PIE. Indo-Europeans. Indo-Iranians and their Language
Principal archaeological sites and cultures mentioned in text. Sites: A, Mikhailovka; B, Petrovka; C, Arkhaim; D, Sintashta; E, Botai; F, Namazga; G, Gonur; H, Togolok; I, Dashly Oasis; J, Sapelli; K, Djarkutan; L, Hissar; M, Shahr-i-Sokhta; N, Sibri; O, Shahdad; P, Yahya; Q, Susa.
Cultures: 1, Cucuteni (NWM)-Tripolye; 2, Pit Grave/Catacomb;3, Sintashta/Arkhaim; 4, Abashevo; 5, Afanasievo; 6, Andronovo; 7, Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex; 8, Indus; 9, Akkadian; 10, Hurrian; 11, Hittite
Table of Contents-Cuprins:
Archaeology and Language. The Indo-Iranians by C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky
Linguistic Aspects of the Indo-European Urheimat Question by Dr. Koenraad Elst
Archaeology and Language. The Indo-Iranians by C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky
Linguistic Aspects of the Indo-European Urheimat Question
by Dr. Koenraad Elst
Archaeology and Language. The Indo-Iranians
by C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky
Current Anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
C . C . Lamberg-Karlovsky is Stephen Philips Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and Curator of Near Eastern Archaeology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum (Cambridge, Mass. 02138, U.S.A. [karlovsk@ fas.harvard.edu]). Born in 1937, he was educated at Dartmouth College (B.A., 1959) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 1964; Ph.D., 1965). His research interests concern the nature of the interaction between the Bronze Age civilizations of the Near East and their contemporary neighbors of the Iranian Plateau, the Indus Valley, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central Asia. His recent publications include Beyond the Tigris and Euphrates Bronze Age Civilizations (Tel Aviv: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1996) and (with Daniel Potts et al.) Excavations
at Tepe Yahya, Iran: Third Millennium (American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 42). The present paper was submitted 23 vii 00 and accepted 29 v 01.
This review of recent archaeological work in Central Asia and Eurasia attempts to trace and date the movements of the Indo- Iranians—speakers of languages of the eastern branch of Proto-Indo-European that later split into the Iranian and Vedic families. Russian and Central Asian scholars working on the contemporary but very different Andronovo and Bactrian Margiana archaeological complexes of the 2d millennium b.c. have identified both as Indo-Iranian, and particular sites so identified are being used for nationalist purposes. There is, however, no compelling archaeological evidence that they had a common ancestor or that either is Indo-Iranian. Ethnicity and language are not easily linked with an archaeological signature, and the identity of the Indo-Iranians remains elusive.
Once upon a time—no one really knows how long ago—there was a community that spoke a language known today as Proto-Indo-European. For almost two centuries scholars have been trying to locate the time and the place and to reconstruct that language. Several recent works by archaeologists and linguists on the origins and eventual spread of Proto-Indo-European-related languages—Germanic, Slavic, Romance, Iranian, Indic, Albanian, Baltic, Armenian, Tocharian, and Greek —from India to England offer new perspectives on this centuries-long debate. Among these the work of Renfrew (1987), Mallory (1989), Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1984, 1995), and Mallory and Mair (2000) are of greatest interest.
The archaeologist Renfrew contends that the Proto- Indo-European settlement was located in Anatolia around 7000–6500 b.c. and its subsequent spread can be
attributed to a superior technology: the invention of agriculture.
The linguists Gamkrelidze and Ivanov situate the homeland of Proto-Indo-European a few millennia later in the nearby Caucasus. Mallory and Mair agree with their 4th-to-5th-millennium date but place the homeland in the Pontic-Caspian steppes. Whatever the location of its homeland and the timing of its dispersal, there is agreement that the Proto-Indo- European community split into two major groups. One group migrated west to Europe and became speakers of Indo-European (all the languages of modern Europe save for Basque, Hungarian, and Finnish), while the other headed east to Eurasia to become speakers of Indo-Iranian
(fig. 1). Indo-Iranian split into Iranian and Vedic or
Indo-Aryan. The Iranian languages are those of Iran (Iranian),
Pakistan (Baluch), Afghanistan (Pashto), and Tadjikistan
(Tadjik), and the Indo-Aryan languages are Hindi
and its many related languages. In this review I am seeking
to trace and date the movement and language of the
The Theorists: Archaeologists, Linguists, and Others With the renewed interest in the relationship between archaeology, language, and archaeogenetics, new solutions
are being offered for old problems (Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, and Piazza 1994; Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Meskell 1998; Renfrew and Boyle 2000). The search for the Indo-Europeans in an archaeological context is almost as old as archaeology. Raphael Pumpelly’s (1908) highly regarded excavations at Anau, Turkmenistan, were motivated by such a search, and they had a profound influence on V. G. Childe (1928). Renfrew (1999), reviewing the status of the origins and dispersal of the Indo-European languages, suggests that the immediate ancestor of the Indo-Iranian languages “may perhaps find its material counterpart in the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture of the Ukraine” (1999:280). He argues for an eastward dispersal of Indo-Iranian-speakers after 3000 b.c. He offers no “cause” for this dispersal but believes it unrelated to horse riding, which he attributes to a later-2d-millennium
adaptation. He places the dispersal of Indo-Iranian 64 F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
Fig. 1. Hypothetical development of the Indo-Iranian languages.
onto the Indian subcontinent around 1700 b.c. and invokes
his “elite dominance model”—the subordination
of the local populations by an elite group of charioteers,
as described in the Rigveda—to describe it.
Elena Kuzmina (1994), in search of the homeland of the Indo-Europeans, examines the regions from the Balkans-Carpathians-Danube Basin to the Urals and the eastern steppes of Kazakhstan and places the establishment of the Proto-Indo-European community broadly between 4500 and 2500 b.c. and its subsequent spread in the range of 3200–2200 b.c. She favors an Indo-European homeland in the Pontic-Caspian zone and argues for a
series of eastward migrations to the Urals. As a result of the movement of tribes along the Don Basin in the northern Caspian area and from the western steppes and the mountainous Crimea to the eastern steppes beyond the Urals, a productive subsistence economy based on cattle breeding and wheat and barley farming spread. The largescale migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, she believes,were motivated by the reduction of local food
resources as a result of deteriorating climatic conditions and by a conscious search for new productive lands and modes of subsistence. Reliance upon migrations as the principal agent of social change has been typical of Russian archaeological interpretations, along with a blurring of the distinction between ethnic, linguistic, racial, and cultural entities, the isolation of racial/ethnic groups by the craniometric methods of physical anthropology, and the use of linguistic paleontology to reconstruct the development of
cultural groups. For instance, attempts have been made to identify the physical types of the various Andronovo populations, invariably by craniometric means (Alekseev 1967, 1986, 1989). These studies are more closely related to racial typology than more recent attempts to gauge degrees of biological affinity between populations residing in distinctive geographical settings (Malaspina et al. 1998, Voevoda et al. 1994). Skeletal remains from sites of the Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex have been compared with those of the Harappan civilization in terms of nonmetric cranial features and judged “profoundly”
different (Hemphill, Christensen, and Mustafakulov 1995). These researchers believe that their study documents “gene flow from west to east, from western Iran to the oases of Central Asia” (p. 863). In their opinion the Bactrian Margiana complex either originated in or passed through Iran. But the presence or absence of certain nonmetric features of the skull cannot be considered “gene flow” and hardly supports such a sweeping conclusion.
There is absolutely no evidence that genes are involved in determining the presence or absence of the cranial features studied; there are numerous nongenetic factors that account for cranial features and their variation (for example, diet, infant cradling). To speak of
“gene flow” suggests a degree of understanding of the genetic structure of the architecture of the skull that we simply do not currently possess.
The Archaeological Evidence
The principal actors on the archaeological stage are the Pit Grave culture(s) of the Pontic-Caspian steppe at 4000–2800 b.c., its descendant the Catacomb Grave culture(
s) of 2800–2000 b.c., and its successors the Timber Grave (Srubnaja) culture(s) of 2000–1000 b.c. and the related Andronovo cultures of 2000–900 b.c. (see figs. 2and 3). No two writers agree on the extent to which these entities are related. This is not surprising, for there is a conspicuous absence of formal descriptions, ceramic typologies,chronological sequences, and/or distribution analyses of the artifact types that are said to characterize
them (Zdanovich 1984). Each of them is divisible into archaeological variants, and each variant has its advocate for its Indo-Iranian identity. Archaeologists describe the
various “tribes” of the Pit Grave or the earlier Mariupol culture as inhabiting the region between the Dnieper and the Urals in the 4th millennium. The development of cattle breeding and the domestication of the horse are taken to be major 5th/4th-millennium developments on
the Russian/Ukrainian steppes. These archaeological cultures are typically identified as Indo-European (Anthony 1991).
