Yamnaya culture

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Yamnaya culture
Alternative names
  • Pit Grave culture
  • Yamna culture
  • Ochre Grave culture
Geographical rangeEurasia
PeriodBronze Age
Datesc. 3300–2600 BC
Preceded bySredny Stog culture, Khvalynsk culture, Dnieper–Donets culture
Followed bywest: Catacomb culture;
east: Poltavka culture, Srubna culture;
north: Corded Ware culture (derived from Yamnaya culture)[1]
Approximate culture extent c. 3300–2600 BC.

The Yamnaya culture (Russian: Ямная культура, translit. Yamnaya kultura, lit. 'pit culture'), also known as the Yamna culture (Ukrainian: Ямна культура, translit. Yamna kultura), Pit Grave culture, or Ochre Grave culture, was a late Copper Age to early Bronze Age archaeological culture of the region between the Southern Bug, Dniester, and Ural rivers (the Pontic steppe), dating to 3300–2600 BC.[2] Its name refers to its characteristic burial tradition: kurgans containing a simple pit chamber.

The people of the Yamnaya culture were the likely result of admixture between Ancient North Eurasians (via whom they also descend from the Mal'ta–Buret' culture or other, closely related people such as Siberians and Native Americans) and Near Eastern people related to Early Neolithic Farmers,[3] with some research identifying the latter as hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus or a similar people also related to Chalcolithic people from what is now Iran. Their material culture is very similar to the Afanasevo culture.

They are also closely connected to later, Final Neolithic cultures which spread throughout Europe and Central Asia, especially the Corded Ware people, but also the Bell Beaker culture as well as the peoples of the Sintashta, Andronovo, and Srubna cultures. In this group, several aspects of the Yamnaya culture (e.g., horse-riding, burial styles, and to some extent the pastoralist economy) are present. Genetic studies have also indicated that these populations derived large parts of their ancestry from the steppes.[3][4][5][6]

The Yamnaya culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans, and is the strongest candidate for the urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language.

R-M269, one of the most prolific paternal lineages across western Eurasia. R-M269 arose roughly 10,000 years ago, as the people of the Fertile Crescent domesticated plants and animals for the first time. Around 8,000 years ago, the first farmers and herders began to push east into Central Asia and north into the Caucasus Mountains. Some of them eventually reached the steppes above the Black and Caspian Seas. There, they lived as pastoral nomads, herding cattle and sheep across the grasslands, while their neighbors to the south developed yet another crucial technology in human history: bronze smelting. As bronze tools and weaponry spread north, a new steppe culture called the Yamnaya was born.

Around 5,000 years ago, perhaps triggered by a cold spell that made it difficult to feed their herds, Yamnaya men spilled east across Siberia and down into Central Asia. To the west, they pushed down into the Balkans and to central Europe, where they sought new pastures for their herds and metal deposits to support burgeoning Bronze Age commerce. Over time, their descendants spread from central Europe to the Atlantic coast, establishing new trade routes and an unprecedented level of cultural contact and exchange in western Europe.

The men from the steppes also outcompeted the local men as they went; their success is demonstrated in the overwhelming dominance of the R-M269 lineage in Europe. Over 80% of men in Ireland and Wales carry the haplogroup, as do over 60% of men along the Atlantic Coast from Spain to France. The frequency of R-M269 gradually decreases to the east, falling to about 30% in Germany, 20% in Poland, and 10-15% in Greece and Turkey. The haplogroup connects all these men to still others in the Iranian Plateau and Central Asia, where between 5 and 10% of men also bear the lineage.



The Yamnaya culture originated in the Don–Volga area, and is dated 3300–2600 BC.[7][8] It was preceded by the middle Volga-based Khvalynsk culture and the Don-based Repin culture (ca. 3950–3300 BC),[9] and late pottery from these two cultures can barely be distinguished from early Yamnaya pottery.[10]

According to Anthony (2007), the early Yamnaya horizon spread quickly across the Pontic–Caspian steppes between ca. 4000 and 3200 BC.[11] According to Anthony, "the spread of the Yamnaya horizon was the material expression of the spread of late Proto-Indo-European across the Pontic–Caspian steppes."[12] Anthony further notes that "the Yamnaya horizon is the visible archaeological expression of a social adjustment to high mobility – the invention of the political infrastructure to manage larger herds from mobile homes based in the steppes."[13] According to Pavel Dolukhanov 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.[14]

In its western range, it was succeeded by the Catacomb culture (2800–2200 BC); in the east, by the Poltavka culture (2700–2100 BC) at the middle Volga. These two cultures were followed by the Srubna culture (18th–12th century BC).


