CSEN

Review Article

Late prehistoric exploitation of the Eurasian steppe. By Marsha Levine, Yuri Rassamakin, Aleksandr Kislenko and Nataliya Tatarintseva with an introduction by Colin Renfrew. Cambridge, England: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. 224pp.; 132 figures; 23 tables.

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M. Levine (Chapter 2), Y. Rassamakin (Chapter 3), and A. Kislenko and N. Tatarintseva (Chapter 4) present their individual current research examining the use of steppe lands and the impact of their populations upon each other. Using archaeological evidence from previous excavations, the authors address topics that have for decades confronted and confused archaeological interpretations of the Eurasian steppes (and still do). Foremost under consideration are assumptions concerning the domestication of the horse, the realities of warrior invasions from the east, and the emergence of a true mobile pastoralism. Colin Renfrew notes in the introduction that although the Eurasian steppes witnessed the development of several distinct language groups including Turkic, Mongolian and Tungus as well as Uralic, it is theories surrounding the origin of Indo-European family groups that predominantly influence steppe archaeological interpretations. The authors have widened the debate and have drawn new conclusions after reviewing existing archaeological data. Because of its content, I have reviewed each chapter as a separate entity. Throughout the book inconsistency exists in the naming of time periods in the texts and on the charts/maps, a relatively simple matter that could have been rectified by a copy editor, an inexplicable omission in this day of computers. Romanian site names are inconsistent, another copy editing problem. Comparing locales and sites discussed throughout chapters would have been facilitated if there had been an index covering the entire volume.

Chapter 2. "The Origins of Horse Husbandry on the Eurasian Steppe" by Marsha Levine (53pp.; 3.5p. bibliography).

 

 

Map. Locations of Erh-shih and Ch'ang-n, Dereivka, Molyukov Bugor and Botai

Levine's study centers on horse husbandy in the Eurasian steppes. She provides a variety of useful charts and data tables that note, for example, tooth-size and other equine comparative data during the Paleolithic Period; at Dereivka (Eneolithic in the Ukraine); Botai (Eneolithic in northcentral Kazakhstan); and Thornhill Farm (an Iron Age early Roman settlement in Gloucestershire where horses were ridden but not eaten). One especially interesting fact she notes is that during early prehistoric stages, the horse was more valuable as a food than for transport for its meat and milk are unusually high in amino-acids, minerals, and vitamins essential to the development of the nervous and vascular systems. (This also explains the Kazak's dependency on kumiss, fermented mare's milk, and why they eat horsemeat especially during the harsh winter.) Citing "false-direct" evidence used as direct evidence, Levine debunks the warrior Kurgan Culture theory by suggesting that artifacts identified as "horse-head scepters or maces" were not symbols of power (as previously noted) and have never been found with any direct or indirect evidence to indicate horse domestication or horse-riding. It is cattle (oxen?) heads (excavated crania), not horses that accompanied wagons in the burials that date 3000 and 2500 BC, and horse bones occasionally found in context with Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age human remains attest to a symbolic association, not domestication.

Indicating that the Dereivka horse domestication is flawed because of the same methodological inadequacies of "false-direct," Levine reconsiders the "Dereivka Myth," and concludes that the hypothesis that horse domestication spread from west to east, i.e., from Dereivka to Botai, is erroneous. Recent excavation from Molyukhov Bugor, a later-dated Dereivka culture site, provided a taxon list similar to that of Dereivka (cattle and pig bones [18.5% of the mammal bones] bones were discarded before a systematic study was completed). Tentative studies on Molyukhov Bugor taxon indicate the Dereivka culture people were hunter-gathers and perhaps small-scale agriculturists (p.17); they were not pastoralists who had taken up riding horses they had domesticated.