The Andronovo culture was first described by Teploukhov (1927) and has been the focus of archaeological research on the Ural/Kazakhstan steppe and in Siberia (Jettmar 1951). Kuzmina (1994) is among the majority of scholars who believe that the Andronovo is Indo-Iranian and forms a single cultural entity, albeit with regional variations. Increasingly, however, the concept of a single homogeneous culture covering 3 million square kilometers
and enduring for over a millennium has become untenable (Yablonsky 2000).
(lamberg-karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 65
Fig. 2. Principal archaeological sites and cultures mentioned in text. Sites: A, Mikhailovka; B, Petrovka; C, Arkhaim; D, Sintashta; E, Botai; F, Namazga; G, Gonur; H, Togolok; I, Dashly Oasis; J, Sapelli; K, Djarkutan; L, Hissar; M, Shahr-i-Sokhta; N, Sibri; O, Shahdad; P, Yahya; Q, Susa. Cultures: 1, Tripolye; 2, Pit Grave/Catacomb;
3, Sintashta/Arkhaim; 4, Abashevo; 5, Afanasievo; 6, Andronovo; 7, Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex; 8, Indus; 9, Akkadian; 10, Hurrian; 11, Hittite.)
Archaeologists working on the steppes are involved in giving new definitions—that
is, distinctive chronological and cultural phases—to the cultures of the steppes (Kutimov 1999, Levine et al. 1999 and papers therein). Similarly, the nature of Andronovo
interaction, its periodization, and its unstructured chronology are all subjects of heated discussion. Numerous subcultures have been identified: Petrov (also called Sintashta-
Arkhaim-Petrovka), Alakul, Fedorovo, Sargarin, Cherkaskul, Petrovalka, Abashevo, Novokumak, and others. On the basis of the type of pottery and its technology,the absence of the pig, and the presence of camels,cattle, horses, psalia (distinctive decorative pieces,often of bone or ivory, attached to the reins at the ends of the bit), and chariots, Kuzmina argues for cultural continuity of the Andronovo from 2000 to 900 b.c. She uses ethnohistoric evidence to support the idea of the southern Urals as the homeland of the Indo-Iranians,
tracing the Iranian-speaking Sakas and Sauromatians of the 1st millennium back to the Andronovo tribes and suggesting that Indo-Iranian texts such as the Rigveda
and the Avesta reflect the world of the Andronovo culture. In the Rigveda there is an admonition against the use of the wheel in the production of pottery, and the
fact that Andronovo pottery is handmade is taken as
evidence of its makers’ Indo-Iranian identity.
In an effort to create a science of archaeo-linguistic
correlations, Kuzmina (1994) devises the following methods
for ethnic attribution: (1) retrospective comparison—
comparison of the archaeological culture with a
descendant culture whose ethnicity is established by
written documents, (2) correlating the ethnic attribution
derived by the retrospective method with lexicostatistical
data on the level and type of economy, (3) determination
of migration routes and the plotting of migration
indicators through time and space, (4) anthro66
F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
Fig. 3. Relative chronology of major archaeological cultures.
pometric analyses, believed to indicate a group’s biological
affinity, (5) study of linguistic substrates and toponymic
correlations, and (6) the reconstruction of culture,
cosmology, and worldview from archaeological and linguistic
data. Using these methods, she assesses the Andronovo
culture as Indo-Iranian and, more specifically,
the Fedorovo culture (a late variant of the Andronovo)
as Indo-Aryan. The ethnic indicators here are (1) the absence
of the pig from the domestic diet, (2) the presence
of the Bactrian camel, (3) the special significance of horse
breeding, (4) the special role of chariots, (5) a cult of the
horse associated with burial contexts, (6) vertically oriented
tripartite vessels manufactured by coiling, (7)
unique quadrangular pots, (8) cremation, and (9) houses
with high, gabled roofs. Diakonoff (1995:147) concludes
that with Kuzmina’s methodology “the bearers of a certain
archaeological culture can securely be identified
with the bearers of a language of a certain group or with
The ethnic and linguistic identity of the Andronovo
culture nevertheless remains elusive. A great deal is
made of the importance of the horse in the Andronovo
cultural context, but the role of horse riding as a stimulus
to the development of sheep, goat, and cattle pastoralism
and the relative dependence upon pastoral transhumance
compared with sedentary agriculture is much debated.
Given the absence of botanical data providing information
about crops and the relative paucity of settlement
archaeology—save for the newly discovered “country of
towns”—we have virtually no understanding of the demographic
situation on the steppes. Khazanov (1983:33–35)
has shown that a shepherd can control up to 2,000 sheep
when riding horseback as compared with fewer than 500
on foot. However, increase in herd size results in risks
to the fragile environment of the steppes, and given the
severe winters, the relative unavailability of water, and
the failure of rainfall in as many as six out of ten years
out-migration (diffusion) is inevitable (Khazanov 1983).
The Pit Grave Culture
Kuzmina (1994) is not alone in believing that the domestication
of the horse introduced a new stage in the
evolution of civilization. On the steppes the horse allowed
for the increasing role of cattle breeding, the inlamberg-
karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 67
tensification of interethnic communication, the development
of plough traction, and the use of carts and
wagons. By the middle of the 3d millennium these innovations
were being used by tribes of the Pit Grave
culture from the Danube to the Urals. The 4th-millennium
Pit Grave culture was characterized by large fortified
settlements (e.g., Mikhailovka), four- and twowheeled
wagons pulled by bulls or horses, intensive
cattle breeding and farming, extensive use of metal tools,
and burials under mounds (kurgans) containing carts,
wagons, and sacrificed horses. The migrations of the Pit
Grave culture(s) are considered by some scholars to be
responsible for the emergence of stock breeding and agriculture
in distant Siberia. With regard to horse riding
Anthony (2000) supports an early date—late 4th/early 3d
millennium—while Levine (1999) finds conclusive evidence
only in the late 2d millennium. In light of the fact
that texts refer to horse riding in late-3d-millennium
Mesopotamia, where the domesticated horse was an obvious
import, it would appear that Anthony is closer to
The warrior attributes that are evident in the Andronovo
culture are frequently assigned to the Pit Grave
culture. Axes, spears, bows and arrows, a rich variety of
dagger types, and chariots all speak of conflict and confrontation,
as do the heavily fortified communities.
Sharp distinctions of rank are attested in burial sites.
Kuzmina (1994) suggests that social position was defined
more by social, ideological, and ritual activities than by
property ownership. Russian archaeologists view the
steppe cultures as a “transitional type.” The concept of
a “military democracy,” derived from the work of Lewis
Henry Morgan, remains popular and refers to the presence
of a chief, a council, and a popular assembly. Khazanov
(1979), while regarding the military democracy as
a particular type of transitional society applicable to the
social formations of Central Asian pastoral nomads, has
also advocated the adoption of the concept of a “chiefdom”
as a transitional form preceding the state.
Commenting upon the vehicle burials of the Pit and
Catacomb Grave cultures, Stuart Piggott (1992:22) points
out that over the past 40 years more than 100 kurgans
with vehicles have been excavated but fewer than half
have been published even in the briefest form. By contrast,
Gening, Zdanovich, and Gening (1992) have published
on the settlement and cemetery of Sintashta in
the southern Urals, where ten-spoked-wheeled chariots,
horse sacrifices, and human burials have been radiocarbon-
dated to the 1st century of the 2d millennium b.c.
However horses may have been regarded on the
steppes, in Mesopotamia the king of Mari, ca. 1800 b.c.,
is admonished not to ride a horse, lest he jeopardize his
status: “You are the King of the Hanaeans and King of
the Akkadians. You should not ride a horse. Let my king
ride a chariot or on a mule and he will thereby honor
his head” (Malamat 1989).
The Petrov, Alakul, and Fedorovo Cultures
The earliest of the Andronovo cultures would seem to
be the Petrov, dated to the first centuries of the 2d millennium.
The Petrov is succeeded by the Alakul, which,
in turn, is followed by the Fedorovo, dated to the second
half of the 2d millennium. Both the Alakul and the Fedorovo
are frequently assigned an Indo-Iranian identity.
Chernetsov (1973) and Stokolos (1972), however, argue
for a Ugric substrate among the Andronovo tribes and a
specific Indo-Iranian identity only for the Alakul, with
the latter proposing a local development for the Fedorovo.
Kuzmina (1994) accepts the cultural subdivisions
of the Andronovo culture but often refers to cultural
contact and migrations in the context of a singular Andronovo
entity. She refers to Andronovo influence with
regard to the introduction of specific axes and adzes of
Andronovo type in distant Xinjiang. The relationships of
the Andronovo with the cultures of Xinjiang are documented
by Mei and Shell (1999).
P’yankova (1993, 1994, 1999) and Kuzmina (1994) are
specific in linking the Andronovo culture with the 2dmillennium
agricultural communities of Central Asia,
the Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex. Sites of
this complex and the related mid-2d-millennium Bishkent
culture are seen by P’yankova as influenced by the
Fedorovo tribes. Fedorovo ceramics, funeral rites, and
metal (alloyed with tin) and skulls of the Andronovo
anthropological type are said to be present in a number
of Central Asian sites. There is consensus that throughout
the 2d millennium migrations of the Andronovo
tribes resulted in contact with the Central Asian oases,
the cultures of the Tien Shan Mountains of Xinjiang, and
the indigenous tribes of the Altai, Tuva, and Pamir
The Timber Grave and the Sintashta-
Although Kuzmina (1994) identifies the 3d-millennium
Timber Grave culture as Indo-Iranian, it is only in the
Andronovo culture and, specifically, at the site of Sintashta
that she believes one can document a cluster of
specific Indo-Iranian cultural traits: (1) a mixed economy
of pastoralism and agriculture, (2) handmade ceramics,
(3) horse-drawn chariots, (4) cultic significance for the
horse, fire, and ancestors, and (5) high status for charioteers.
There are two contending hypotheses for the origins
of the Sintashta-Arkhaim-Petrovka culture—as an
indigenous culture with its roots in the earlier Botai culture
of northern Kazakhstan (see Kislenko and Tatarintseva
1999) and as the result of a migration from the
west (from the Abashevo and/or the Mnogovalikovo culture(
s), themselves variants of the Timber Grave culture).
Kuzmina appears to favor a western origin, while Zdanovich
and Zdanovich (1995) appear to favor indigenous
roots. Research on the question of origins is severely
hampered by an inadequate chronological framework.
68 F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
Despite the paucity of radiocarbon dates (Go¨ rsdorf et al.
1998), recent research in Kazakhstan has been able to
trace an indigenous series of archaeological cultures from
the Mesolithic to the Atbasar culture of the Neolithic,
all preceding the diffusion of the Andronovo from the
west (Kislenko and Tatarintseva 1999).
Excavations at Sintashta were initiated in 1972 under
the direction of V. I. Stepanov and resumed in 1983 under
the direction of G. B. Zdanovich and V. F. Gening. The
settlement, subcircular in form, is 140 m in diameter
and 62,000 km2 in area. Its elaborate fortification system
consists of an outer wall, a moat, and an inner wall with
periodic buttresses believed to have formed towers. Entrance
to the settlement is by way of two gates, each
offering angled access and a movable bridge placed over
a moat. Several two- or three-room houses with hearths,
constructed of timber, wattle and daub, and unbaked
brick, were excavated. Evidence for the production of
metal as well as ceramics was found in some of the
Two hundred meters northwest of the settlement a
burial complex consisting of 40 graves with 60–65 inhumations
was uncovered. The burials were placed in
pits in which wooden structures were constructed and
roofed with wooden beams. Single and multiple burials,
adults and children, were placed in these wooden structures.
The burials contained a wealth of material: vessels,
daggers, pins, awls, needles, axes, mortars, pestles, stone
tools, bone artifacts, etc. Five graves contained psalia and
“battle chariots.” Twenty-five graves had evidence for
the sacrifice of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and dogs. The
animals or sometimes only parts of them were placed
either directly in the burial or in associated pits. From
one to six horses were placed in individual graves. The
excavators had little doubt that the differences in the
wealth placed in particular tombs indicated a rank-ordering
of social strata. Significantly, several of the burials
containing considerable wealth were of females and children.
In some burials the excavators recorded the presence
of “altars” and associated “ritual fires.”
A circular barrow 32 m in diameter contained three
burial clusters. The first group had abundant grave offerings
placed in individual chambers containing numerous
sacrificed horses. The second group was placed
in a central structure 18 m in diameter. Within this burial
was uncovered a large battle chariot with a very rich
inventory of material remains and numerous sacrificed
animals. This entire complex is interpreted as the burial
of an extremely important person. A third group of burials
consisted mostly of women and children placed in
simple shallow pits at the edge of the barrow. These
burials also contained rich grave goods and the remains
of sacrificed animals.
A small barrow was located 400 m northwest of the
large burial complex. It was 12 m in diameter and contained
six adults and three children, all placed in a square
wooden structure. Burial 7, a male, was particularly rich
in material remains, as was burial 10, a female. Both
burials contained a rich inventory of metals—the male
daggers and knives, the female bracelets and needles.
Both burials contained sacrificial animals. The researchers
suggest that this burial complex contained a number
of related persons.
Another barrow was 15–16 m in diameter and contained
a single wooden chamber with five bodies. A large
battle chariot was uncovered, and near each of the deceased
was a rich material inventory. Four additional
graves were found outside of the structure. Some Russian
archaeologists believe that human sacrifice and the defleshing
of the dead were components of Andronovo burial
ritual, and if so, perhaps these are candidates for such
Another barrow, looted in antiquity, is 85 m in diameter
and is located almost immediately adjacent to
the large burial complex. Around the barrow there is
evidence for a 12-m-wide moat. Within the barrow there
were numerous “ritual fires” surrounding two wooden
structures and a large wooden “temple” structure. The
principal burial was placed in a vaulted dromos. Over
the looted burial chambers an impressive “temple” had
In the opinion of Zdanovich and Zdanovich (1995; Zdanovich
1997), the Sintashta-Arkhaim-Petrovka culture is
characterized by heavily fortified communities with
moats and walls forming circular or subrectangular settlements.
Gennadi Zdanovich (1995, 1997, 1999), who
excavated both Sintashta and Arkhaim, refers to this culture
as the “country of towns.” Nineteen settlements of
this type, spaced about 20–30 km apart, are known in
an area 450 km by 150 km.
The horse-drawn chariot, a rich inventory of weaponry,
tin-bronze alloying, and disclike bone psalia are all believed
to be innovations of the Sintashta-Arkhaim-Petrovka
culture. The Andronovo culture has also been
seen as responsible for large-scale metallurgy and as the
principal agent in the exchange of metals throughout
Eurasia in the 2d millennium. The recent discovery of
stannite deposits and tin mining at Muschiston, Tadjikistan,
associated with Andronovo sherds (Aklimov et
al. 1998), adds to the already considerable evidence for
the mining of copper deposits by the Andronovo tribes
(Cherynkh 1994a, b). Given the existence of an extensive
Andronovo metallurgical inventory, its association with
the mining of both copper and tin, the evidence for the
production of metal artifacts at numerous sites, and the
presumed extensive migrations, the Andronovo culture
is often considered responsible for the dissemination of
metallurgical technology. Some writers have even suggested
that the pastoral nomads of the steppes—the Andronovo
and the even earlier Afanasiev cultures—were
the agents of the dissemination of metallurgical technology
into China (Peng 1998, Bunker 1998, Mei and
The search for new metal resources, the alloying of
copper with tin, intensive cattle breeding, the construction
of fortified settlements, and the development of the
horse-driven chariot are all important innovations of the
“country of towns.” Less attention has been paid to plant
remains. At Arkhaim archaeologists recovered millet
(Panicum miliaceum) and Turkestan barley (Hordeum
lamberg-karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 69
turkestan). The excavator has also argued for the presence
of “irrigated farming” in “kitchen gardens,” parallel
beds 3–4 m wide divided by deep ditches (Zdanovich
Arkhaim is a circular fortified settlement approximately
150 m in diameter. It is estimated that between
1,000 and 2,000 people inhabited it. The settlement is
surrounded by two concentric defensive walls constructed
of adobe and clay placed in a log frame. Within
the circle, abutting the defensive walls, are some 60
semisubterranean dwellings. These houses contain
hearths, cellars, and wells, and some have metallurgical
furnaces. A drainage gutter with pits for collecting water
was uncovered in the circular street that surrounded the
inner portion of the settlement. In the center of the settlement
was a rectangular “plaza.”