According to Jones et al. (2015) and Haak et al. (2015), autosomic tests indicate that the Yamnaya people were the result of admixture between two different hunter-gatherer populations: distinctive "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" with high affinity to the Mal'ta–Buret' culture or other, closely related people from Siberia[3] and a population of "Caucasus hunter-gatherers" who probably arrived from somewhere in the Near East, probably the Caucasus.[15][web 1] Each of those two populations contributed about half the Yamnaya DNA.[4][web 1] According to co-author Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge:

The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now [...] we can now answer that, as we've found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation.[web 1]

Several genetic studies performed since 2015 have given support to the Kurgan theory of Marija Gimbutas regarding the Indo-European Urheimat – that Indo-European languages spread throughout Europe from the Eurasian steppes and that the Yamnaya culture were Proto-Indo-Europeans. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (with R1a also being common in South Asia), would have expanded from the Pontic–Caspian steppes, along with the Indo-European languages. They also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages in the Bronze Age.[16][17][18]

Eastern European hunter-gatherers[edit]

Man from Yamnaya culture, Sculptural Reconstruction. (ca.1930s)

According to Haak et al. (2015), "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" who inhabited today's Russia were a distinctive population of hunter-gatherers with high genetic affinity to a ~24,000-year-old Siberian from Mal'ta–Buret' culture, which in turn resembles East Asians[19] and other, closely related people from Siberia.[3][web 1] Remains of the "Eastern European hunter-gatherers" have been found in Mesolithic or early Neolithic sites in Karelia and Samara Oblast, Russia, and put under analysis. Three such hunter-gathering individuals of the male sex have had their DNA results published. Each was found to belong to a different Y-DNA haplogroup: R1a, R1b, and J.[4] R1b is also the most common Y-DNA haplogroup found among both the Yamnaya and modern-day Western Europeans.[3][5]

Near East population[edit]

The Near East population were most likely hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (CHG),[15] though one study suggested that farmers dated to the Chalcolithic era from what is now Iran may be a better fit for the Yamanya's Near Eastern descent.[20]

Jones et al. (2015) analyzed genomes from males from western Georgia, in the Caucasus, from the Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,300 years old) and the Mesolithic (9,700 years old). These two males carried Y-DNA haplogroup: J* and J2a. The researchers found that these Caucasus hunters were probably the source of the Near Eastern DNA in the Yamnaya.[web 1] Their genomes showed that a continued mixture of the Caucasians with Middle Eastern took place up to 25,000 years ago, when the coldest period in the last Ice Age started.[web 1]

Lazaridis et al. (2016) proposes a different people, likely from Iran, as the source for the Middle Eastern ancestry of the Yamnaya people, finding that "a population related to the people of the Iran Chalcolithic contributed ~43% of the ancestry of early Bronze Age populations of the steppe."[20] That study asserts that these Iranian Chalcolithic people were a mixture of "the Neolithic people of western Iran, the Levant, and Caucasus Hunter Gatherers."[20][note 1] However, a different analysis, carried out by Gallego-Llorente et al. (2016), concludes that Iranian populations are not a likelier source of the 'southern' component in the Yamnaya than Caucasus hunter-gatherers.[21]



Yamnaya culture grave, Volgograd Oblast

The Yamnaya culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) in the Kurgan hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas. It is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture, now that archaeological evidence of the culture and its migrations has been closely tied to the evidence from linguistics[22] and genetics.[3][23] Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans.[24] The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts.[25] Characteristic for the culture are the inhumations in pit graves under kurgans (tumuli). The dead bodies were placed in a supine position with bent knees and covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions.[citation needed] The earliest remains in Ukraine of a wheeled cart were found in the "Storozhova mohyla" kurgan (Dnipro, Ukraine, excavated by A. I. Trenozhkin) associated with the Yamnaya culture.

Physical characteristics[edit]

The genetic basis of a number of physical features of the Yamnaya people were ascertained by the ancient DNA studies conducted by Haak et al. (2015), Wilde et al. (2014) and Mathieson et al. (2015): they were genetically tall (phenotypic height is determined by both genetics and environmental factors), overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European.[26][4] Despite their pastoral lifestyle, there was little evidence of lactase persistence.[27]

Yamnaya-related migrations[edit]

Western Europe[edit]