To better understand horse breeding and to provide data for seven models the author constructed, Levine cites oral histories she has gathered from five steppe nomads between 1989 and 1992. Using these data (a very minimal sample taken from two cultures over a wide geographic area) she compares the models and, in this light, reviews Dereivka and Botai horse bones and teeth. She concludes that the Dereivka horses, because of the small settlement size, the faunal assemblage, and the age and sex of the animals when killed, belong to her Stalking Model. This is a selective hunting technique, in which wild horses were stalked and killed, one at a time, with bow and arrow or spear. In contrast, Botai with its large population and immense quantity of horse bones is a better paradigm for the Herd Driving Model, a non-selective hunting technique that requires large-scale human cooperation and seasonal animal aggregation (p.43). She again concludes that at least the vast majority of the horses from Dereivka and Botai were wild and were killed in the hunt.

Other new studies develop collaboration between archaeologists and veterinarians to determine through analyses of their skeletons if horses were ridden, used in traction, or neither. A large assemblage of modern pathological material from known horses reveals that work related injuries occur on the foot bones, the hip, the shoulder and thoracic vertebrae. In the archaeological realm, riding injuries are noted on the small sample of horse skeletal material from Ak-alakha, the Ukok highland kurgans excavated in 1995 by N. Polosmak. However, Mongolian and Kazak saddles, in which the rider's weight rests on the rib cage and not the thoracic spine, could alleviate riding injuries and therefore could skew data. The author notes that although skeletal material from Dereivka was discarded, an enormous quantity remains at Botai and that skeletal pathological studies could clarify this question.

Levine concludes that we still do not know when or where the horse was first domesticated and, moreover, no single study (population structure, pleopathology, bit wear, taphonomy, etc.) can be conclusive. However, new studies such as table isotopes could indicate the composition of human and animal diets; data that could be enlightening.

Levine has erroneously stated several details: Mongols lived in felt tents known as yurts (p. 21); nomadic Kazaks live in yurts while Mongols live in gers. An aul is not a permanent dwelling (p. 22); it is a small "village" of yurts that Kazaks live in during the migratory period, such as at summer pasture. The Ukok plateau is not the southernmost part of the Altai Mountains (p. 46); it is the southernmost part of the Altai Mountains in the Russian republic as the high Altai Mountains continue south through the Bayan Ulgii and Uvs aimags of western Mongolia. Some of Levine's data appear inconclusive and/or premature, particularly the oral history on horse breeding among the Kazak and Mongols (sample too small). The concept of collaboration between veterinarians and archaeologists to better understand skeletal work-related injuries does, however, appear to be an excellent idea.

Ch. 3. "The Eneolithic of the Black Sea Steppe: Dynamics of Cultural and Economic Development 4500-2300 BC," by Yuri Rassamakin. Sarah Wright, Tr. (123pp.; 15pp.C14 dates; 9pp. bibliography)

 

 

 

Lower Mikhailovka culture (?): complex from Novonikolaevka, Kurgan 7, Burial 6

Rassamakin's is by far the longest essay and is divided into three parts. Part I is complex but significant inasmuch as he briefly reviews the major historiography models for the development of the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age in Eastern Europe proposed in the last 45 years (e.g., Gimbutas, Merpert, Danilenko, Telegin, Shaposhnikova, and Vasilev-Sinyuk). Lesser-known Eneolithic and Early Bronze cultures, such as Repin, Pivikha, and Kvityana in the north Black Sea steppes, extending into the forest-steppes, are included as well as the better known Maikop and Deirevka cultures. Four good maps, necessary to follow the development and migrations of these cultures, are included. For example, during the Early Eneolithic, the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture is seen in relation to Varna, located to the southwest, as well as to the lesser-known, but much more encompassing Skelya culture that occupied the Dnieper-Don interfluve to the east.

In Part I, Rassamakin discusses in more detail the errors and/or deficiencies of the previous models by comparing and noting elements that have prevented the models from being generally accepted. As examples, data used by Danilenko have not been corroborated by further research, while Telgrin's model constructed along more traditional lines still raises unanswerable questions. One primary issue that disturbs Rassamakin is: "why was a single Sredny Stog culture created from the outset on the sole basis of an outward similarity in ceramic assemblages?" (p. 69). The author notes that researchers created the Sredny Stog culture by a reverse process: first, the unity was postulated on the basis of external generalities, then the sites included in the culture were analyzed. He notes that even the pottery lacks unity, yet the differences were disregarded as merely local or chronological varieties. Shaposhnikova, in her model, takes on the argument by pointing out that "regional variations" were actually chronological differences. Rassamakin's summation of Part I indicates he finds no grounds to claim an eastern origin for the Pontic steppe Eneolithic cultures and economies. Nor did they have nomadic or exclusively horse-riding characteristics.

