Near East (c. 3300–1200 BC)
South Asia (c. 3000–1200 BC)
Europe (c. 3200–600 BC)
China (c. 3000–700 BC)
The culture 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. The Catacomb culture in the Pontic steppe was succeeded by the Srubna culture from ca. the 17th century BC.
Economy and burial rites
The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the "catacomb". Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.
In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased's face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon (see also Tashtyk culture).
The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.
Origin and demise
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 culture is 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.
The Catacomb culture was ousted by the Srubna (Timber-grave) culture from ca. the 17th century.
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.
|Catacomb objects from the Hermitage Museum collections|
- Jan Lichardus — La protohistoire de l'Europe, 1987, Book 1 Chapter III:III.1.A
- Grigoryev, S.A. (1998), The Sintashta Culture and Some Questions of Indo-European Origins, Proceedings of the Chelyabinsk Scientific Center (October–December 1998) (2): 82 ff..
- V. Kulbaka, "Indo-European populations of Ukraine in the paleometallic period", Mariupol 2000. ISBN 966-7329-30-5
- Mallory, J. P. (1997), "Catacomb Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn.