Yamna culture

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Yamna culture
Geographical range Europe
Period Bronze Age
Dates c. 3500 BC – 2000 BC
Preceded by Maykop culture
Followed by Andronovo culture
Approximate culture extent c. 3200–2300 BC.

The Yamna or Yamnaya culture,[note 1] also called Pit Grave Culture and Ochre Grave Culture, was a late Copper Age/early Bronze Age culture of the Southern Bug/Dniester/Ural region (the Pontic steppe), dating to 3,600–2,300 BCE. The Yamna culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans, and is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language.

The Yamnaya-people were the likely result of admixture between eastern European hunter-gatherers (via whom they also descend from the Mal'ta-Buret' culture or other, closely related people) and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus. Their culture is materially very similar to that of the people of the Afanasevo culture, their contemporaries in the Altai Mountains; furthermore, genetic tests have confirmed that the two groups are genetically indistinguishable.[1]

The Yamnaya are also closely connected to later, Bronze Age cultures which spread throughout Europe and Central Asia, especially the Corded Ware people, but also the Bell Beakers as well as the peoples of the Andronovo, Sintashta, and Srubna cultures. In these groups, there are present several aspects of the Yamna culture (e.g., horse-riding, burial styles, and to some extent the pastoralist economy). Studies have also established that these populations derived large parts of their ancestry from the steppes.[1][2][3]


The Yamna culture originated in the middle Volga based Khvalynsk culture and the middle Dnieper based Sredny Stog culture,[citation needed] and is dated to the 36th–23rd centuries BC. It was preceded by the Sredny Stog culture, Khvalynsk culture and Dnieper-Donets culture. In its western range, it is succeeded by the Catacomb culture; in the east, by the Poltavka culture and the Srubna culture.


According to Jones et al. (2015), autosomic tests indicate that the Yamnaya-people were the result of admixture between two different hunter-gatherer populations: eastern European hunter gatherers, and a population which arrived from somewhere in the Near East, probably the Caucasus.[4][web 1] Each of those two populations contributed about half the Yamnaya DNA.[2][web 1] According to co-author Dr. 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]

The Eastern-European hunter gatherers were part of a forager population complex that prevailed in Mesolithic Europe, from the Iberian peninsula to Russia, before a farming population entered from the Middle East during the Neolithic.[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.[2] R1b is also the most common Y-DNA haplogroup found among both the Yamnaya and modern-day Western Europeans.[1][3]

The Near East population were most likely hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus.[4] 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).[4] They found that these Caucasus hunters were probably the source of the farmer-like DNA in the Yamnaya, as the Caucasians were distantly related to the Middle Eastern people who introduced farming in Europe.[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]


The Yamna 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[5] and genetics.[1][6] Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans.[7] The culture was predominantly nomadic, with some agriculture practiced near rivers and a few hillforts.[8] 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 Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the "Storozhova mohyla" kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture.

Pavel Dolukhanov argues that 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.[9]

Westwards migration to 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 40–54% ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Central & Northern Europeans, and a 20–32% contribution in modern Southern Europeans, excluding Sardinians (7.1% or less), and to a lesser extent Sicilians (11.6% or less).[1][6][web 2] Haak et al. also imputed the introduction into Europe of haplogroups R1b and R1a, the most common Y-DNA haplogroups in Western and Eastern Europe respectively, to Bronze Age steppe populations, including the Yamnaya.[1]

Autosomic tests also indicate that the Yamnaya are the most likely vector for "Ancient North Eurasian" admixture into Europe.[1] "Ancient North Eurasian" is the name given in literature to the genetic component which represents descent from the people of the Mal'ta-Buret' culture, or some other people closely related to it. That genetic component is visible in tests of the Yamna people[1] as well as modern-day Europeans, but not of Europeans predating the Bronze Age.[10]


From the Hermitage Museum collections

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ukrainian: Ямна культура, Russian: Ямная культура, "Pit [Grave] Culture", from Russian/Ukrainian яма, "pit"


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Haak 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Mathieson 2015.
  3. ^ a b Morten E. Allentoft; et al. (2015). "Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia". Nature (journal) 522: 167–172. doi:10.1038/nature14507. 
  4. ^ a b c Jones 2015.
  5. ^ Anthony 2007.
  6. ^ a b Zimmer 2015.
  7. ^ Fortson 2004, p. 43.
  8. ^ Mallory 1997.
  9. ^ Dolukhanov 1996, p. 94.
  10. ^ Lazaridis 2014.


Printed sources[edit]

  • Anthony, David W. (2007), The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World 
  • Dolukhanov, Pavel M. (1996), The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus, New York: Longman, ISBN 0-582-23627-4 
  • Fortson, Benjamin W. (2004), Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, Blackwell Publishing 


External links[edit]