In Part II, Rassamakin begins by noting that he has reviewed the last forty years of archaeological endeavors. As he began to construct a new model for the development of the Pontic Eneolithic, he developed a new classification for all known Eneolithic flat and kurgan burial sites based on four burial traditions using skeletal orientation and position as criteria. Associating key settlement ceramic assemblages of diagnostic types chosen from well-known archaeological cultures (Skelya, Kvityana, Dereivka, Lower Mikhailovka, and Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe) with burial assemblages, he concludes that his groupings are considerably different from those of the previous models analyzed in Part I. Thus, he reorganizes the periodization of these four cultures in relation to each other and to neighboring cultures in the steppes, steppe-forest, and forest-steppe zones. From this reorganization he divides the Eneolithic into three periods, Early, Middle, and Late and Final, then analyzes the cultures and cultural relationships that fit into his periodization. His discussions are extensive and only the most salient points can be noted here

Early Eneolithic (ca.4550 [?] - 4100.4000 BC). In the Early Eneolithic the driving economic force in the Black Sea steppe region was the integration of the Skelya culture elite into the southeastern European prestige exchange system (mainly copper and copper artifacts but also flint and obsidian) as reflected in the Varna cemetery. Skelya pottery is analogous with the earliest domestic Cucuteni-Tripolye pottery. The far-eastern boundary of the trade-exchange network is located in the north Caspian Khvalynsk sites. Skelya prestige items also were traded along the Don to the Kuban and into the Caucasian foothills with the key site being Svobodnoe. (Fig 3.42 schematically illustrates the dynamics of the elite trade system.) The earliest kurgan-type burials appear in the Skelya cultural region. Rassamakin posits that the Early Eneolithic saw the " the emergence of a mutually beneficial system of exchange between the steppe populations and the production centers of the agricultural world" (p. 112)–the closest being the Cucuteni-Tripolye and the furthest Varna. Thus, he precludes any advance of a first wave of warlike kurgan people coming from the Volga or Caspian.

Middle Eneolithic (3800 (3700) - 3500/3400 BC). Following an unexplained "Steppe Hiatus (4100 [4000] - 3800 [3700]), the Middle Eneolithic emerged under the pressure of strong Cucuteni-Tripolye B2-C1 influence. However, the Cucuteni-Tripolye world had become disunited creating an eastern-western split. With diminished power the eastern segment migrated from the middle Dnieper to the southern Bug where their influence was most notable along the north Black Sea littoral and it is here that the Lower Mikhailovka culture developed. The rise of the archaic Kvityana (south of the Dereivka culture along the Dnieper), according to Rassamakin, was influenced by Sredny Stog II as noted in pottery compositional and technical parallels. Based on pottery tradition, the Dereivka culture appears to have developed from a transformation of some (unnamed) Neolithic forest-steppe tribe. The author notes that the chronology and periodization of Dereivka is difficult to determine as the pottery reflects both Tripolye B2 / C-1 and C2, although one scholar (Movsha) believes that Dereivka is contemporary only with C2. The Repin culture, with pottery similar to that of Sredny Stog II, developed on the middle Don. The Konstantinovka culture, located along the lower Don and in the Azov steppes, and predominately known by its prestige kurgans, derived from the Maikop culture. Thus, the Middle Eneolithic is notable for the development of a number of independent cultures (Kvityana, Repin, Konstantinovka, and to some extent Dereivka, Cernavoda, and Lower Mikhailovka) in the area previously occupied by the Skelya horizon. The predominant influence on these cultures was the Tripolye people with a secondary Maikop connection in the lower Don. The Volga remained on the periphery without any large-scale migration through the Pontic steppes.

