Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Indo-Europeans

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 4, 2015

Funnel(-neck-)beaker culture

The Funnel(-neck-)beaker culture, short TRB or TBK from (German) Trichter(-rand-)becherkultur (ca 4300 BC–ca 2800 BC) was an archaeological culture in north-central Europe. It developed as a technological merger of local neolithic and mesolithic techno-complexes between the lower Elbe and middle Vistula rivers, introducing farming and husbandry as a major source of food to the pottery-using hunter-gatherers north of this line.

The culture is seen as non-Indo-European, representing the culture of what Marija Gimbutas termed Old Europe, the peoples of which were later to be governed by the Indo-European-language-speaking peoples intruding from the east. The political relation between the aboriginal and intrusive cultures resulted in quick and smooth cultural morphosis into Corded Ware culture.

The culture is named for its characteristic ceramics, beakers and amphorae with funnel-shaped tops, which were probably used for drinking. One find assigned to the Funnelbeaker culture is the Bronocice pot, which shows the oldest known depiction of a wheeled vehicle (here, a 2-axled, 4-wheeled wagon). The pot dates to approximately 3500 BC.

The image on the pot is the oldest well-dated representation of a 4-wheeled vehicle in the world. It suggests the existence of wagons in Central Europe as early as in the 4th millennium BC. They were presumably drawn by aurochs whose remains were found with the pot. Their horns were worn out as if tied with a rope, possibly a result of using a kind of yoke.

A 2010 study of ancient DNA suggested the population of the Linear Pottery (also known as Linearbandkeramik or LBK culture), which preceded the TRB culture by some 1,500 years, had affinities to modern-day populations from the Near East and Anatolia, such as an overall prevalence of G2. The study also found some unique features, such as the prevalence of the now-rare Y-haplogroup F* and mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies.

While the Funnel(-neck-)beaker culture (short TRB or TBK from (German) Trichter(-rand-)becherkultur, ca 4300 – 2800 BC), an archaeological culture in north-central Europe, isn’t exactly the LBK, the TRB origins have to be sought rather in the central European LBK than in the Mediterranean Cardium pottery. According to a craniometrical cluster analysis by Ilse Schwidetzky, the Swedish neolithic is very similar to the central European middle neolithic Rössen culture, and both are close to LBK.

The main difference between the Danubian cultures and the Cardium derived cultures is that the latter seem more strongly dominated by haplogroup G, which in turn seems to imply a stronger presence of the (Southern part of the) Caucasus component, while the former may have had more haplogoup I and Haplogroup R1b3.

Aratta (Arta)/Urartu/Ararat/Armenia

Aratta (becoming Urartu/Ararat then Armenia) is a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.

The name is connected to the Indo-European root Ar- meaning “assemble/create” which is vastly used in names of or regarding the Sun, light, or fire, found in Ararat, Aryan, Arta etc. The Proto-Indo-Europeans were in the past referred to by many scholars as Aryans. This term, however, has fallen out of favor due to its association with racist theories.

Asha is the Avestan language term (corresponding to Vedic language ṛta) for a concept of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. Its Old Persian equivalent is arta-.[c] In Middle Iranian languages the term appears as ard-. In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called “the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism.” The opposite of Avestan aša is druj, “lie.”

Aratta is described in Sumerian literature as a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach and home to the goddess Inana, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk after Aratta being conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

It has been suggested by early 20th century Armenologists that Old Persian Armina and the Greek Armenoi are continuations of an Assyrian toponym Armânum or Armanî. There are certain Bronze Age records identified with the toponym in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources.

Armani, (also given as Armanum) was an ancient kingdom mentioned by Sargon of Akkad, a Semitic Akkadian emperor famous for his conquest of the Sumerian city-states in the 24th and 23rd centuries BC, and his grandson Naram-Sin of Akkad as stretching from Ibla to Bit-Nanib, its location is heavily debated, and it continued to be mentioned in the later Assyrian inscriptions.


