Johannes Gutenberg University   Institute of Anthropology   Deutsch

Central Asia
 Joachim Burger,  Martina Unterländer,  Sandra Wilde
Co-Worker:   Hermann Parzinger,   Wolfram Schier,   Peter Forster,  
                     Anatoli Nagler,   Vyacheslav I. Molodin,   Dimitry Podzniakov,  
                     Zainullah Samashev,  Alexander Pilipenko,  Elke Kaiser
"Palaeogenetic Studies of economic innovations and social mobility in the Eurasian steppes from 3500-300 BC, Palaeogenetics section"
Sponsored by the BMBF (n. 01UA0809A), this plan is an interdisciplinary collaborative project that combines archaeological, isotopic and palaeogenetic analyses to answer questions of population history and demography. A general overview can be found in the February 2011 issue of the magazine “Bild der Wissenschaft”.
In two sub-projects Eneolithic and Bronze Age populations in the North Pontic region (1) and Central Asian Iron Age populations (2) are palaeogenetically examined. Using ancient DNA from human skeletons we are trying to reconstruct the population dynamics and demography in these regions (see Fig. 1). For this purpose we have extended our range of methods and analyse more than 50 loci per individual in order to increase the phylodemographic resolution. We use a protocol combining Multiplex PCR and next generation sequencing.
(1) Sub-project “West Eurasia” (Sandra Wilde)

In collaboration with Prof. Wolfram Schier and Dr. Elke Kaiser (Excellence Cluster TOPOI, Freie Universität Berlin) we are studying the population structures of the Eneolithic and the Bronze Age in the steppe areas north of the Black Sea and neighbouring regions. The late Eneolithic (ca 3500-3000 BC) is strongly influenced by innovations in metallurgy, e.g. copper arsenic alloys, as well as developments and dispersal of new technologies, like the early wagons with disc wheels. The first kurgans (barrows) are constructed in this period. The Yamna culture appears in the North Pontic steppe during the transition to the Bronze Age (ca 3000-2500 BC). The Yamna culture is characterised by high mobility, and during this period a uniform burial rite in pit graves underneath kurgans is established throughout the steppe region. Their subsistence economy is based on specialised husbandry and forms of semi- / nomadism, probably supported by new means of transportation including the use of draught animals. Their extensive trade relations extend across the boundaries of the steppe and include sedentary cultures west and north of the steppe territory. It has been suggested that Yamna groups might have migrated as far as Central Europe.

In the steppe zone a new burial rite starts spreading: The Yamna culture is being replaced by the catacomb culture (ca 2500-2000 BC), and there is hardly any archaeological evidence for trade relations with the west during the catacomb period.

The aims of our palaeogenetic analyses are the examination of the mobility and migration hypotheses based on archaeological findings, and the comprehension of the correlations between burial rituals and anthropologic identities of the individual cultural phenomena.

Fig. 1: Sites of the examined skeletal material. Blue dots: Eneolithic and Bronze Age sites (sub-project West Eurasia); blue dot with arrow: off-map site (Zauschwitz, Germany). Red dots: Iron Age sites (sub-project Steppe Nomads). Beige coloured areas: steppe regions.
(2) Sub-project “Steppe Nomads” (Martina Unterländer)

This study addresses the population dynamics in the Eurasian steppe during the Iron Age. It is carried out in collaboration with H. Parzinger (Director Preußischer Kulturbesitz), A. Nagler (German Archaeological Institute, Berlin), Z. Samachev (Margulan Institut für Archäologie, Akademie der Wissenschaft Kazakhstan, Almaty) and V.I. Molodin (Sibirisches Institut für Archäologie und Ethnographie, Akademgorodok, Russia). Beginning with the 9th century BC, there is evidence for clans of horse nomads from the Altai in the East to as far as North of the Black Sea. Because of the astounding uniformity of their material culture, life style and death rituals, they are often summarised under the term Scythians. The name ‘Scythian’ derives from a people mentioned in Herodotus’ Histories that populated the area north of the Black Sea in the 7th century BC. Their only material legacy is found in the form of kurgans, the impressive burial mounds of the Scythian elite. The earliest archaeological evidence of this culture stems from the region of Tuva, with the kurgan Arzan 1 dating to the 9th century BC. Until the 2nd century BC there are a number of populations in the area of the Eurasian steppe belt which can be assigned to that Scythian culture.

Together with our partners, we want to answer whether the obvious cultural homogeneity of these groups points to a common origin or rather to the phenomenon of acculturation. The intention is to understand the ethnogenesis and the population historical connections of these groups called Scythians.

Our data show highly diverse maternal lineages whose composition changes over time within the different populations. At the outset of the 1st century BC the examined populations of the Altai region show a relatively high number of lineages which today are found predominantly in Europe. Over time a change takes place which is reflected in an increased number of maternal lineages predominantly found today in East Asia.

Fig. 2: Distribution of mitochondrial lineages in the Altai region. Green: lineages today mainly found in modern Europe; blue: lineages today mainly found in modern East Asia.

  Imprint   To top of page