Potapovka culture

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Potapovka culture
Potapovka culture.jpg
Geographical rangeMiddle Volga
PeriodBronze Age
Datesca. 2100–1800 BC
Type sitePotapovka
Preceded byPoltavka culture, Abashevo culture
Followed bySrubnaya culture, Andronovo culture

Potapovka culture (Russian: Потаповская культура, romanizedPotapovskaya kul'tura) was a Bronze Age culture which flourished on the middle Volga in 2100—1800 BC.

The Potapovka culture emerged out of the Poltavka culture with influences from the Abashevo culture. It had close relations with the Sintashta culture in the east, with whom it shares many similarities. Like the Sintashta culture, its people are believed to have spoken a form of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It was directly ancestral to the Srubnaya culture, and probably influenced the emergence of the Andronovo culture.


The Potapovka culture emerged on the middle Volga around 2100 BC.[1][2][3] It came to flourish around the middle Volga, the southwest Urals and western Kazakhstan.[4] Potapovka sites are eventually found also on the Don and the Dnieper.[5][4] The Potapovka culture has been considered a western variant of the Sintashta culture,[6][7][8] with which it is closely related.[9][10]

The Potapovka culture is thought to have emerged as a northern outgrowth of the Poltavka culture, with possible influences from the Abashevo culture.[4][11] Influences from the Catacomb culture[12] and the Multi-cordoned ware culture have also been detected.[13] It is considered to have been part of an eastward expansion of cultures originating on the Pontic steppe.[4] The expansion of the Potapovka culture, Sintashta culture and other cultures ultimately of Eastern European origin into western Kazakhstan and the southern Urals is believed to have occurred as an elite dominance migration.[14]

The Potapovka culture came to an end about 1800 BC.[1][2][3] The Potapovka culture and the Sintashta culture played major roles in the emergence of the Andronovo culture.[15][16] The Andronovo culture is in turn considered ancestral to the Indo-Iranians.[4] The early phases of the Srubnaya culture grew out of the Potapovka culture[16][17][11][18][19][20] and the late Abashevo culture.[21][22]


The Potapovka culture is especially distinguished by the presence of bone cheek-pieces for controlling horses.[4] One cheeck-piece of the Potapovka culture was found to be decorated with a Mycenaean ornament.[13] The Potapovka culture has many similarities with the Sintashta culture and the earlier phases of the Andronovo culture. These similarities include animal sacrifices (horse burials), burial rituals, chariot-gear, cheek-pieces and ceramics.[7]


The Potapovka culture is primarily known from at least eleven kurgans that have been found. These contain around eighty burials. Potpovka kurgans measure around 24 to 30 m in diameter and stand up to half-a-meter in height. They typically contain chambers surrounded by small peripheral graves of large central burial chambers. Near the central burial complex, horses, cattle, sheep, goats and dogs may be found.[4]

Several Potapovka kurgans were constructed on top of earlier Poltavka kurgans, which they destroyed. According to David W. Anthony, this is hardly accidental, testifying to a "symbolic connection" between the Poltavka and Potapovka people.[7]

An interesting feature of the Potapovka grave is the replacement of the head of the decapitated individual with that of a horse. This practice has been compared with an account in the Vedas of how the Aśvins replaced the head of Dadhichi, son of Atharvan, with that of a horse, so that he could reveal the secret of the sacred drink.[4]

Potapovka grave goods includes decorated pottery, metal objects, bronze ornaments, and occasionally silver ornaments.[4]

Graves of the Potapovka culture are very similar to those of the Sintashta culture. They both contained paired horses and cheekpieces.[6]


Ceramics of the Potapovka culture are very similar to those of the Poltavka culture. The same feature is noted among the Sintashta culture.[7] Abashevo vessels have been found in Potapovka graves.[23]


Possible remains of wheels and wheeled vehicles have been observed in Potapovka remains.[4] Unlike for the Sintashta culture, spoked wheels have not been found in the Potapovka culture.[6]


Major stone artifacts include flint arrowheads.[4] Weapons discovered at Potapovka sites are very similar to those described in the Vedas and the Avesta.[24]

Physical type[edit]

The Potapovka people were massively built Caucasoids/Europoids. Their skulls are similar to those of the Catacomb culture.[a]

Potapovka skulls are less dolichocephalic than those of the Fatyanovo–Balanovo culture, Abashevo culture, Sintashta culture, Srubnaya culture and western Andronovo culture. The physical type of the Potapovka appears to have emerged through a mixture between the purely dolichocephalic type of the Sintashta, and the less dolichocephalic type of the Yamnaya culture and Poltavka culture.[b]


In a study published in Nature in 2015, the remains of three individuals of the Potapovka culture was surveyed. One male was found to be carrying haplogroup R1a1a1b and U2e1h, while the other carried haplogroup P1 and C1. The female carried haplogroup T1.[6]

In a genetic study published in Science in 2018, the remains four individuals ascribed to the Potapovka culture was analyzed. Of the two males, one carried R1a1a1b2a2a and U2e1, while the other carried R1 and C. The two females carried U2e1a1 and H2a1e. People of the Potapovka culture were found to be closely related to people of the Corded Ware culture,[c] the Sintashta culture, the Andronovo culture and the Srubnaya culture. These were found to harbor mixed ancestry from the Yamnaya culture and peoples of the Central European Middle Neolithic.[d][e] The genetic data suggested that these related cultures were ultimately derived from a remigration of Central European peoples with steppe ancestry back into the steppe.[f]