Another mention by pharaoh Thutmose III of Egypt in the 33rd year of his reign (1446 BC) as the people of Ermenen, and says in their land “heaven rests upon its four pillars”. Mitanni (Mi-ta-an-ni; Mittani Mi-it-ta-ni), also called Hanigalbat (Hanigalbat, Khanigalbat cuneiform Ḫa-ni-gal-bat) in Assyrian or Naharin from the Assyro-Akkadian word for “river”, cf. Aram-Naharaim in Egyptian texts was a Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and southeast Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC.

The Mitanni kingdom was referred to as the Maryannu, Nahrin or Mitanni by the Egyptians, the Hurri by the Hittites, and the Hanigalbat by the Assyrians. The different names seem to have referred to the same kingdom and were used interchangeably, according to Michael C. Astour.

The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain. A treatise on the training of chariot horses by Kikkuli contains a number of Indo-Aryan glosses. Kammenhuber (1968) suggested that this vocabulary was derived from the still undivided Indo-Iranian language, but Mayrhofer (1974) has shown that specifically Indo-Aryan features are present.

The Mitanni warriors were called marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit. Maryannu is an ancient word for the caste of chariot-mounted hereditary warrior nobility which existed in many of the societies of the Middle East during the Bronze Age.

The term is attested in the Amarna letters written by Haapi. Robert Drews writes that the name ‘maryannu’ although plural takes the singular ‘marya’, which in Sanskrit means young warrior, and attaches a Hurrian suffix. He suggests that at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age most would have spoken either Hurrian or Aryan but by the end of the 14th century most of the Levant maryannu had Semitic names.

Hurrian is related to Urartian, the language of Urartu, both belonging to the Hurro-Urartian language family. It had been held that nothing more can be deduced from current evidence. A Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters – usually composed in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day – indicates that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.

Armenian hypothesis

The Armenian hypothesis of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, based on the Glottalic theory, suggests that the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken during the 4th millennium BC in the Armenian Highland. It is an Indo-Hittite model and does not include the Anatolian languages in its scenario.

The phonological peculiarities proposed in the Glottalic theory would be best preserved in the Armenian language and the Germanic languages, the former assuming the role of the dialect which remained in situ, implied to be particularly archaic in spite of its late attestation.

Membership in the Indo-European language family is determined by genetic relationships, meaning that all members are presumed descendants of a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-European. Membership in the various branches, groups and subgroups of Indo-European is also genetic, but here the defining factors are shared innovations among various languages, suggesting a common ancestor that split off from other Indo-European groups.

For example, what makes the Germanic languages a branch of Indo-European is that much of their structure and phonology can be stated in rules that apply to all of them. Many of their common features are presumed innovations that took place in Proto-Germanic, the source of all the Germanic languages.

In 1981, Hopper proposed to divide all Indo-European languages into Decem and Taihun groups, according to the pronunciation of the numeral ’10’, by analogy with the Centum-Satem isogloss, which is based on the pronunciation of the numeral ‘100’.

The Armenian, Germanic, Anatolian, and Tocharian subfamilies belong to the Taihun group because the numeral ’10’ begins with a voiceless t there. All other Indo-European languages belong to the Decem group because the numeral 10 begins with a voiced d in them. The question then can be framed as which, if either, of these groups reflects the original state of things, and which is an innovation.

The Proto-Greek language would be practically equivalent to Mycenaean Greek and date to the 17th century BC, closely associating Greek migration to Greece with the Indo-Aryan migration to India at about the same time (viz., Indo-European expansion at the transition to the Late Bronze Age, including the possibility of Indo-European Kassites).

The Armenian hypothesis argues for the latest possible date of Proto-Indo-European (sans Anatolian), roughly a millennium later than the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis. In this, it figures as an opposite to the Anatolian hypothesis, in spite of the geographical proximity of the respective suggested Urheimaten, diverging from the timeframe suggested there by as much as three millennia.

The Armenian hypothesis was proposed by Russian linguists T. V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov in 1985, presenting it first in two articles in Vestnik drevnej istorii and then in a much larger work. I. Grepin, reviewing Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s book, wrote that their model of linguistic relationships is “the most complex, far reaching and fully supported of this century.”

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov argue that IE spread out from Armenia into the Pontic steppe, from which it expanded – as per the Kurgan hypothesis – into Western Europe. The Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Greek and Armenian branches split from the Armenian homeland.

