|Alternative names||Afanasevo culture; Afanasevans|
|Geographical range||South Siberia|
|Dates||3300 BCE — 2500 BCE|
|Major sites||Minusinsk Basin|
|Followed by||Okunev culture, Andronovo culture|
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The Afanasievo culture, or Afanasevo culture (Russian Афанасьевская культура Afanas'yevskaya kul'tura; "[the] Afanasevan culture"), is the earliest known archaeological culture of south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin and the Altai Mountains during the eneolithic era, c. 3300 to 2500 BC. It is named after a nearby mountain, Gora Afanasieva (Russian: Гора Афанасьева, lit. 'Afanasiev's mountain') in what is now Bogradsky District, Khakassia, Russia.
David W. Anthony believes that the Afanasevans were descended from people who migrated c. 3700–3300 BCE across the Eurasian Steppe from the Repin culture of the Don-Volga region (and possibly members of the neighbouring Yamnaya culture). Because of its geographical location and dating, Anthony and earlier scholars such as Leo Klejn, J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair have linked the Afanasevans to the Proto-Tocharian language.
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.
Mass graves were not usual for this culture. 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.
At Afanasevo Gora, two strains of Yersinia pestis have been extracted from human 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. This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response; so it was not a bubonic plague.
A June 2015 genetic study published in Nature included an analysis of four females from the Afanasievo culture. Two individuals carried haplogroup J2a2a, one carried T2c1a2, and one carried U5a1a1. The authors of the study found that the Afanasievo were "genetically indistinguishable" from the Yamnaya culture. The results indicated that the expansion of the ancestors of the Afanasievo people into the Altai was carried out through "large-scale migrations and population displacements", without admixture with local populations. The Afanasievo people were also found to be closely related to the Poltavka culture. According to the authors of the study, the study underpinned the theory that the Afansievo people were Indo-Europeans, perhaps ancestors of the Tocharians.
In a genetic study published in Science in 2018, the remains of 24 individuals ascribed to the Afanasievo culture were analyzed. Of the 14 samples of Y-DNA extracted, 10 belonged to R1b1a1a2a2, 3 belonged to Q1a2, and 1 belonged to R1b1a1a2a. With respect to mtDNA, most samples belonged to subclades of U (particularly subclades of U5), although T, J, H and K was also detected. The authors of the study cited the results as evidence that the culture emerged as a result of a migration from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.
Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, the Afanasevans are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking. However, state of the art bio-archaeological studies have demonstrated that Afansievo was replaced by the Siberian-originating Okunevo culture, becoming locally extinct. Thus, there is no link between Afansievo and Tocharians which emerged thousands of years later.
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 Okunev culture nevertheless displays influences from the earlier Afanasievo culture. The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively.
Allentoft et al. (2015) study also confirms that the Afanasevo culture was replaced by the second wave of Indo-European migrations from the Andronovo culture during late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.[note 1] Tarim mummies were also found to be genetically closer to the Andronovo culture than to the Yamnaya culture or Afanasevo culture.
- According to Allentoft et al (2015): "Afanasievo culture persisted in central Asia and, perhaps, Mongolia and China until they themselves were replaced by fierce warriors in chariots called the Sintashta (also known as the Andronovo culture)".
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