Entrance into the settlement was by way of four elaborately
constructed angular passages constructed over
moats and terminating in a gate. Clearly, access for the
unfamiliar would have been very difficult. Larger fortified
settlements with far more impressive stone architecture
are known but remain unexcavated. Russian
archaeologists believe that the Sintashta-Arkhaim-
Petrovka culture consisted of three classes, military and
religious leaders, nobles, and peasants, and they tend to
refer to this culture as a chiefdom rather than as a military
democracy (Koryakova 1996).
The discovery and preservation of Arkhaim is of special
significance, as it was scheduled to be flooded in
1989 after the completion of a reservoir. In 1991 the
Council of Ministers of the Russian Federation designated
Arkhaim and its environs a protected site. In subsequent
years a scientific campus was built, along with
tourist facilities, and in 1999 an impressive Museum of
Natural History and Man was under construction. Arkhaim
has become a center for followers of the occult
and Russian supernationalists, a theater of, and for, the
absurd and dangerous. It is argued that it was constructed
to reproduce a model of the universe; that it was built
by King Yima, as described in the Avesta, the sacred book
of the Zoroastrians (Medvedev 1999); that it was a temple
observatory; that it was the birthplace of Zoroaster, who
is buried at Sintashta; that it is the homeland of the
ancient Aryans; and that it is the earliest Slavic state.
The swastika, which appears on pottery from Arkhaim,
is proclaimed a symbol of Aryanism. Visitors come to
pray, tap energy from outer space, worship fire, be cured,
dance, meditate, and sing. “We Slavs,” writes Zdanovich,
the director of excavations, “consider ourselves to be
new arrivals, but that is untrue. Indo-Europeans and
Indo-Iranians had been living here [in the southern Urals]
since the Stone Age and had been incorporated into the
Kazakhs, Bashkirs, and Slavs; such is the common thread
linking us all” (quoted in Shnirelman 1998, 1999).
Shnirelman (1995:1) writes that nationalist concerns
in the former U.S.S.R. are creating “an explicitly ethnocentric
vision of the past, a glorification of the great
ancestors of the given people, who are treated as if they
had made the most valuable contribution to the culture
of all humanity.” The wave of nationalism in Russia has
given rise to numerous publications of highly dubious
merit. Thus, a monograph published by the Library of
Ethnography and sanctioned by the Russian Academy of
Science, Kto Oni i Otkuda (Chesko 1998), claims the
Arctic to be the original homeland of the Vedas and Russian
the language with the closest affinity to Sanskrit.
This heightened nationalism projects a mythical and majestic
Slavic past in which the archaeology of Arkhaim
plays no small part. Geary, discussing ethnic group formation
(1999:109, my emphasis), states:
The second model of ethnogenesis drew on Central
Asian steppe peoples for the charismatic leadership
and organization necessary to create a people from a
diverse following. . . . these polyethnic confederations
were if anything more inclusive than the first
model [in which ethnic formation followed the identity
of a leading or royal family], being able to draw
together groups which maintained much of their
traditional linguistic, cultural, and even political organization
under the generalship of a small body of
steppe commanders. The economic bases of these
confederations was semi-nomadic rather than sedentary.
Territory and distance played little role in defining
their boundaries, although elements of the
confederation might practice traditional forms of agriculture
and social organization quite different from
those of the steppe leadership.
In a similar vein one might imagine the Andronovo
culture as consisting of “polyethnic confederations”
which had varying archaeological expressions—Alakul,
Petrov, Abashevo, “the country of towns,” etc.—each
maintaining its “traditional linguistic, cultural, and even
political organization.” The identification of the Andronovo
culture as a singularity, in both a cultural and
a linguistic sense, transforms the multiple and the complex
into the singular and simple. In considering the history
of the peoples of the steppes, whether it be the confederation
of the Huns, the Goths, or the Sarmatians,
Patrick Geary is at constant pains to point out that “polyethnicity
was obvious” and that “ethnic labels remained
significant . . . but they designated multiple and at times
even contradictory aspects of social and political identity”
(1999:117, 125). As Barth (1969) long ago pointed
out, ethnic groups are subjective, constructed, and situational,
embedded in political and economic relations.
Ethnicity is a changing phenomenon that attains its
greatest expression in situations of conflict, competition,
and cultural change (Jones 1997).
The Bactrian Margiana Archaeological
A major contender for Indo-Iranian identity and a relatively
new actor on the archaeological stage of Central
Asia is the Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex,
discovered and named by Victor Sarianidi (1976:71)
through excavations in Afghanistan in the late 1970s (for
70 F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
references see Klochkov 1999). “Bactria” was the name
given by the Greeks to northern Afghanistan, the territory
around the Amu Darya River, while Margiana (Margush)
was a Persian province of the Achaemenid empire
whose capital was Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan.
Sarianidi (1998a, b) not only identified the Bactrian Margiana
complex as Indo-Iranian but isolated what he believed
to be distinctive Proto-Zoroastrian cultural characteristics
in the archaeological record.
Following five years of surveys and excavation at the
important site of Delbarjin (Kushan/Buddhist) in Afghanistan,
a new publication was initiated specifically
to report on this work: Drevnii Baktria. In the first volume
Sarianidi (1976) published his excavations in the
Dashly Oasis, with the initial identification of the Bactrian
Margiana complex. In the following year (1977) he
published the first extensive synthesis of his work in
Afghanistan. His excavations at Dashly III uncovered a
round building interpreted as a temple. The Dashly III
culture was reconstructed along Mesopotamian lines; a
temple community presided over by a “chief priest”
eventually gave way to kingship as the communal sector
became privatized. The large round building, which had
a buttressed outer wall, was the focus of the community,
with radial streets leading to it. This “temple,” with
dozens of rooms indicating domestic functions, was believed
to have housed 150–200 people. Numerous bronze
compartmented seals were recovered but no sealings.
The seals were attributed the same function as in Mesopotamia—
securing doors and stored and transported
Sarianidi concluded that the Dashly III settlements
were self-sufficient communities managed as temple estates.
He specifically drew a parallel between them and
the Uruk community of Mesopotamia and suggested that
a few elements found ready parallels in the Rigveda and
the Avesta: cattle breeding, fire temples, circular and rectangular
fortresses, animal burials, and the presence of
camel (Sarianidi 1984).
Excavations at the Dashly Oasis, Togolok 21, Gonur,
Kelleli, Sapelli, and Djarkutan have provided extraordinarily
rich documentation of material remains and architectural
exposures, as well as a chronological sequence
for the Bactrian Margiana complex (for a review
see Askarov and Shirinov 1993). The very extensive horizontal
exposure at each of these sites—a signature of
Soviet archaeology—is almost as impressive as the monumental
structures discovered in them, all identified as
either temples, forts, or palaces. Sarianidi (1990, 1998b)
states that Gonur was the “capital” of the complex in
Margiana throughout the Bronze Age. The palace of
North Gonur measures 150 m by 140 m, the temple at
Togolok 140 m by 100 m, the fort at Kelleli 3 125 m by
125 m, and the house of a local ruler at Adji Kui 25 m
by 25 m. Each of these formidable structures has been
extensively excavated. While they all have impressive
fortification walls, gates, and buttresses, it is not always
clear why one structure is identified as a temple and
another as a palace. Nor is there a clear signature or
architectural template within the complex; in fact, each
building is unique, save for the fact that all are fortified
by impressive walls and gates. The majority of the objects
recovered are ascribed simply to a major feature
(e.g., “the palace at North Gonur”). However, when a
complex feature such as the so-called priestess burial at
Togolok 1, where two bulls and a driver may have been
sacrificed, is excavated, a full contextual analysis is
Sarianidi (1990) advocates a late-2d-millennium chronology
for the Bactrian Margiana complex, describes it
as the result of a migration from southeastern Iran, and
identifies it as Indo-Iranian, with objects, beliefs, and
rituals ancestral to Zoroastrianism. An impressive series
of specific parallels in pottery, seals, stone bowls, and
metal types is found with sites in Baluchistan and with
Tepe Yahya, Shahdad, and the Jhukar culture of late Harappan
times. There is absolutely no doubt, as is amply
documented by Pierre Amiet (1984), of the existence of
Bactrian Margiana material remains at Susa, Shahdad,
and Tepe Yahya, but there is every reason to doubt that
these parallels indicate that the complex originated in
southeastern Iran. The limited materials of this complex
are intrusive in each of the sites on the Iranian Plateau
as they are in sites of the Arabian peninsula (Potts 1994).