Robert Drews, commenting on the hypothesis, says that “most of the chronological and historical arguments seem fragile at best, and of those that I am able to judge, some are evidently wrong”. However, he argues that it is far more powerful as a linguistic model, providing insights into the relationship between Indo-European and the Semitic and Kartvelian languages.

He continues to say “It is certain that the inhabitants of the forested areas of Armenia very early became accomplished woodworkers, and it now appears that in the second millennium they produced spoked-wheel vehicles that served as models as far away as China. And we have long known that from the second millennium onward, Armenia was important for the breeding of horses. It is thus not surprising to find that what clues we have suggest that chariot warfare was pioneered in eastern Anatolia. Finally, our picture of what the PIE speakers did, and when, owes much to the recently proposed hypothesis that the homeland of the PIE speakers was Armenia.”

Graeco-Aryan (or Graeco-Armeno-Aryan) is a hypothetical clade within the Indo-European family, ancestral to the Greek language, the Armenian language, and the Indo-Iranian languages. Graeco-Aryan unity would have become divided into Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian by the mid 3rd millennium BC.

Conceivably, Proto-Armenian would have been located between Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian, consistent with the fact that Armenian shares certain features only with Indo-Iranian (the satem change) but others only with Greek (s > h).

Graeco-Aryan has comparatively wide support among Indo-Europeanists for the Indo-European Homeland to be located in the Armenian Highland. Early and strong evidence was given by Euler’s 1979 examination on shared features in Greek and Sanskrit nominal flection.

Used in tandem with the Graeco-Armenian hypothesis, the Armenian language would also be included under the label Aryano-Greco-Armenic, splitting into proto-Greek/Phrygian and “Armeno-Aryan” (ancestor of Armenian and Indo-Iranian).

In the context of the Kurgan hypothesis, Greco-Aryan is also known as “Late PIE” or “Late Indo-European” (LIE), suggesting that Greco-Aryan forms a dialect group which corresponds to the latest stage of linguistic unity in the Indo-European homeland in the early part of the 3rd millennium BC. By 2500 BC, Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had separated, moving westward and eastward from the Pontic Steppe, respectively.

If Graeco-Aryan is a valid group, Grassmann’s law may have a common origin in Greek and Sanskrit. Note, however, that Grassmann’s law in Greek postdates certain sound changes that happened only in Greek and not Sanskrit, which suggests that it cannot strictly be an inheritance from a common Graeco-Aryan stage.

Rather, it is more likely an areal feature that spread across a then-contiguous Graeco-Aryan-speaking area after early Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had developed into separate dialects but before they ceased being in geographic contact.

The earliest testimony of the Armenian language dates to the 5th century AD (the Bible translation of Mesrob Mashtots). The earlier history of the language is unclear and the subject of much speculation. It is clear that Armenian is an Indo-European language, but its development is opaque.

The loans from Iranian languages initially led linguists to erroneously classify Armenian as an Iranian language. The distinctness of Armenian was only recognized when Hübschmann (1875) used the comparative method to distinguish two layers of Iranian loans from the older Armenian vocabulary.

I. M. Austin (1942) concluded that there was an early contact between Armenian and Anatolian languages, based on what he considered common archaisms, such as the lack of a feminine and the absence of inherited long vowels. However, unlike shared innovations (or synapomorphies), the common retention of archaisms (or symplesiomorphy) is not necessarily considered evidence of a period of common isolated development.

Soviet linguist Igor Diakonov (1985) noted the presence in Old Armenian of what he calls a Caucasian substratum, identified by earlier scholars, consisting of loans from the Kartvelian and Northeast Caucasian languages. Noting that the Hurro-Urartian peoples inhabited the Armenian homeland in the second millennium b.c., Diakonov identifies in Armenian a Hurro-Urartian substratum of social, cultural, and animal and plant terms.

Some of the terms he gives admittedly have an Akkadian or Sumerian provenance, but he suggests they were borrowed through Hurrian or Urartian. Given that these borrowings do not undergo sound changes characteristic of the development of Armenian from Proto-Indo-European, he dates their borrowing to a time before the written record but after the Proto-Armenian language stage.