Haak et al. (2015) conducted a genome-wide study of 69 ancient skeletons from Europe and Russia. They 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 38.8–53.5% ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Western, Central, and Northern Europeans, and an 18.5–32.6% contribution in modern Southern Europeans; this contribution is found to a lesser extent in Sardinians (2.4%–7.1%) and Sicilians (5.9–11.6%).[28][23][web 2] Haak et al. also note that their results state that haplogroup ‘R-M269’spread into Europe from the East after 3,000 BC."[29] Studies which analysed ancient human remains in Ireland and Portugal support that thesis, that R-M269 was introduced in these places along with autosomal DNA from the Eastern European steppes.[30][31]

Autosomal tests also indicate that the Yamnaya are the most likely vector for "Ancient North Eurasian" admixture into Europe.[3] "Ancient North Eurasian" is the name given in literature to a genetic component that represents descent from the people of the Mal'ta–Buret' culture[3] or a population closely related to them. That genetic component is visible in tests of the Yamnaya people[3] as well as modern-day Europeans, but not of Europeans predating the Bronze Age.[32]

Eastern Europe and Finland[edit]

In the Baltic, Jones et al. (2017) found that the Neolithic transition – the passage from a hunter-gatherer economy to a farming-based economy – coincided with the arrival en masse of individuals with Yamnaya-like ancestry. This is different from what happened in Western and Southern Europe, where the Neolithic transition was caused by a population which came from the Near East, with Pontic steppe ancestry only being detected from the late Neolithic onward.[33]

Per Haak et al. (2015), the Yamnaya contribution in the modern populations of Eastern Europe ranges from 46.8–64.9% among Russians to 42.8% in Ukrainians. Finland has one of the highest Yamnaya contributions in all of Europe (50.4–67.8%).[34]

Central and South Asia[edit]

Studies also point to the strong presence of Yamnaya descent in the current nations of South Asia, especially in groups that speak Indo-European languages.[35] Lazaridis et al. (2016), for example, estimated that, among Northern South Asians, such as the Kalash people and the Pashtuns, about 30–50% of their genetic composition came from Early and Middle Bronze Age populations from the Pontic Steppe, i.e., the Yamnaya, whereas among natives to southern India, 6–20% of their DNA comes from the Yamnaya.[36][note 2]

Lazaridis et al. (2016) further notes that "A useful direction of future research is a more comprehensive sampling of ancient DNA from steppe populations, as well as populations of central Asia (east of Iran and south of the steppe), which may reveal more proximate sources of the ANI than the ones considered here, and of South Asia to determine the trajectory of population change in the area directly."[37]

According to Unterländer et al. (2017), Iron Age Scythians from the southern Ural region, East Kazakhstan and Tuva can best be described as a mixture of Yamnaya-related ancestry and an East Asian component, the latter occurring only at trace levels – if at all – among earlier steppe inhabitants.[38]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ See also:
    * eurogenes.blogspot, The genetic structure of the world's first farmers (Lazaridis et al. preprint)
    * anthrogenica.com, Lazaridis et al: The genetic structure of the world's first farmers (pre-print)
  2. ^ Lazaridis et al. (2016) Supplementary Information, Table S9.1: "Kalash – 50.2%, Tiwari Brahmins – 44.1%, Gujarati (four samples) – 46.1% to 27.5%, Pathan – 44.6%, Burusho – 42.5%, Sindhi – 37.7%, Punjabi – 32.6%, Balochi – 32.4%, Brahui – 30.2%, Lodhi – 29.3%, Bengali – 24.6%, Vishwabhramin – 20.4%, Makrani – 19.2%, Mala – 18.4%, Kusunda – 8.9%, Kharia – 6.5%.."


