Badasses of the Bronze Age

From the Eneolithic to the Late Bronze Age vast areas of Eurasia were inhabited by a series of highly mobile and innovative groups that mostly relied on pastoralism for subsistence and, judging by their warlike grave goods, didn’t mind a bit of biffo.

In Europe, where they first appeared, their archeological remains are generally classified as part of the Corded Ware Culture (or its Battle-Axe and Single Grave offshoots), and in Asia, where they expanded rapidly from the Trans-Urals to the Pamirs and south Siberia, as part of the Sintashta, Petrovka and Andronovo cultures.

It’s likely that these groups had a profound impact on the Bronze Age world, including on Mycenaean Greece and Hittite Anatolia. The Sintashta Culture, for instance, is credited with the development of the spoked-wheel chariot, which became widely used in warfare all the way from Egypt to China.

Unfortunately, a lot of nonsense has been written on this topic in the past. In my view, one of the most sensible and up do date sources currently online is the thesis The Origin and Spread of the War Chariot by Elias Manuel Morgado Pinheiro.

Indeed, the obvious awesomeness of these ancient people has stirred much controversy about their origins and legacy. The academic consensus is that they were closely related, and that at least some of their ancestors were early Indo-Europeans from Eneolithic Eastern Europe. But a few archeologists have argued that the Corded Ware Culture was native to Central Europe, and others that the Sintashta population arrived in the Trans-Urals from Iran or even Syria.

Moreover, linguists generally consider the Sintashta/Andronovo people as the most likely candidates for the Proto-Indo-Iranians, and thus the precursors of the Indo-Aryans. But this is contested by many Indologists, who prefer to see the deepest roots of the Indo-Iranians closer to India and often oppose the idea of an Aryan conquest of South Asia during the Bronze Age.

In the near future, probably within the next couple of years, ancient genomics will leave very little room for debate in these matters and the arguments will cease, at least in mainstream academia.

But we already have a reasonable collection of ancient DNA from the relevant archeological cultures. Does it back the general consensus? Let’s take a look, starting with the Y-chromosome data sorted by culture. The bracketed numbers are the sample sources, which are listed at the bottom of the post.

Citations…

1. Haak et al.,

Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age, PNAS, Published online before print November 17, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0807592105

2. Keyser et al., Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people, Human Genetics, Saturday, May 16, 2009, doi: 10.1007/s00439-009-0683-0

 

3. Haak et al., Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe, bioRxiv, Posted February 10, 2015, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/013433

4. Allentoft et al., Bronze Age population dynamics, selection, and the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, Nature 522, 167–172 (11 June 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14507

5. Mathieson et al., Genome-wide patterns of selection in 230 ancient Eurasians, Nature, 528, 499–503 (24 December 2015), doi:10.1038/nature16152

Source Polish and European population genetics and modern physical anthropology.

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