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The Afanasevo culture (Афанасьева: also spelled Afanasievo, Afanásyva etc.) is the earliest Eneolithic archaeological culture found until now in south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin and the Altai Mountains in 3500-2500 BC. It is named after Afanaseva Gora, also known as Bateni.
Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date at around 2000–2500 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains. The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.
The Afanasevo culture is primarily known for its cemeteries. Approximately ten settlements and fifty cemeteries are known. The remains are of the Europoid physical type. However, throughout its South Siberian range, the Afanasevo culture appears to be have been carried by a population of mixed Europoid and Mongoloid stock. Afanasevo cemeteries include both single and small collective burials with the deceased usually flexed on his back in a pit. The burial pits are arranged in rectangular, sometimes circular, enclosures marked by stone walls. It has been argued that the burials represent family burial plots with four or five enclosures constituting the local social group.
The Afanasevo economy included cattle, sheep, and goat. Horse remains, either wild or domestic, have also been found. The Afanasevo people became the first food-producers in the area. Tools were manufactured from stone (axes, arrowheads), bone( fish-hooks, points) and antler. Among the antler pieces are objects that have been identified as possible cheek-pieces for horses. Artistic representations of wheeled vehicles found in the area has been attributed to the Afanasevo culture. Ornaments of copper, silver and gold have also been found.
Although far from the European steppe, the Afanasevo culture shares a significant number of traits with its distant European neighbors. This includes burials in a supine flexed position, the use of ochre, animal remains in graves, pointed-based pots, censers (circular bowls on legs), a Europoid physical type along with both horses and a suspected presence of wheeled vehicles. While the use of kurgans (tumuli) are general on the western steppe, it is likely that the Afanasevo tombs were covered by low mounds. These chacracteristics have made scholars link the Afanasevo with the cultures of the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, specifically the Sredny Stog, Yamna, Catacomb and Poltavka cultures. As a result, the Afanasevo is often regarded as the easternmost branch of the European steppe cultures. Indeed, genetic material extracted from human remains found in Afanasevo sites as well as in the steppe, have confirmed that the Afanasevo people are genetically indistinguishable from the Yamnaya.
Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with European steppe cultures, the Afanasevans are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking. Because of its eastern geographical location and early existence, the Afanasevans have been connected to the Tarim Mummies and the Tocharian languages. Some authors (Peng 1998, Bunker 1998, Mei and Shell 1998) have suggested that the pastoral steppe nomads of the Andronovo and Afanasevo cultures were responsible for the introduction of metallurgical technology into China.
At Afanasevo Gora, two strains of yersinia pestis have been extracted from dead men's teeth. One is dated 2909–2679 BCE; the other, 2887–2677 BCE. Both are from the same (mass) grave of seven people, and are presumed near-contemporary. Mass graves were not usual for this culture. This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response; so it was not a bubonic plague.
The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Okunev culture, which is considered as an extension of the local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region. The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively.
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