Although ceramics from the Andronovo cultures of the
steppe have been found at Togolok 1 and 21, Kelleli, Taip,
Gonur, and Takhirbai, Sarianidi (1998b:42; 1990:63) is
adamant in opposing any significant Andronovo influence
on the Bactrian Margiana complex: “Pottery of the
Andronovo type does not exceed 100 fragments in all of
southern Turkmenistan.” As rigorous approaches to data
retrieval were not practiced, this figure must be merely
impressionistic. Kuzmina and Lapin (1984) suggest that
drought dried up of the delta of the Murghab River, making
possible an incursion from the steppes by Andronovo
warrior tribes that put an end to the Bactrian Margiana
complex. By the middle of the 2dmillennium all its sites
had been abandoned, for reasons that remain elusive.
The question of the nature and the extent of interaction
between the Andronovo cultures of the steppe and
the sedentary farmers of Bactria and Margiana is of fundamental
importance. As noted, the two archaeological
entities are distinctive in their material culture and synchronous,
and both have been identified as Indo-Iranian.
Decades ago, in his excavations at Takhirbai 3, V. M.
Masson (1959) suggested that during the first half of the
2d millennium there was a high degree of interaction
between the steppe nomads and the sedentary farmers
of Bactria and Margiana. This has been resoundingly confirmed
by the highly productive archaeological surveys
undertaken recently by the Turkmen-Russian-Italian
surveys in Margiana (Gubaev, Koshelenko, and Tosi
1998). Erdosy (1998:143) has recently observed that “the
greatest desideratum is a clearer understanding of spatial
relationships, the one area of archaeological research that
has been seriously neglected by Soviet scholarship.”
Archaeological surveys in the Murghab area have documented
hundreds of settlements with Bactrian Margiana
complex, post–Bactrian Margiana complex, and incised
coarse ware (a generic Andronovo ceramic), and
lamberg-karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 71
therefore there is little doubt that the interaction of peoples
from the steppes with their sedentary Central Asian
neighbors was both extensive and intensive, if not always
peaceful. Sarianidi (1999) acknowledges this interaction
and now argues that Andronovo-type vessels have
been found only in rooms used for the preparation of
haoma-type drinks in Margiana. He concludes that the
Bactrian Margiana complex is Indo-Aryan and the Andronovo
Iranian but that as Proto-Zoroastrians the two
have cultic rituals in common.
Clearly, the surveys in the Murghab region indicate
that it was what Mary Louise Pratt (1992:6–7) calls a
contact zone—“the space in which peoples geographically
and historically separated come into contact with
each other and establish on-going relations, usually involving
conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and
intractable conflict” and characterized by “radically
asymmetrical relations of power.” While the relationship
between people from the steppes and those of the Bactrian
Margiana complex and its successors remains undefined,
the fact that all fortified their settlements is
suggestive. The surveys highlight that archaeological
cultures, no less than modern ones, are not distinct “cultures”
or “ethnic groups,” what Geertz (2000:234) calls
“lumps of sameness marked out by limits of consensus,”
but permeable mosaics of interacting similarities and
Evidence for the interaction of settled farmers and the
Andronovo culture also comes from the excavations in
southern Tadjikistan at Kangurttut (Vinogradova 1994),
where Andronovo ceramics were recovered. Vinogradova
suggests that “infiltration of the Andronovo tribes to the
south was relatively slow” and peaceful, allowing a “settling
down and dissolution” of the steppe population into
that of the farming oases (Vinogradova 1994:46).
The extensive metallurgy of both the steppe cultures
and the Bactrian Margiana complex is well documented
(Chernykh 1992). The types that characterize the two
are entirely distinctive. From her study of the Bactrian
Margiana metals N. N. Terekhova concludes that techniques
of casting and forging were utilized in the production
of objects manufactured from copper-arsenides,
native copper, and, very rarely, copper-tin bronze. In the
latter category 26 objects were analyzed and proved to
contain from 1 to 10% tin.
N. R. Meyer-Melikyan (1998) has analyzed floral remains
recovered from the monumental complex at Togolok
21: “fragments of stems, often with leaves, pollen
grains, anterophors, microsporangia, and scraps of megasporia
skin and parts of fruit” (p. 203) found in large
pithoi in rooms 23 and 34. She concludes that the remains
belong to the genus Ephedra. Sarianidi is thus
afforded the opportunity of following a number of scholars
who believe that ephedra was the essential ingredient
in haoma or soma, the mildly intoxicating drink referred
to in the sacred books of the Indo-Iranians, the Rigveda
and the Avesta. The presence of ephedra at Gonur is
taken by Sarianidi as further testimony to the Indo-Iranian
and Proto-Zoroastrian identity of the Bactrian Margiana
complex, along with the presence of fire temples,
fire altars (which he compares to pavi, Zoroastrian altars),
and particular mortuary rituals (animal sacrifice).
Sarianidi (1998b) now accepts, albeit with misgivings,
the higher chronology for the Bactrian Margiana complex
advanced in the mid-1980s by a number of scholars. A
series of radiocarbon dates collected by Fredrik Hiebert
(1994) at Gonur offers unequivocal evidence for the dating
of the complex to the last century of the 3d millennium
and the first quarter of the 2d millennium. A new
series of radiocarbon dates from Tepe Yahya IVB-4, where
Bactrian Margiana imports were recovered, confirms the
late-3d-millennium dating for the beginnings of the complex
(Lamberg-Karlovsky 2000). Sarianidi (1999:78)
writes, “The first colonists from the west appeared in
Bactria and Margiana at the transition from the 3d to the
2d millennium b.c.” However, his insistence upon dating
Gonur to 1500–1200 b.c. flies in the face of his own
C14 dates, which average 300–500 years earlier.
Of equal significance is Sarianidi’s new perspective on
the origins of the Bactrian Margiana complex. At numerous
sites Sarianidi identifies altars, fire temples, the
importance of fire in mortuary rituals, fractional burials,
burials in vessels, and cremation, and in chamber 92 at
Gonur a dakhma—a communal burial structure associated
with Zoroastrian mortuary practice, in which the
dead are exposed—is reported. Animal burials including
camel and ram were recovered from Gonur and other
Bactrian Margiana sites. At North Gonur the “Tomb of
the Lamb” contained a decorated metal macehead, silver
and bronze pins with elaborately decorated heads, an ornamental
ivory disc, and numerous “faience” and bone
pieces of inlay. Sarianidi interprets this as evidence for
the transition from human to animal sacrifice, even
though there is no unequivocal evidence for human sacrifice
either on the steppes or in Central Asia. Mortuary
rituals, architectural parallels (particularly in what Sarianidi
calls “temples”), and above all, stylistic similarities
in cylinder seals all converge to suggest to him that
Bactria and Margiana were colonized by immigrants
from the Syro-Anatolian region (1998a:76, 142). He traces
this migration in two directions: (1) across the Zagros to
Elam and Susa, where there are numerous Bactrian Margiana
parallels (Amiet 1984), from there to Shahdad and
Yahya, where again such materials are found (Hiebert
and Lamberg-Karlovsky 1992), and finally to Baluchistan
and (2) north of Lake Urmia and along the Elburz Mountains
to Hissar in period IIIB and finally to the oases of
Bactria and Margiana. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence
to support the notion of an extensive migration
from Syro-Anatolia to Bactria and Margiana in the archaeological
Architectural similarities are exceedingly generalized,
and the parallels to time/space systematics are weak.
Thus it is suggested that a text from Qumran referring
to animal sacrifice, the “Tomb of the Lamb” at Gonur,
and a “Ligabue vessel” said to have come from an illegal
excavation at Shahdad that is vaguely associated with
the Aegean “prove the real historical link of the tribes
that immigrated from the west with the Mycenean-Minoan
world” to Bactria and Margiana (Sarianidi 1998a:
72 F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
44). Sarianidi believes that the evidence provided by the
seals is conclusive—that they derive their thematic inspiration
and style from the Syro-Anatolian region and
that their motifs and composition are of “undisputed
Hittite-Mitannian origin” (1998a:143). One gets the impression
that he has chosen the Syro-Anatolian region
as the homeland of the Bactrian Margiana complex in
order to situate it within the geographical region in
which the first Indo-Aryan texts were recovered and thus
strengthen his Indo-Aryan claim for it (Sarianidi 1999).
