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 result of admixture between Eastern-European hunter gatherers, and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus, but also contain a component from the Mal'ta-Buret' culture. They are closely connected to the Corded Ware people.


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.[1][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.[3][4]

The Near East population were most likely hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus.[1] 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).[1] 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.[3][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 kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were 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 94 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).[3][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.[3]

Autosomic 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 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[3] 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 Jones 2015.
  2. ^ a b Mathieson 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Haak 2015.
  4. ^ Morten E. Allentoft; et al. (2015). "Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia". Nature (journal) 522: 167–172. doi:10.1038/nature14507. 
  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]