The earliest remains in Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the “Storozhova mohyla” kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture (“Pit [Grave] Culture”), a late copper age/early Bronze Age culture of the Southern Bug/Dniester/Ural region (the Pontic steppe), dating to the 36th–23rd centuries BC. The name also appears in English as Pit Grave Culture or Ochre Grave Culture.

The Yamna culture was preceded by the middle Dnieper based Sredny Stog culture, the middle Volga based Khvalynsk culture and Dnieper-Donets culture, while succeeded by the Catacomb culture in its western range and by the Poltavka culture and the Srubna culture in the east. It is a strong candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture.

The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts. Characteristic for the culture are the inhumations in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions. Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Pavel Dolukhanov argues that 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.

DNA from the remains of nine individuals associated with the Yamna culture from Samara Oblast and Orenburg Oblast has been analyzed. The remains have been dated to 2700–3339 BCE. Y-chromosome sequencing revealed that one of the individuals belonged to haplogroup R1b1-P25 (the subclade could not be determined), one individual belonged to haplogroup R1b1a2a-L23 (and to neither the Z2103 nor the L51 subclades), and five individuals belonged to R1b1a2a2-Z2103. The individuals belonged to mtDNA haplogroups U4a1, W6, H13a1a1a, T2c1a2, U5a1a1, H2b, W3a1a and H6a1b.

A 2015 genome wide study of 94 ancient skeletons from Europe and Russia concluded that Yamnaya autosomal characteristics are very close to the Corded Ware culture people with an estimated a 73% ancestral contribution from the Yamnaya DNA in the DNA of Corded Ware skeletons from Germany.

The same study estimated a 40–54% ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Central & Northern Europeans, and a 20–32% contribution in modern Southern Europeans, excluding Sardinians (7.1% or less) and to a lesser extent Sicilians (11.6% or less).

The Catacomb culture

The Catacomb culture (ca. 2800–2200 BC), a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine, was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East. It was preceded by the Yamna culture and was succeeded by the Srubna culture in the Pontic steppe from ca. the 17th century BC.

The origin of the Catacomb culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus enumerates three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamna Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The Poltavka culture

The Poltavka culture, an early to middle Bronze Age archaeological culture of the middle Volga from about where the Don-Volga canal begins up to the Samara bend, with an easterly extension north of present Kazakhstan along the Samara River valley to somewhat west of Orenburg, is like the Catacomb culture preceded by the Yamna culture, while succeeded by the Sintashta culture. There is evidence of influence from the Maykop culture to its south.

The Poltavka culture seems to be seen as an early manifestation of the Srubna culture/Timber-grave culture (18th–12th centuries BC), a successor to the Yamna culture (Pit Grave culture) and the Poltavka culture occupying the area along and above the north shore of the Black Sea from the Dnieper eastwards along the northern base of the Caucasus to the area abutting the north shore of the Caspian Sea, west of the Ural Mountains.

The Poltavka culture is presumptively early Indo-Iranian (Proto-Indo-Iranian). Several Sintashta towns were built over older Poltovka settlements or close to Poltovka cemeteries, and Poltovka motifs are common on Sintashta pottery.

Sintashta culture

The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare. Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.

Sintashta material culture also shows the influence of the late Abashevo culture (2500–1900 BCE), a collection of settlements in the forest steppe zone north of the Sintashta region that were also predominantly pastoralist found in the valleys of the Volga and Kama River north of the Samara bend and into the southern Ural Mountains.

It receives its name from the village of Abashevo in Chuvashia. Artifacts are kurgans and remnants of settlements. The Abashevo was the easternmost of the Russian forest zone cultures that descended from Corded Ware ceramic traditions in Middle Europe that begins in the late Neolithic, flourishes through the Copper Age and culminates in the early Bronze Age dated to 2900–2450/2350 BC.

Because of the difficulty of identifying the remains of Sintashta sites beneath those of later settlements the culture was only recently distinguished from the Andronovo culture, a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe dated to 2000–900 BCE. It is now recognised as a separate entity forming part of the ‘Andronovo horizon’.