In a treaty between a Hittite and a Mitanni king from
the 15th century b.c., the latter swears an oath by a series
of gods who are major Indic deities: Mi-it-ra (IndicMitra),
Aru-na (Varuna), In-da-ra (Indra), and Na-sa-at-tiya. In
another text a man named Kikkuli counts from one to
nine in Indic numerals and is referred to as an assussanni
(Sanskrit asvasani-), a trainer of horses and specialist in
chariotry. In yet another text, Indo-Aryan words are used
to describe the colors of horses. Finally, the Mitanni word
marya is precisely the same word as the marya referred
to in the Rigveda with the meaning “warrior”. This evidence
has led to the consensus view that an Indo-Aryanspeaking
elite of chariot warriors imposed themselves
on a native Hurrian population to form a ruling dynasty
that endured for several centuries (Mallory 1989).
(Ghirshman  attempted to identify the arrival of
the Indo-Aryans in the region of the Hurrians (northern
Syria) by linking them with Habur Ware and black and
grey wares, but this untenable argument was elegantly
refuted by Kramer .) These texts indicate that by
the 16th/15th centuries b.c. a separate Indo-Aryan language
had already diverged from a putative Indo-Iranian
linguistic entity. Thus, the split of the Indo-Iranian languages
into Iranian and Indo-Aryan must predate the
14th and 15th centuries b.c., perhaps by as much as 500
years, and this is where linguists generally place it.
The vast majority of the Bactrian Margiana seals contain
motifs, styles, and even material that are entirely
foreign to the repertoire of seals from Syro-Anatolia,
Mesopotamia, the Gulf, and the Indus (Baghestani 1997).
They are of a thoroughly distinctive type and are to be
seen as indigenous to the Central Asian Bronze Age
world and not as derivative from any other region. They
have been found in the Indus civilization, on the Iranian
Plateau, at Susa, and in the Gulf. Amiet (1984) and Potts
(1994) have documented the wide distribution of Bactrian
Margiana–complex materials, and it is in this context
that the specific parallels to the Syro-Anatolian region
are to be appreciated. The wide scatter of a limited
number of artifacts does not privilege any area as a homeland
for the complex. The very limited number of parallels
between the Bactrian Margiana complex and Syro-
Anatolia signifies the unsurprising fact that, at the end
of the 3d and the beginning of the 2d millennium, interregional
contacts in the Near East brought people
from the Indus to Mesopotamia and from Egypt to the
Aegean into contact.
The idea of a distant homeland and an expansive migration
to Central Asia is difficult if not impossible to
maintain, but the origin of the Bactrian Margiana complex
remains a fundamental issue. Although some scholars
advance the notion that it has indigenous roots, the
fact remains that its material culture is not easily derived
from the preceding Namazga IV culture. Its wide distribution,
from southeastern Iran to Baluchistan and Afghanistan,
suggests that its beginnings might lie in this
direction—an area of enormous size and an archaeological
terra nullius. In fact, the Bactrian Margiana complex
of Central Asia may turn out to be its northernmost
extension, while its heartland may lie in the vast areas
of unexplored Baluchistan and Afghanistan.
Ahmed Ali Askarov (1977; Askarov and Shirinov 1993)
has excavated two important settlements of this complex
in Uzbekistan: Sapelli Depe and Djarkutan. The recent
syntheses of these excavations (Askarov and Shirinov
1993) offer an abundance of illustrations of the
architecture, ceramics, and material remains recovered.
The walled settlement of Djarkutan covers an area of
approximately 100 ha and features a fortress, almost
completely excavated, of more than 3 ha. The architecture
and material inventory firmly place Djarkutan and
Sapelli Depe within the Bactrian Margiana cultural context.
Askarov, following Sarianidi, places Djarkutan in
the second half of the 2d millennium b.c. and describes
palaces, temples, and fire altars as related to a Proto-
Askarov pays special attention to a large structure at
Djarkutan, over 50 by 35 m, identified as a “fire temple.”
This structure contains extensive storage facilities and
a large paved central room with a raised podium in its
center that is believed to be the seat of the “sacred fire,”
as well as other rooms containing “fire altars.” This impressive
building is explicitly described as Proto-Zoroastrian.
At both Djarkutan and Sapelli Depe, extensive
excavation has uncovered dozens of structures and numerous
graves, but because there is little attribution of
materials to specific rooms and/or structures one can
only summon a vague notion as to how many building
levels there are at a single site. My own visits to Gonur,
Togolok, and Djarkutan confirm that each of these sites
has multiple building levels, but the publications present
the data as being essentially from a single time period.
Even though Sarianidi points out that Gonur had 2 m of
accumulation and Taip 2.5 m, the stratigraphic complexity
and/or periodization of these sites is left unexplored.
Thus, the internal development and chronology
of the complex still await definition. Askarov reconstructs
social stratification at Djarkutan, from aristocrats
to slaves, within a state-structured society. He identifies
both sites as inhabited by Indo-Iranian tribes which, he
believes, played an important role in the later formation
of Uzbek, Tadjik, and Turkmen nationalities.
The settlement pattern around Djarkutan and Sapelli
mirrors that of the sites excavated by Sarianidi. A large
settlement with impressive “temples” and/or “palaces”
is surrounded by smaller agricultural villages. After Sapelli
was abandoned for reasons unknown, the site, particularly
the region about the “temple,” was used as a
cemetery. A total of 138 graves were excavated. Raffaele
Biscione and L. Bondioli (1988) report that females outlamberg-
karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 73
numbered males by three to two. While both male and
female graves contained numerous ceramics, metals, and
stone vessels, females were accompanied by an average
of 15.5 objects and males by 7.5. Two male graves, however,
stand out from all the rest in number of objects and
in placing the dead in wooden coffins.
Striking evidence for interaction between the Bactrian
Margiana complex and the steppe cultures is reported
from the salvage excavation of an elite tomb discovered
along the upper Zerafshan River in Tadjikistan (Bobomulloev
1999). Excavation of this tomb yielded the burial
of a single male, accompanied by a ram, psalia identical
to those recovered from Sintashta, a bronze pin terminating
with a horse figurine, and numerous ceramics of
Bactrian Margiana type. This striking association in a
single tomb underscores the existence of a paradox. On
the steppes there is ample evidence for the use of horses,
wagons, and chariots but an exceedingly scant presence
of Bactrian Margiana material remains, while in Bactrian
Margiana communities there is scant evidence for steppe
ceramics and a complete absence of horses and their
equipment or their depiction. Such an asymmetry in the
distribution of these highly distinctive cultures would
seem to suggest a minimum of contact between the two.
The fact that representative communities of both cultures
(e.g., Arkhaim and Gonur) are heavily fortified suggests
the need of each community to prepare for conflict.
The extent of the conflict that existed within these distinctive
cultures as well as between them remains unknown.
The almost complete absence of evidence of contact
between the Bactrian Margiana complex and the cultures
of the steppe is made the more enigmatic by the evidence
of settlement surveys. Gubaev, Koshelenko, and Tosi
(1998) have found numerous sites of the steppe cultures
near Bactrian Margiana settlements. The evidence therefore
suggests intentional avoidance. Clearly this situation,
should it be correctly interpreted, requires theoretical
insights that await elucidation.
Iron Age Settlements in China
In the 2d century b.c., Zhang Qian, a Chinese envoy
stationed in the western provinces, compared the agrarian
and nomadic polities of Xinjiang, and Nicola Di-
Cosmo (2000) finds those Iron Age settlements similar
to the Bactrian Margiana complex sites with respect to
size, fortifications, oasis environments, subsistence patterns,
and processes of nomadic-sedentary interaction.
Zhang Qian wrote of 24 “walled towns” in Xinjiang that
served as “capitals,” and DiCosmo calls these nomadic
settlements “city-states.” Wutanzli consisted of 41
households containing 231 individuals, of whom 57 were
capable of bearing arms; Yanqi was among the most populous,
with 4,000 households containing 32,100 individuals
and an army of 6,000. Chinese sources identify these
political entities as guo, traditionally rendered in England
as “state.” Each guo was a political formation with
a recognizable head, a bureaucratic hierarchy, and a military
organization. The Chinese texts indicate that the
pastoral nomads maintained a larger military-to-civilian
ratio than their agrarian neighbors.
The scale of the pastoral nomadic “empire” in the late
Iron Age is attested by the Wusun of Xinjiang’s Tarim
Basin, with a population of 630,000 and an army of
188,800 (DiCosmo 2000:398). To theWusun can be added
the pastoral-nomadic Saka, Yuezhi, and Xiongnu and the
later Mongol confederations, each of which affected the
political organization of Eurasia on a continental scale.