Late Phase and Final Eneolithic (3500/3400 BC - ca. 3000/2900 (?) BC). Again Tripolye, this time phase C2, plays the most active role during a period noted for cultural breakup. Along the Dniester, the Vykhvatinsk, located to the south the Usatova culture, formed while Lower Mikhailovka remained intact. Tripolye influence increased on the Dereivka peoples. The final stage of this period (some scholars consider the time frame as the beginning of the Early Bronze Age) witnessed two migrations. First, a southerly migration by Late Tripolye forest-steppe peoples–tribes termed Kasperovo by Movsha and Gordinesti by Dergachev and Manzura–from the Prut-Dniester and southern Bug regions. This migrational wave linked the Bug, Prut, Dniester with the lower Don and with the north Caucasus; similar funerary rites are also noted around the northeastern Azov steppes and Samara on the middle Volga. The second migration occurred at the end of the Eneolithic when the forest-steppe Repin (phase 2) culture dispersed or colonized north along the Don, south, southeast, and southwest. Fig. 3.49 illustrates the migrational waves of the Middle and Late and Final Eneolithic, migrations that lead to the formation of the Early Bronze Age Yamnaya culture.

Early Bronze Age: the Yamnaya culture (ca. 3000/2900 - ca. 2300-2200 BC). The Yamnaya culture extended over a vast territory and according to Rassamakin's model it was a piecemeal "transformation of a series of cultures, conditioned by a range of interdependent factors, principally climatic and economic." (p. 125). In the Azov-Black Sea steppes it absorbed elements from almost all the pre-existing Late Eneolithic cultures, and almost all types of flexed burials are represented. Rassamakin indicates that with the advent of the Yamnaya, all the finer Eneolithic elements emerged as a "cruder, degraded material culture." This appears to be particularly true along the northwestern Black Sea coast and in the Kuban. Along the Volga, the Repin tradition survived

Dating. Rassamakin discusses in detail the rational for the dating used for his model. This is based on comparing steppe site assemblages that include Cucuteni-Tripolye imports with the Cucuteni-Tripolye periodization, now well established by C14 dating of materials available in a sedentary population but sadly lacking in the steppe world. He notes that comparative analyses with Maikop are unreliable. The Cucuteni-Tripolye association is further justifiable because it has been correlated with the Carpatho-Balkan culture system.

Reconstructing Economic Systems. The main thrust of this section addresses the problem of horse domestication based upon Rassamakin's reanalyzes of the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age archaeological materials. He concludes that in the Early Eneolithic people were sedentary; hunting played a significant role in the economy. The discussions cover existing theories; his conclusions are that during the Early Eneolithic no evidence exists for nomadic horse-riding or developed pastoralism. The argument for the Middle Eneolithic treats Dereivka extensively. The author notes that horses began to be extensively hunted but a horse breeding economy did not exist. The Final Eneolithic saw the collapse of the sedentary agricultural economies and various forms of mobile pastoralism began to develop. In the Early Bronze Age, Rassamakin finds no evidence to indicate horses were harnessed or ridden, and in fact, he states the horse is virtually absent from the Yamnaya archaeological record.

Rassamakin's Conclusions. From this extensive and detailed study Rassamakin draws seven major conclusions. Several are noteworthy: (a) claims of eastern invasions from the Volga are groundless during the time periods under discussion and the first genuine migrations from the east do not occur until the Middle Bronze Age; (b) Dereivka does not provide the earliest evidence for horse domestication and its economy was not based on specialized horse breeding; (c) the Yamnaya culture did not spread from any initial territory and occurred because of a systematic transformation from the previous period; (d) there is no evidence to indicate that the Usatova nor the Yamnaya cultures ever became nomadic, nor did subsequent cultures in this region become nomadic. Thus, the conditions for the emergence of nomadism were not present in the north Black Sea steppes, and as the author reminds us, written history indicates that nomadic societies came to the north Black Sea steppes from the east.