The Sintashta culture emerged from the interaction of two antecedent cultures. Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture (2700—2100 BC), an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon/Pit [Grave] Culture (3600–2300 BC), a late copper age/early Bronze Age culture of the Southern Bug/Dniester/Ural region (the Pontic steppe), that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

Corded Ware culture

The Corded Ware culture, alternatively characterized as the Battle Axe culture or Single Grave culture, does not pertain to the Andronovo culture and genetically belongs to the circle of Central European cultures of the Fatyanovo culture type corded ware ceramics.

Because of their possession of both the horse and wheeled vehicles, apparent warlike propensities, wide area of distribution and rapid intrusive expansion at the assumed time of the dispersal of Indo-European languages, the Corded Ware culture was originally suggested as the Urheimat of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Today, a Corded Ware origin of these characteristics has lost currency in favour of an origin in the Black Sea-Caspian region, although this has been criticized. Corded Ware is however still generally considered ancestral to the Celts, Germanic peoples, Balts and Slavs. According to J. P. Mallory the origins and dispersal of Corded Ware culture is one of the pivotal unresolved issues of the Indo-European Urheimat problem.


Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BCE found at Altyn-Depe (the Turkmen for “Golden Hill”) in Turkmenistan, near Aşgabat, inhabited in the 3rd to 2nd millennia BC, abandoned around 1600 BC, are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BCE was found at Altyn-Depe.

Bactria was the Greek name for Old Persian Bāxtriš (from native *Bāxçiš) (named for its capital Bactra, modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, in today’s Turkmenistan.

There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag in the Gorgan Plain in Iran. At Jeitun (or Djeitun), mudbrick houses were first occupied c. 6000 cal. BCE. The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia.

Jeitun has given its name to the whole Neolithic period in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag. At the late Neolithic site of Chagylly Depe, farmers increasingly grew the kinds of crops that are typically associated with irrigation in an arid environment, such as hexaploid bread wheat, which became predominant during the Chalcolithic period.

During the Copper Age, the population of this region grew. Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson, who led the South Turkmenistan Complex Archaeological Expedition from 1946, sees signs that people migrated to the region from central Iran at this time, bringing metallurgy and other innovations, but thinks that the newcomers soon blended with the Jeitun farmers. By contrast a re-excavation of Monjukli Depe in 2010 found a distinct break in settlement history between the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic eras there.

Major Chalcolithic settlements sprang up at Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe. In addition there were smaller settlements at Anau, Dashlyji, and Yassy-depe. Settlements similar to the early level at Anau also appeared further east – in the ancient delta of the River Tedzen, the site of the Geoksiur Oasis.

About 3500 BCE the cultural unity of the culture split into two pottery styles: colourful in the west (Anau, Kara-Depe and Namazga-Depe) and more austere in the east at Altyn-Depe and the Geoksiur Oasis settlements. This may reflect the formation of two tribal groups.

It seems that around 3000 BC people from Geoksiur migrated into the Murghab Delta, where small, scattered settlements appeared, and reached further east into the Zerafshan Valley in Transoxiana. In both areas pottery typical of Geoksiur was in use. In Transoxiana they settled at Sarazm near Pendjikent.

To the south the foundation layers of Shahr-i Shōkhta on the bank of the Helmand River in south-eastern Iran contained pottery of the Altyn-Depe and Geoksiur type. Thus the farmers of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan were connected by a scattering of farming settlements.

In the Early Bronze Age the culture of the Kopet Dag oases and Altyn-Depe developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Depe. Altyn-Depe was a major centre even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age c. 2300 BC, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe. The site is notable for the remains of its “proto-Zoroastrian” ziggurat.

It is this Bronze Age culture which has been known as the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization), the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2300–1700 BCE, located in present day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River), in area covering ancient Bactria.

Indus civilisation

The inhabitants of the BMAC were sedentary people who practised irrigation farming of wheat and barley. With their impressive material culture including monumental architecture, bronze tools, ceramics, and jewellery of semiprecious stones, the complex exhibits many of the hallmarks of civilization. The complex can be compared to proto-urban settlements in the Helmand basin at Mundigak in western Afghanistan and Shahr-i Shōkhta in eastern Iran, or at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley.