Relationships between nomadic and sedentary communities
were typically hostile; the Chinese sources suggest
that insufficient food supplies resulted in competition
and conflict over agricultural resources. When
nomadic polities were strong, they extracted tribute from
their more sedentary neighbors, thus ensuring the need
for an extensive military presence in return for a sufficient
and regular food supply (see also Jettmar 1997). It
is entirely possible that in the Bronze Age the sedentary
Bactrian Margiana complex and the pastoral-nomadic
Andronovo cultures formed an “ideal type” (in the Weberian
sense) of sociopolitical foundation that is mirrored
in these later Chinese texts.
Archaeological and Linguistic Correlations
The archaeologist A. L. Netchitailo (1996) refers to all
the archaeological cultures on the steppes as belonging
to what he calls “the European community.” This view
can be interpreted as inclusive, in which case Altaic- and
Ugrian-speakers become European, or exclusive, in
which case they played no role on the steppes. I argue
for a different interpretation entirely—that the bearers
of any of the variants of the Andronovo culture and the
Bactrian Margiana complex may have spoken Indo-Iranian
but may just as readily have spoken a Dravidian
and/or an Altaic language. Contemporary methodologies,
linguistic or archaeological, for determining the
spoken language of a remote archaeological culture are
virtually nonexistent. Simplified notions of the congruence
between an archaeological culture, an ethnic group,
and a linguistic affiliation millennia before the existence
of texts is mere speculation, often with a political
agenda. Archaeology has a long way to go before its methodology
allows one to establish which cultural markers,
pottery, architecture, burials, etc., are the most reliable
for designating ethnic identity.
Some scholars, both linguists and archaeologists, subscribe
to the notion that the Dravidians migrated from
the Iranian highlands to South Asia, where they came
into contact with the Indus civilization (Witzel n.d.);
others even suggest that the horse and the camel were
introduced into Iran by the Dravidians (Allchin 1995:31;
Kenoyer 1998:78). The Bactrian Margiana complex could
have been Indo-Iranian, Dravidian, Altaic, or any combination
of the three. If, say, it was Dravidian, then
which archaeological culture represents the others? Central
Asia has either too many languages and too few archaeological
cultures or too few languages and too many
74 F current anthropology Volume 43, Number 1, February 2002
archaeological cultures to permit an easy fit between
archaeology and language.
Archaeologists and linguists share a difficulty in confronting
and identifying processes of convergence and
divergence. Migrations result in linguistic and cultural
divergence, giving rise to the family-tree model of language
formation, while seriation, the establishment of a
“genetic” relationship between two objects in distinctive
material cultures, indicates cultural divergence in the
archaeological record. Convergence—the coming together
of two distinctive languages and/or cultures—is
a more recent linguistic concern that is completely ignored
in archaeology. Archaeological cultures either progress,
change because of internal social processes (rarely
demonstrated), or, more typically, are altered by external
factors (population pressure, climate change, migration/
diffusion, etc.). The Australian linguist R. M. W. Dixon
(1997) has given new life to the importance of linguistic
convergence, first advocated by Trubetskoy (1968 ).
Dixon (1997:3) convincingly argues that migrations,
which trigger linguistic (and cultural) divergence, are
rare, the more normal situation being linguistic, and I
daresay cultural, convergence:
Over most of human history there has been an equilibrium
situation. In a given geographical area there
would have been a number of political groups, of
similar size and organisation, with no one group
having undue prestige over the others. Each would
have spoken its own language or dialect. They
would have constituted a long-term linguistic area,
with the languages existing in a state of relative
This would seem to describe the archaeological cultures
of the steppes from the Pit Grave to the Andronovo culture(
s). Given the increasingly large number of divisions
and subdivisions of the generic Andronovo culture(s),
with evidence for no one group’s having “undue prestige
over the others,” there is no reason to believe that they
all shared an Indo-Iranian language. From the millenniadeep
common roots of the Andronovo culture(s) and before
that the related Timber Grave culture(s), processes
of both convergence and divergence (archaeologically indicated
by the eastward migrations of the Andronovo
culture[s]) allow for the presence of not only Indo-Iranian
but other language families as well.
Clearly, the idea of the convergence of cultures, that
is, the assimilation of local populations by incoming peoples,
is very poorly developed in archaeology. The problem
of identifying convergence in an archaeological or
linguistic framework is highlighted by Henning’s (1978)
attempt to identify the Guti as the “first Indo-Europeans.”
At ca. 2200 b.c. the Guti invaded Mesopotamia
and brought down the powerful Akkadian empire. They
are identified in the texts as mountain people, probably
from northwestern Iran, who ruled Mesopotamia for approximately
100 years. Archaeologists have been unable
to identify a single fragment of material culture in Mesopotamia
as belonging to the Guti, and the Akkadian
(western Semitic) texts contain no loanwords identifiable
as Indo-European. Except for their name and their activities
as recorded in the Mesopotamian texts, the Guti
are all but invisible. Henning (see also Narain 1987) suggests
that after their conquest of Mesopotamia they migrated
to the east, where Chinese texts refer to them, as
the Yue¨ -chih (the phonological equivalent of “Guti” in
Chinese). In the first half of the 2d millennium there is
not a shred of archaeological evidence for a migration
from Mesopotamia to China, nor is there a parallel in
the realm of the Yue¨ -chih for a Mesopotamian-Gutian
material culture. This does not negate the Guti (Yue¨ -
chih) identity but merely underscores the fact that convergence
can virtually obliterate the ability to distinguish
previously distinctive entities, whether cultural or
Russian scholars working in the Eurasiatic steppes are
nearly unanimous in their belief that the Andronovo culture
and its variant expressions are Indo-Iranian. Similarly,
Russian and Central Asian scholars working on the
Bactrian Margiana complex share the conviction that it
is Indo-Iranian. The two cultures are contemporary but
very different. Passages from the Avesta and the Rigveda
are quoted by various researchers to support the Indo-
Iranian identity of both, but these passages are sufficiently
general as to permit the Plains Indians an Indo-
Iranian identity. Ethnicity is permeable and multidimensional,
and the “ethnic indicators” employed by
Kuzmina can be used to identify the Arab, the Turk, and
the Iranian, three completely distinctive ethnic and linguistic
groups. Ethnicity and language are not so easily
linked with an archaeological signature.
Furthermore, archaeology offers virtually no evidence
for Bactrian Margiana influence on the steppe and only
scant evidence for an Andronovo presence in the Bactrian
Margiana area. There is certainly no evidence to support
the notion that the two had a common ancestor. There
is simply no compelling archaeological evidence for (or,
for that matter, against) the notion that either is Indo-
Indo-Iranian is a linguistic construct with two
branches, one of which went to Iran and the other to
northern India. The time of their arrival in these new
homelands is typically taken to be the 2d millennium
b.c. Not a single artifact of Andronovo type has been
identified in Iran or in northern India, but there is ample
evidence for the presence of Bactrian Margiana materials
on the Iranian Plateau and in Baluchistan (e.g., at Susa,
Shahdad, Yahya, Khurab, Sibri, Miri Qalat, Deh Morasi
Ghundai, Nousharo [for a review see Hiebert and Lamberg-
Karlovky 1992]). It is impossible, however, to trace
the continuity of these materials into the 1st millennium
and relate them to the known cultures of Iranian-speakers—
the Medes or the Achaemenids (or their presumed
Iron Age ancestors [see Ghirshman 1977, Young 1967]).
The only intrusive archaeological culture of the 2d millamberg-
karlovsky Archaeology and Language F 75
lennium that directly influences Iran and northern India
is the Bactrian Margiana archaeological complex, but it
cannot be linked to the development of later 2d- and 1stmillennium
archaeological cultures on the Iranian
The identity of the Indo-Iranians remains elusive.
When they are identified in the archaeological record it
is by allegation rather than demonstration. It is interesting
that the archaeological (and linguistic) literature
has focused entirely upon the Indo-Iranians, overlooking
the other major linguistic families believed to have been
inhabiting the same regions—the Altaic, the Ugric, and
the Dravidian. Each of these has roots in the Eurasiatic
steppes or Central Asia. The fact that these language
families are of far less interest to the archaeologist may
have a great deal to do with the fact that it is primarily
speakers of Indo-European in search of their own roots
who have addressed this problem.