"The Eastern Ural Steppe at the End of the Stone Age" by Aleksandr Kislenko and Nataliya Tatarintseva. Sara Wright, Tr. (33pp.; 1.5 C14 dates; 1p. bibliography).

 

 

Map of Eneolithic and Bronze Age Sites

The authors limit their cursory research to two areas in the Ural and Irtysh interfluve, the Turgai plateau, the adjacent northern Kazak steppes between Petropavlovsk in the northwest and Karaganda in the southeast, and, a third location, the Kyzyl-Kum and Kara-Kum deserts to the east and south of the Aral Sea. Unfortunately, although the charts and illustrations are very helpful, much is desired of the superficial treatment of the topic, complicated by the lack of organization of the materials by region and time period.

During the Stone Age (6th to mid-4th millennium BC), on the Turgai plateau, the Makhandzhar culture was located along the Tobol and its tributaries where the rivers providing good fishing and hunting conditions. Populations lived in subterranean dwellings, their ceramics were distinctive, and drilled spindle whorls indicate they had mastered spinning and drilling techniques. Identified as the Atbasar culture, Stone Age sites in central Kazakhstan were concentrated along the banks of the Ishim, Chaglinka and Nura rivers creating population micro-regions. Their tool assemblage is distinctive and their pottery was comb-decorated, refuting the image of a "ceramic-free" Kazakstan Neolithic. Only small and fragile skeletal fragments of horse, cattle, and sheep are noted. Stone Age sites in the Kyzyl-Kum were situated, not along rivers, but on the plains between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya.

Map 4.33 is valuable as it illustrates the locales of the Neolithic and Eneolithic cultures and their interrelationships. The Yamnaya (in this article considered to be Eneolithic) extended from west of the Volga to the Orenburg steppes. Adjoining on the east, the Surtandy is sandwiched by the Botai, and the Tashkovo sites are center north along the Tobol, Ishim, and Irtysh rivers. Along the lower Irtysh, north and south of Omsk the Ekaterinisk occupied the riverbanks. Far to the west, the Keltiminar culture was found from the eastern banks of the Caspian, extending eastward beyond the Amu Darya. The authors note that during the Stone Age migrations occurred from the eastern Caspian to the Ural-Irtysh region.

Favorable climatic conditions fostered the Eneolithic (4th-3rd millennium BC) at a time when the flint industry subsided and copper tools were introduced. The authors note that a link cannot be traced between the Atbasar and the subsequent Botai or between the Makhandzhar and the succeeding Tersek culture in the Turgai region–although no further explanation is given. Discussion of the Eneolithic centers around the Botai culture, specifically the type site that existed for about 200 years (24th-22nd centuries BC), providing schematics of stratigraphy, site plans, and settlement reconstructions. Ritual dog burials, evidence of ancestor worship, sawn and trepanned human skulls relate to cultic development while the inventory list further provides a more humanistic approach to a society primarily renown for its horse bones (from 70,000 individuals). Botai cultural materials in the southeast share commonalties (but we are not told what these are) with the Afanasevo in the Altai Mountains and with the Ust-Narym culture in eastern Kazakstan.

Early Bronze Age settlements in northern Kazakhstan represent different cultural-economic developments found at various stages. Domestication of plants and animals was intensive, yet because of climatic conditions, agriculture never took a firm hold. The absence of nomadic forms of economy and specialized horse breeding is noted.

The authors speculate that it may be possible to identify two epicenters for the emergence of stockbreeding economies: in the Ural-Irtysh interfluve and in the more western Volga region. Without doubt, additional research on materials available from previous excavations in the three areas under discussion is badly needed.

Readers of this book should be aware of inconsistencies when the archaeologicar records are discussed, particularly evident concerning Botai in Chapters 2 and 4, i.e, 300 dwellings are noted on p. 39 while 158 are indicated on p. 202.

Although there are weak passages and Chapter 4 cannot be considered more than a brief overview, having this well illustrated material in English should prove to be extremely useful. I, for one, look forward to continued studies.

Jeannine Davis-Kimball, CSEN
e-mail: jkimball@csen.org