BMAC materials have been found in the Indus civilisation, on the Iranian plateau, and in the Persian Gulf. Finds within BMAC sites provide further evidence of trade and cultural contacts. They include an Elamite-type cylinder seal and an Harappan seal stamped with an elephant and Indus script found at Gonur-depe.

The relationship between Altyn-Depe and the Indus Valley seems to have been particularly strong. Among the finds there were two Harappan seals and ivory objects. The Harappan settlement of Shortugai in Northern Afghanistan on the banks of the Amu Darya probably served as a trading station. The complex of the BMAC can be compared to proto-urban settlements in the Helmand basin at Mundigak in western Afghanistan and Shahr-i Shōkhta in eastern Iran, or at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley.

Andronovo Culture

There is evidence of sustained contact between the BMAC and the Eurasian steppes to the north, intensifying c. 2000 BC. In the delta of the River Amu Darya where it reaches the Aral Sea, its waters were channeled for irrigation agriculture by people whose remains resemble those of the nomads of the Andronovo Culture. This is interpreted as nomads settling down to agriculture, after contact with the BMAC. The culture they created is known as Tazabag’yab.

About 1800 BCE the walled BMAC centres decreased sharply in size. Each oasis developed its own types of pottery and other objects. Also pottery of the Andronovo-Tazabag’yab culture to the north appeared widely in the Bactrian and Margian countryside. Many BMAC strongholds continued to be occupied and Andronovo-Tazabagyab coarse incised pottery occurs within them (along with the previous BMAC pottery) as well as in pastoral camps outside the mudbrick walls.

In the highlands above the Bactrian oases in Tajikistan, kurgan cemeteries of the Vaksh and Bishkent type appeared with pottery that mixed elements of the late BMAC and Andronovo-Tazabagyab traditions.

New archaeobotanical analysis from Central Eurasian pastoralist campsites in the mountain and desert regions of Central Eurasia documents the oldest known evidence for domesticated grains and farming among seasonally mobile herders that have major implications for our understanding of late prehistoric agriculture across Asia.

Archaeological research in Central Eurasia is exposing unprecedented scales of trans-regional interaction and technology transfer between East Asia and southwest Asia deep into the prehistoric past. Sites like Tasbas and Begash illustrate the earliest acquisition of domesticated crops by mobile pastoralists and illustrate their capacity to participate in exchanges that bridged East Asian and Central Asian farming cultures by the early third millennium BC.

Mobile pastoralists living in (southern) Central Asian alluvial fans and along the mountainous spine of Central Eurasia also integrated farming into their own domestic strategies (at least) by the mid second millennium BC. Their pastoral mobility and the formation of extensive networks throughout the IAMC helped spread particular grain morphotypes and a mixed plant cohort of wheat, barley, millet and green peas through the mountains between Xinjiang, China and southwest Asia in the second millennium BC.

This illustrate the first transmission of southwest Asian and East Asian domesticated grains into the mountains of Inner Asia in the early third millennium BC. By the middle second millennium BC, seasonal camps in the mountains and deserts illustrate that Eurasian herders incorporated the cultivation of millet, wheat, barley and legumes into their subsistence strategy. These findings push back the chronology for domesticated plant use among Central Eurasian pastoralists by approximately 2000 years.

The seasonal campsites of Begash, Tasbas, Ojakly and Site 1211/1219 are the earliest sites thus far reported to break down the strict polarization between nomads and farmers in prehistoric Central Eurasia. They also transform our comprehension of the vast arena of interaction that defines this region in ancient times.

Elamo-Dravidian Hypothesis

Namazga V and Altyndepe were in contact with the Late Harappan culture (ca. 2000-1600 BC), and Vadim Mikhaĭlovich Masson (1988) views the culture as having a Proto-Dravidian affiliation. The Dravidian languages are a language family spoken mainly in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and overseas in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

Southworth identifies late Proto-Dravidian with the Southern Neolithic culture in the lower Godavari River basin of South Central India, which first appeared ca. 2,500 BCE, based upon its agricultural vocabulary, while noting that this “would not preclude the possibility that speakers of an earlier stage of Dravidian entered the subcontinent from western or central Asia, as has often been suggested.”