In an interesting “Afterword” to Sarianidi’s Margiana
and Protozoroastrianism, J. P. Mallory asks, “How do we
reconcile deriving the Indo-Iranians from two regions
[the steppes and the Central Asian oases] so different
with respect to environment, subsistence and cultural
behavior?” (1998a:181). He offers three models, each of
interest, none supported by archaeological evidence, one
of which is that the Bactrian Margiana complex was
Indo-Iranian and came to dominate the steppe lands,
serving as the inspiration for the emergence of fortified
settlements such as Sintashta in the southern Urals.
Thus, an external source is provided for the development
of the “country of towns” and with it a linguistic affiliation.
Mallory admits that this model is unlikely. His
conclusion is that the nucleus of Indo-Iranian linguistic
developments formed in the steppes and, through some
form of symbiosis in Bactria-Margiana, pushed southward
to form the ancient languages of Iran and India (p.
184). It is, however, that “form of symbiosis” that is so
Linguists too often assign languages to archaeological
cultures, while archaeologists are often too quick to assign
their sherds a language. Denis Sinor (1999:396), a
distinguished linguist and historian of Central Asia,
takes a position that more might consider: “I find it impossible
to attribute with any degree of certainty any
given language to any given prehistoric civilization.”
The works I have mentioned in this piece offer archaeological
data of great interest and importance, and all
their authors identify the archaeological cultures with
which they are working as Indo-Iranian. Linguists cannot
associate an archaeological culture with words, syntax,
and grammar, and archaeologists cannot make their
sherds utter words. We need a third arbiter, which may
or may not offer some degree of resolution to the relationships
between archaeological culture and language.
Perhaps that arbiter will be in our genes. To date only a
few mitochondrial and Y-chromosome studies of Eurasian
populations have been undertaken (Voevoda et al.
2000). Eliza Khusnutdinova and her team at the Uta Research
Center are conducting pioneering DNA studies
in the Volga-Urals region of Russia. In the context of a
renewed fashion of relating archaeology, culture, and language
it is well to remember that neither sherds nor
genes are destined to speak specific languages, nor does
a given language require a specific ceramic type or genetic
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Linguistic Aspects of the Indo-European Urheimat Question
From the viewpoint of an Indian Urheimat hypothesis, the most important factor explaining the high fragmentation of IE in Europe as compared to its relative homogeneity in North India is the way in which an emigration from India to Europe must be imagined. Tribes left India and mixed with the non-lE-speaking tribes of their respective corners of Central Asia and Europe. This happens to be the fastest way of making two dialects of a single language grow apart and develop distinctive new characteristics: make them mingle with different foreign languages.
Thus, in the Romance family, we find little difference between Catalan, Occitan and Italian, three languages which have organically grown without much outside influence except for a short period of Germanic influence which was common to them; by contrast, Spanish and Rumanian have grown far apart (lexically, phonetically and grammatically), and this is largely due to the fact that the former has been influenced by Germanic and Arabic, while the latter was influenced by Greek and Slavic. Similarly, under the impact of languages they encountered (now mostly extinct and beyond the reach of our searchlight), and whose speakers they took over, the dialects of the IE emigrants from India differentiated much faster from each other than the dialects of Indo-Aryan.
DŃGHŪ Kárlos Kūriákī
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Far East Kingdoms Central Asia
Scholars first noticed similarities between Indian Sanskrit and Latin and Greek in the sixteenth century, as Europeans came into contact with India. But it was the British Asiatic Society in eighteenth century India under Sir William Jones that compared words across the three languages and found remarkable similarities. From this it was deduced that a common Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root lay at the heart of all three languages and their peoples, linking them back to an ancestral homeland that was probably located in the sweeping expanse of the Russian Steppes of Central Asia. Scholars disagree about this, although the steppes north of the Caspian Sea and Black Sea are the favoured location. Others suggest the original Indo-European homeland was Anatolia in around 7000 BC.
How they got there is unknown, but India was one of the first places to be colonised by early humans after they left Africa. Some scholars propose that there never was an Aryan migration into India from the north, while others believe implicitly in it. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle, in that some of the first peoples in India continued to migrate north (as they certainly did east, to populate China and South East Asia). Eventually, some of these peoples could have become the early Indo-Europeans in the steppes to the north and east of the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately, proof for this is almost impossible to come by.
Various groups of Indo-European peoples migrated out of Central Asia in the third millennium BC, pushed westwards and southwards by a combination of climate change, population movements, and perhaps pressure from other peoples further east. Their language broke down into dialects that can be divided into twelve branches, ten of which contain surviving languages. Very briefly, these are the Anatolians (the Hittites, Luwians, and Lydians), the Balts (such as the Latvians and Lithuanians on the eastern Baltic Sea coast), Celts (who once dominated Central and Western Europe), the Germanic peoples (who originate from Old Norse and Saxon peoples), the Greeks (most notably the Mycenaeans), the Illyrians (of the northern and eastern Adriatic coast, surviving in Albania), the Indians (the Aryan peoples), the Iranians (in the form of the Persians and Scythians), the Latins (embodied by the Romans), the Slavs (who came to dominate Eastern Europe after the fall of the Roman empire), the Thracians (of northern Greece and the Balkans which also includes Armenian), and finally the Tokharians (in north-west China, closely related to the Anatolian, Celtic, and Latin branches).
Indo-Europeans account for some of the world's most notable ancient languages, including Greek, Latin, Pali, Persian, and Sanskrit. Many of the most important modern languages in the world are Indo-European, such as Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish. More than half of the world's population speak one or more of these languages, either as a mother tongue or a business language.
c.4000 - 3000 BC
Between these dates, Proto-Indo-Europeans emerge in Central Asia to form a homogenous people who all speak the same general language. In the third millennium BC, groups begin to migrate west and south, beginning a fragmentation that sees them occupy large swathes of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. One of the first groups to arrive in Europe form the Comb Ceramic and Corded Ware cultures which settle on the Baltic coast to become the later Latvians and Lithuanians.
Groups of Indo-Europeans first begin migrate into Greece, blending in with the indigenous populations to later form Mycenaean culture.
c.2350 -2300 BC
The Gutians, possible Indo-European tribes in the Zagros Mountains, are first mentioned, and go on to dominate southern Mesopotamia for a century. In the same period, Indo-European tribes in the form of the Luwian peoples settle in Anatolia.
c.2200 - 1700 BC
A Bronze Age culture emerges in Central Asia between modern Turkmenistan and down towards the Oxus. It is known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation, and is peopled by Indo-European tribes.
This king's tomb in the Indo-European settlement in the Karakum (modern Turkmenistan) contains a valuable horse to accompany him into the afterlife
Climate change from around 2000 BC onwards greatly affects this civilisation, denuding it of water as the rains decline. The people are forced to migrate southwards, with some groups penetrating into central Anatolia as the Hittites, who conquer the indigenous peoples over the course of a century, and the Kaskans. Other groups cross the Afghan rivers and the Hindu Kush mountains and enter India between 1700-1500 BC. They eventually form their own kingdoms there such as Magadha, plus Kalinga and Kauravas. The most easterly group are later identified as the Yeuh Chi in Chinese writings, and they later migrate into Afghanistan and India as the Kushans.
The Luwian peoples of Anatolia emerge into history divided into two groups; the Arzawans to the west and the Kizzuwatnans in the east. The poorly-attested peoples of Ishuwa, Karkissa, and Lukka are probably also Indo-Europeans. The Mycenaeans also emerge into history at this time, in Greece and Cyprus. Around the same time, an Indo-Aryan group, perhaps part of the migration towards India, arrives in northern Mesopotamia to rule the Hurrians as a warrior class called the Mitanni.
The Indo-European Phrygians begin to infiltrate into Bithynia in western Anatolia from the Balkans. Within about two and-a-half centuries they create their own kingdom in western Anatolia. Various other Indo-European peoples also populate the area, such as the Thracians.
c.1200 - 900 BC
Social collapse and a dark age engulf the Middle East. During this period, various tribal groups found new cities and kingdoms, among them the Medians and Persians on the Iranian Plateau. Celtic groups spread over Central and Western Europe and reach Britain, where they push back the indigenous population and settle in the fertile south and east. They also later infiltrate into Ireland.
8th century BC
An Indo-European people known as the Armenians first enter Anatolia from northern Mesopotamia, migrating into the region around Lake Van which will be their homeland for the next 2300 years.
6th century BC
The Indo-European Bactrians are conquered by their cousins, the Persians.