The Potapovka culture is thought to belong to an eastward migration of Indo-European-speakers who eventually emerged as the Indo-Iranians.[4] David W. Anthony considers the Potapovka culture and the Sintashta culture as archaeological manifestations of the early Indo-Iranian languages.[27]


  1. ^ Skulls from Potapovka burials belong to the massive proto-Europoid type and are similar to the earlier Catacomb and genetically follow the Timber-grave and west Andronovo, but differ from Abashevo.[25]
  2. ^ "[M]assive broad-faced proto-Europoid type is a trait of post-Mariupol’ cultures, Sredniy Stog, as well as the Pit-grave culture of the Dnieper’s left bank, the Donets, and Don... During the period of the Timber-grave culture the population of the Ukraine was represented by the medium type between the dolichocephalous narrow-faced population of the Multi-roller Ware culture (Babino) and the more massive broad-faced population of the Timber-grave culture of the Volga region... The anthropological data confirm the existence of an impetus from the Volga region to the Ukraine in the formation of the Timber-grave culture. During the Belozerka stage the dolichocranial narrow-faced type became the prevalent one. A close affinity among the skulls of the Timber-grave, Belozerka, and Scythian cultures of the Pontic steppes, on the one hand, and of the same cultures of the forest-steppe region, on the other, has been shown... This proves the genetical continuity between the Iranian-speeking Scythian population and the previous Timber-grave culture population in the Ukraine... The heir of the Neolithic Dnieper-Donets and Sredniy Stog cultures was the Pit-grave culture. Its population possessed distinct Europoid features, was tall, with massive skulls... The tribes of the Abashevo culture appear in the forest-steppe zone, almost simultaneously with the Poltavka culture. The Abashevans are marked by dolichocephaly and narrow faces. This population had its roots in the Balanovo and Fatyanovo cultures on the Middle Volga, and in Central Europe... [T]he early Timber-grave culture (the Potapovka) population was the result of the mixing of different components. One type was massive, and its predecessor was the Pit-grave-Poltavka type. The second type was a dolichocephalous Europoid type genetically related to the Sintashta population... One more participant of the ethno-cultural processes in the steppes was that of the tribes of the Pokrovskiy type. They were dolichocephalous narrow-faced Europoids akin to the Abashevans and different from the Potapovkans... The majority of Timber-grave culture skulls are dolichocranic with middle-broad faces. They evidence the significant role of Pit-grave and Poltavka components in the Timber-grave culture population... One may assume a genetic connection between the populations of the Timber-grave culture of the Urals region and the Alakul’ culture of the Urals and West Kazakhstan belonging to a dolichocephalous narrow-face type with the population of the Sintashta culture... [T]he western part of the Andronovo culture population belongs to the dolichocranic type akin to that of the Timber-grave culture.[26]
  3. ^ "[T]he Potapovka are well modeled as a mixture of the Corded Ware from the Czech Republic and Steppe_EMBA."[10]
  4. ^ "We observed a main cluster of Sintashta individuals that was similar to Srubnaya, Potapovka, and Andronovo in being well modeled as a mixture of Yamnaya-related and Anatolian Neolithic (European agriculturalist-related) ancestry."[10]
  5. ^ "Genetic analysis indicates that the individuals in our study classified as falling within the Andronovo complex are genetically similar to the main clusters of Potapovka, Sintashta, and Srubnaya in being well modeled as a mixture of Yamnaya-related and early European agriculturalist-related or Anatolian agriculturalist-related ancestry."[10]
  6. ^ "Many of the samples from this group are individuals buried in association with artifacts of the Corded Ware, Srubnaya, Petrovka, Sintashta and Andronovo complexes, all of which harbored a mixture of Steppe_EMBA ancestry and ancestry from European Middle Neolithic agriculturalists (Europe_MN). This is consistent with previous findings showing that following westward movement of eastern European populations and mixture with local European agriculturalists, there was an eastward reflux back beyond the Urals."[10]


  1. ^ a b Anthony 2007, p. 386.
  2. ^ a b Anthony 2016, p. 14.
  3. ^ a b Parpola 2015, pp. 56, 122–123.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mallory & Adams 1997, pp. 446–448.
  5. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 451.
  6. ^ a b c d Mathieson, Iain; Reich, David (March 14, 2015). "Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe". bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/016477.
  7. ^ a b c d Anthony 2010, p. 386.
  8. ^ Koryakova & Epimakhov 2007, p. 66.
  9. ^ Anthony 2010, p. 375.
  10. ^ a b c d e Narasimhan 2019.
  11. ^ a b Kuzmina 2007, p. 354.
  12. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 353.
  13. ^ a b Kuzmina 2007, p. 120.
  14. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 384.
  15. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 340.
  16. ^ a b Anthony 2010, p. 435.
  17. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 221.
  18. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 357.
  19. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 387.
  20. ^ Koryakova & Epimakhov 2007, p. 122.
  21. ^ Anthony 2010, p. 410.
  22. ^ Anthony 2010, p. 437.
  23. ^ Anthony 2010, p. 382.
  24. ^ Kuzmina 2007, p. 137.
  25. ^ Kuzmina 2007, pp. 169–170.
  26. ^ Kuzmina 2007, pp. 383–385.
  27. ^ Anthony 2010, p. 390.