Speculations regarding the original homeland have centered on the Indus Valley Civilization or on Elam (whose Elamite language was spoken in the hills to the east of the ancient Sumerian civilization with whom the Indus Valley Civilization traded and shared domesticated species) in an Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis, but results have not been convincing. The possibility that the language family is indigenous to the Dravidian area and is a truly isolated genetic unit has also not been ruled out.

The Elamo-Dravidian language family is a hypothesised language family that links the Dravidian languages of India to the extinct Elamite language of ancient Elam (present-day southwestern Iran). The extinct Harappan language (the language or languages of the Indus Valley Civilization) may also be part of this family.

Apart from the linguistic similarities, the Elamo-Dravidian Hypothesis rests on the claim that agriculture spread from the Near East to the Indus Valley region via Elam. This would suggest that agriculturalists brought a new language as well as farming from Elam. Supporting ethno-botanical data include the Near Eastern origin and name of wheat (D. Fuller). Later evidence of extensive trade between Elam and the Indus Valley Civilization suggests ongoing links between the two regions.

Recent studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome, microsatellite DNA, and mitochondrial DNA in India have cast doubt for a biological Dravidian “race” distinct from non-Dravidians in the Indian subcontinent; other recent genetic studies have found evidence of Aryan, Dravidian and pre-Dravidian (original Asian) strata in South Asian populations. Geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza proposes that a Dravidian people were preceded in India by Austroasiatic people, and were present prior to the arrival of Indo-Aryan language speakers in India.

Partha and Majumder (2010) stated that: “In general, the Central Asian populations are genetically closer to the higher-ranking caste populations than to the middle- or lower-ranking caste populations. Among the higher-ranking caste populations, those of northern India are, however, genetically much closer (FST = 0.016) than those of southern India (FST = 0.031)”.


BMAC has attracted attention as a candidate for those looking for the material counterparts to the Indo-Iranians (Aryans), a major linguistic branch that split off from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. The Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi affiliates the site with Indo Iranians.

It was in these regions, where the fertile soil of the mountainous country is surrounded by the Turanian desert, that the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra) was said to have been born and gained his first adherents. Avestan, the language of the oldest portions of the Zoroastrian Avesta, was one of the old Iranian languages, and is the oldest attested member of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Iranian language family.

Recently Leo Klejn proposed a hypothesis of linking the earliest stage of Indo-Aryan peoples with the Catacomb culture. The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

According to some writers, Bactria was the homeland of Indo-Iranian tribes. The separation of Indo-Aryans proper from Indo-Iranians is commonly dated, on linguistic grounds, to roughly 1800 BCE. The Nuristani languages probably split in such early times, and are classified as either remote Indo-Aryan dialects or as an independent branch of Indo-Iranian.

Archaeologist J.P. Mallory (1998) finds it “extraordinarily difficult to make a case for expansions from this northern region to northern India” and remarks that the proposed migration routes “only [get] the Indo-Iranian to Central Asia, but not as far as the seats of the Medes, Persians or Indo-Aryans”. Therefore, he prefers to derive the Indo-Aryans from the intermediate stage of the BMAC culture, in terms of a “Kulturkugel” model of expansion.

Likewise, Asko Parpola (1988) connects the Indo-Aryans to the BMAC. But although horses were known to the Indo-Aryans, evidence for their presence in the form of horse bones is missing in the BMAC. Parpola (1988) has argued that the Dasas were the “carriers of the Bronze Age culture of Greater Iran” living in the BMAC and that the forts with circular walls destroyed by the Indo-Aryans were actually located in the BMAC.

Parpola elaborates the model and has “Proto-Rigvedic” Indo-Aryans intrude the BMAC around 1700 BCE. He assumes early Indo-Aryan presence in the Late Harappan horizon from about 1900 BCE, and “Proto-Rigvedic” (Proto-Dardic) intrusion to the Punjab as corresponding to the Swat culture from about 1700 BCE.