  1. ^ Allentoft 2015.
  2. ^ Morgunova & Khokhlova 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Haak 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Mathieson 2015.
  5. ^ a b Morten E. Allentoft; et al. (2015). "Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia". Nature. 522: 167–172. Bibcode:2015Natur.522..167A. doi:10.1038/nature14507.
  6. ^ http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/06/nomadic-herders-left-strong-genetic-mark-europeans-and-asians
  7. ^ Morgunova, Nina (2013). "Chronology and Periodization of the Pit-Grave Culture in the Area Between the Volga and Ural Rivers Based on 14C Dating and Paleopedological Research". Radiocarbon. University of Arizona. 55 (2–3).
  8. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 300.
  9. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 275.
  10. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 274–277, 317–320.
  11. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 321.
  12. ^ Anthony 2007, pp. 301–302.
  13. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 303.
  14. ^ Dolukhanov 1996, p. 94.
  15. ^ a b Jones 2015.
  16. ^ Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe, Haak et al, 2015
  17. ^ Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia, Allentoft et al, 2015
  18. ^ Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe, Mathieson et al, 2015
  19. ^ Dolukhanov, Pavel M. (2003). "Archaeology and Languages in Prehistoric Northern Eurasia" (PDF). Japan Review. 15: 175–86.
  20. ^ a b c Lazaridis 2016, p. 8.
  21. ^ Gallego-Llorente, M.; et al. (2016). "The genetics of an early Neolithic pastoralist from the Zagros, Iran". Scientific Reports. Bibcode:2016NatSR...631326G. doi:10.1038/srep31326.
  22. ^ Anthony 2007.
  23. ^ a b Zimmer 2015.
  24. ^ Fortson 2004, p. 43.
  25. ^ Mallory 1997.
  26. ^ Sandra Wilde (2014). "Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 y". PNAS. 111: 4832–4837. Bibcode:2014PNAS..111.4832W. doi:10.1073/pnas.1316513111. PMC 3977302.
  27. ^ Haak, 2015
  28. ^ Haak 2015, pp. 121–124.
  29. ^ Haak 2015, p. 5.
  30. ^ Lara M. Cassidy; et al. (2016). "Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome". PNAS. 113 (2): 368–373. Bibcode:2016PNAS..113..368C. doi:10.1073/pnas.1518445113.
  31. ^ Rui Martiniano; et al. (2017). "The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia: Investigation of ancient substructure using imputation and haplotype-based methods". PLoS Genet. 13 (7). doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006852.
  32. ^ Lazaridis 2014.
  33. ^ Eppie R. Jones; et al. (2017). "The Neolithic Transition in the Baltic Was Not Driven by Admixture with Early European Farmers". Current Biology. 27 (4): 576–582. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.060.
  34. ^ Haak 2015, pp. 121–122.
  35. ^ Narasimhan, Vagheesh M.; Patterson, Nick J.; Moorjani, Priya; Lazaridis, Iosif; Mark, Lipson; Mallick, Swapan; Rohland, Nadin; Bernardos, Rebecca; Kim, Alexander M.; Nakatsuka, Nathan; Olalde, Inigo; Coppa, Alfredo; Mallory, James; Moiseyev, Vyacheslav; Monge, Janet; Olivieri, Luca M.; Adamski, Nicole; Broomandkhoshbacht, Nasreen; Candilio, Francesca; Cheronet, Olivia; Culleton, Brendan J.; Ferry, Matthew; Fernandes, Daniel; Gamarra, Beatriz; Gaudio, Daniel; Hajdinjak, Mateja; Harney, Eadaoin; Harper, Thomas K.; Keating, Denise; et al. (2018). "The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia". doi:10.1101/292581.
  36. ^ Lazaridis, Iosif; Nadel, Dani; Rollefson, Gary; et al. (16 June 2016). "Supplementary Information : The genetic structure of the world's first farmers" (PDF). Nature. 536 (7617): 419–424. Bibcode:2016Natur.536..419L. doi:10.1038/nature19310. PMC 5003663. PMID 27459054.
  37. ^ Lazaridis, Iosif; Nadel, Dani; Rollefson, Gary; Merrett, Deborah C.; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Fernandes, Daniel; Novak, Mario; Gamarra, Beatriz; Sirak, Kendra; Connell, Sarah; Stewardson, Kristin; Harney, Eadaoin; Fu, Qiaomei; Gonzalez-Fortes, Gloria; Alpaslan Roodenberg, Songül; Lengyel, Gyorgy; Bocquentin, Fanny; Gasparian, Boris; Monge, Janet M.; Gregg, Michael; Eshed, Vered; Mizrahi, Ahuva-Sivan; Meiklejohn, Christopher; Gerritsen, Fokke; Bejenaru, Luminita; Blueher, Matthias; Campbell, Archie; Cavalleri, Gianpero; Comas, David; Froguel, Philippe; Gilbert, Edmund; Kerr, Shona M.; Kovacs, Peter; Krause, Johannes; McGettigan, Darren; Merrigan, Michael; Merriwether, D. Andrew; O'Reilly, Seamus; Richards, Martin B.; Semino, Ornella; Shamoon-Pour, Michel; Stefanescu, Gheorghe; Stumvoll, Michael; Tonjes, Anke; Torroni, Antonio; Wilson, James F.; Yengo, Loic; Hovhannisyan, Nelli A.; Patterson, Nick; Pinhasi, Ron; Reich, David (2016). "The genetic structure of the world's first farmers". bioRxiv 059311.
  38. ^ Unterländer, Martina; et al. (2017). "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications. 8: 14615. Bibcode:2017NatCo...814615U. doi:10.1038/ncomms14615. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5337992. PMID 28256537. Retrieved 2017-07-09.


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