sea is another story, but those came much later.

Hajji Firuz is more south of the Caucasus than south of the Caspian, or maybe somewhat in between, no?

Likely Yamnaya incursion(s) into Northwestern Iran

One of the samples with steppe ancestry (and R1b-Z2103) from this site hasn't been dated properly. The other one is dated to 2465-2286 calBCE. So not all that late.

Ric Hern said...

I can't help to wonder if the dates of the two different types of horse remains in Alikemek-Tepesi will be reevaluated...maybe one type arrived with the probable Steppe incursion...

The Steppe like environment near the Southwestern Caspian looked like it was less directly affected by Kura-Araxes influence...

Ric Hern said...

The map of this article is interesting.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/30/9190

Uruk Osmerius said...

David, will you be adding the genomes from Fregel et al to your global 25?
I saw someone post this in an earlier thread, but in case you missed it, they're available here:
https://www.ebi.ac.uk/ena/data/view/PRJEB22699

Aram said...

ADW

The Steppe Maykop was marked R1 not R1b. He could be R1b or R1a or simply R1*. Why not after all they siberian. But the chances that they are M269+ is close to zero.

43 SA6013.B0101 BZNK-009/2 Sharakhalsun 6 kurgan 2, grave 11 Russia 45.725651 43.986933 4524±22BP (MAMS29246) 3355-3105 5180.0 M26 half 228979 423551 Steppe Maykop outlier Steppe M 0.00099 0.22 [0.08] I5b R1 Y Y


Romulus

R1b found in Kura - Araxes is V1636+ which is a rare lineage today present in many places from Volga Tatarstan to Europe and West Asia. https://yfull.com/tree/R-V1636/

vacuouswastrel

PIE shares aeralic morphological features with NWC and NEC but no single cognate with them according Matasovic.
This is only possible if they have formed close to each other but didn't have any direct contact with each other, Let's say NWC and NEC were initially in the South associated with L, G, J while PIE was in North. Or vice versa. PIE in the South and NEC / NWC in the North,
But keep in mind that NWC and NEC do have cognates with Hattic and Hurrian while PIE with Uralic.

Leron

**if these invaders were IE they must have vanished into thin air because they didn't leave any trace we can directly connect to IE people.**

They did leave traces in the Proto Kartvelian who have numerous loanwords from a Late PIE dialect despite the fact that they live in the South.

Aram said...

My prediction is that this was caused by R1b-L584. We have already one R1b-L584 from NW Iran but in Iron age. 1400 years after he came.
The R1b-L277 will come later probably with I2c2 that we have seen in Lchashen Metsamor (LBA-EIA) culture in Armenia.

Arza said...

List of accepted contributions (titles only) to the 24th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists is online - https://www.e-a-a.org/eaa2018

Paper
Ancient DNA sheds light into the kinship structure of early 2nd millennium BC Trzciniec Circle groups from East-Central Europe


It looks like aDNA from this paper was analysed in the same lab as Iron Age DNA from Poland, so I hope that we will see something more than just mtDNA...

Arza said...

Fastq files from "Ancient genome wide analyses infer kinship structure in an Early Medieval Alemannic graveyard" are now available at:

https://www.ebi.ac.uk/ena/data/view/PRJEB26982

Grey said...

Ric Hern said...
"http://www.pnas.org/content/112/30/9190"

good read - i do like the idea of instead of "pots not people" two versions of "people not pots":

1) large tribal invasions/migrations

2) small familial artisan/farming groups spreading technological/farming innovations along existing trade routes

if correct it might one day be possible to figure out which ydna clade is associated with a particular innovation and thereby trace back to the source - it could give people a whole new category to argue over...

"my ancestors invented the wheel and yours only domesticated the rabbit!" (fight ensues)

Ric Hern said...

@ Grey

Yes, I tend to think that smaller migrating groups who arrived in a new territory adopt the local artforms in order to have something to trade. If they bring some new technology and arts with them it usually takes some time before it gets accepted.

Britains farmers are a good example of this. You hardly find Hillsheep in the Lowlands etc. So someone who migrate to one of these areas have to adopt that which is favoured in that area otherwise he will not be able to sell his product and make a living.

Then you see the Mass Migration thing where people in New Zealand have large numbers of Lowland Sheep (Romney Marsh Breed) grazing the Hills and Mountains of New Zealand...