They moved south-west into Iran and into north-western India around 2500–2000 BC. Later, it became the north province of the Persian Empire in Central Asia. An influx of early Indo-Aryan speakers over the Hindukush (comparable to the Kushan expansion of the 1st centuries CE) together with Late Harappan cultures gave rise to the Vedic civilization of the Early Iron Age. This civilization is marked by a continual shift to the east, first to the Gangetic plain with the Kurus and Panchalas, and further east with the Kosala and Videha. This Iron Age expansion corresponds to the black and red ware and painted grey ware cultures.

By the mid 2nd millennium BCE early Indo-Aryans had reached Assyria in the west (the Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni) and the northern Punjab in the east (the Rigvedic tribes). Some theonyms, proper names and other terminology of the Mitanni exhibit an Indo-Aryan superstrate, suggesting that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion.

Christopher I. Beckwith suggests that the Wusun, an Indo-European Europoid people of Inner Asia in antiquity, were of Indo-Aryan origin. From the Chinese term Wusun, Beckwith reconstructs the Old Chinese *âswin, which he compares to the Old Indic aśvin “the horsemen,” the name of the Rigvedic twin equestrian gods. Beckwith suggests that the Wusun were an eastern remnant of the Indo-Aryans, who had been suddenly pushed to the extremeties of the Eurasian Steppe by the Iranian peoples in the 2nd millennium BC.

The Wusun are first mentioned by Chinese sources as vassals in the Tarim Basin of the Yuezhi, an Indo-European Europoid people of possible Tocharian stock. Around 170 BC, the Yuezhi were utterly defeated by the Xiongnu, also former vassals of the Yuezhi. The Yuezhi subsequently attacked the Wusun and killed their king Nandoumi, capturing the Ili Valley from the Saka (Scythians) shortly afterwards.

In return the Wusun settled in the former territories of the Yuezhi as vassals of the Xiongnu. The son of Nandoumi was adopted by the Xiongnu king and made leader of the Wusun. Around 130 bc he attacked and utterly defeated the Yuezhi, settling the Wusun in the Ili Valley.

Soon afterwards they became independent of the Xiongnu, becoming trusted vassals of the Han Dynasty and powerful force in the region for centuries. With the emerging steppe federations of the Rouran, the Wusun migrated into the Pamir Mountains in the 5th century ad. They are last mentioned in 938 ad when a Wusun chieftain paid tribute to the Liao dynasty.

The spread of Indo-Aryan languages has been connected with the spread of the chariot in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Some scholars trace the Indo-Aryans (both Indo-Aryans and European Aryans) back to the Andronovo culture (2nd millennium BCE).

Other scholars have argued that the Andronovo culture proper formed too late to be associated with the Indo-Aryans of India, and that no actual traces of the Andronovo culture (e.g. warrior burials or timber-frame materials) have been found in India and Southern countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

According to B. B. Lal the relation between the BMAC and the Indo-Iranians is questionable, supporting instead the Indigenous Aryans perspective, which is discredited. According to Francfort there is insufficient evidence for any ethnic or linguistic identification of the BMAC solely based on material remains, in the absence of written records.

A significant section of the archaeologists are more inclined to see the culture as begun by farmers in the Near Eastern Neolithic tradition, but infiltrated by Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture in its late phase, creating a hybrid. David Anthony also sees the BMAC as a area of contact between the Indo-Europeans and south-Asian cultures, and notes that the Indo-Aryans took dominance after the breakdown of the BMAC.

As argued by Michael Witzel and Alexander Lubotsky, there is a proposed substratum in Proto-Indo-Iranian which can be plausibly identified with the original language of the BMAC. Moreover, Lubotsky points out a larger number of words apparently borrowed from the same language, which are only attested in Indo-Aryan and therefore evidence of a substratum in Vedic Sanskrit. Some BMAC words have now also been found in Tocharian.

Michael Witzel points out that the borrowed vocabulary includes words from agriculture, village and town life, flora and fauna, ritual and religion, so providing evidence for the acculturation of Indo-Iranian speakers into the world of urban civilization.

The discovery of a single tiny stone seal (known as the “Anau seal”) with geometric markings from the BMAC site at Anau in Turkmenistan in 2000 led some to claim that the Bactria-Margiana complex had also developed writing, and thus may indeed be considered a literate civilization.

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