Introduction of pottery signifies massive cultural change. Beyond the introduction of a new technology, pottery provides additional possibilities for food storage and preparation (e.g. fish / vegetable soups, extracting animal lipids, brewing, pickling). Appearance of larger, heavy vessels implies conversion to a more sedentary lifestyle. Such major cultural shift may have autochtonous origins, but more likely is external contact including immigration of specialists that master the sets of skills required to successfully produce ceramic, and prepare new kinds of food (beverages) in it.
This turns the focus towards the Neolithic that in Russian archeologic tradition is defined by the presence of pottery rather than agricultural / pastoralist activities – a fascinating issue anyway, since the European Russian Neolithic is commonly (e.g. Gronenborn 2008) assumed to have supplied the earliest European pottery, slightly predating EEF (Sesklo, Argissa) [Of course, ceramic figurines were already present in Dolni Vestonice and various other UP sites, but they were about people, not pots (containers)]. Equally fascinating is that more-or-less contemporarily not just one, but three, maybe even four fairly different ceramic cultures appeared in European Russia.
This post will try to explore possible origins of each of these cultures, and the extent to which they may have participated in the emergence of the Steppe_EMBA genetics.
The latest, but nevertheless quite early of the entrants is so-called Combed Ceramics. I personally find the name somewhat misleading, as combing the outer surface of pottery with twigs, feathers, moss or similar material in order to remove excess clay has been practiced by many potters also outside of what is known as “combed ware”, e.g. by the Sioni Culture. Alternative terms found in some papers are “netted” or “pseudo-corded” ware. Main stylistic characteristic is all-over ornamentation in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns that are either incised or imprinted, apparently emulating containers made of plant material (basketry, or woven/ knitted textiles).
This pottery appears around 5.8 ky BC in the forest zone between the Middle Ural in the East to near Moscow in the West. Karmanov e.a. 2014 suggest a W. Siberian, influence, as there are parallels with Middle Urals sites such as Koksharovsky, and eventually Barsova Gora on the Middle Ob (c.f. Shorin 2017) that have been AMS-dated to ca. 6.4 ky BC (Kuzmin 2014). The style is quite frequent across all of North East Asia, including Early Jomon and 14 ky BC Lower Amur pottery, where it may actually have originated. Trans-Baikal sites such as Krasnaya Gorka (pottery dated to 11 ky BC) may have served as bridge towards West Siberia and ultimately NE Europe. However, there remain various gaps to fill before such a path can be consdidered as archeologically confirmed.
The Lower Volga Neolithic
Lower Volga pottery appeared even earlier. From ca. 6,5 ky BC it is found on the eastern bank of the Upper Volga in the Kairshak Culture, to by ca. 6,0 ky BC also cover the western bank (Jangar Culture), and around 5.8 ky BC spread northwards towards Volgograd and beyond (Orlovka culture). It is characterised by triangular and diagonal impressions/ incisions, sometimes alluded to as “steppe decoration”. This label isn’t completely unjustified, considering that such patterns were also typical for Potapovka, Andronovo or Sintashta. However, a similar decoration, albeit painted instead of impressed/ incised, was common in LN Iran and North Mesopotamia, and the closest parallel to the Lower Volga is provided by Early Kelteminar incised pottery, so one might equally label it as “Circum-Caspian style”. [Considering that Catalhöyük Painted Ware, Archaic Fikirtepe in NW Anatolia, and Neolithic Palestine (Jericho etc.) used similar patterns, even “Circum-Caspian” may only imperfectly address the true geographic extent.]
Triangular and diagonal incisions are quite typical of Mesolithic carving, e.g. the 9.5 ky BC Shigir Idol from the Central Urals, or pre-9th mBC pebble engravings from Gobustan, AZ; Neolithic engravings in this style are a/o documented from the middle Dniepr, and the Anta do Olival da Pega dolmen (Évora, Portugal). Hence, the decoration style may well have been transfered from organic vessels (wood, Calabash) onto early pottery more than once.
As per Vybornov 2016 (emphasis is mine):
“Kairshak early Neolithic types of site, commonly found in the northern Caspian area [..] existed from 6690 BC to 5980 BC (Tab. 1). At that time, blades and blade tools predominated in the stone industry. Geometric microliths – rhomboid and circular segments with a retouched convex edge – are well represented (Fig. 2). These artefacts are typical of the local Mesolithic industry (Vybornov et al. 2015). These testify to the local origin of pottery in this region. [..]
The climatic factors which influenced the transition from one period to another present a complicated
picture (Budja 2007). Extensive aridisation is thought to have occurred between 6400 and 6300 BC in the
southern part of the Low Volga basin (Bolikhovskaja 1990). This is also verified, according to the 14C dates, by the absence of inhabited settlements at this time. Thus, the beginning of Neolithisation and pottery making in the Lower Volga basin could not have been connected to natural factors. The situation changed after the aridisation ended (6200 BC). [..] Settlements became long-term; living conditions and the economic system changed, and so a great number of household objects, dwellings, artefacts and faunal and fish remains from that time can be found (Grechkina et al. 2014). We can suppose that the initial inhabitants of Kairshak-type sites in this region were more nomadic than the inhabitants of subsequent periods. With the exception of dogs (Vybornov et al. 2015), the faunal remains [..] were all wild species.”
Hmm – local origin of pottery… Mesolithic continuity is in general not a particularly convincing argument, as we all know from pre-aDNA debates about the Neolithisation of Europe. Moreover, the Lower Volga area was flooded during the post-LGM Khvalynian transgression, and only re-colonised some time after the Younger Dryas had lowered the Caspian Sea Level (Mangyshlak Regression). The Caspian Sea’s salinity isn’t particular high (1.2%, one-third of ocean salinity). Still, it should have taken more than just a couple of years before the freshly exposed Lower Volga region turned from a salt pan into a reasonably attractive habitat for ungulates and their hunters, especially as dried-up inland water bodies inevitably mean arid micro-climate.
As such, it is out of question that the Lower Volga was colonised during the early Holocene. The only questions are when, and by whom. As concerns the latter, Szymczak 2002 points out that the Lower Volga tools “are different in their character from the assemblages of Crimea and Black Sea regions, as well as from the southern Urals ones“, which essentially leaves us with the Daghestani Chokh culture from the SW, and the (so far poorly evidenced) Western Central Asian Mesolithic from the SE. For the question at hand here, the issue is ultimately irrelevant as those Mesolithic HGs should anyway have been small in numbers.
Relevant, however, is who was behind the apparent re-colonisation and demographic expansion after 6,200 BC (the 8.2 ky event). The cultural sequence of Kairshak – Jangar – Orlovka proceded from SE to NW, which points towards a south-eastern origin of the colonists. Pottery indicates connections to Kelteminar that, however, is unlikely to be the direct origin of the migrants. Late 7th/ early 6th mBC early Kelteminar already posessed domesticated animals (cattle, ovocaprids, possibly camels, see Szymczak e.a. 2006), but these domesticates didn’t make it to the Lower Volga. Moreover, early Kelteminar was located in Zerafshan (around Samarkand) and Central Uzbekistan, quite afar from the Volga. A more likely and proximate source is the Neolithic of the Ustjurt Plateau (between the Caspian and Aral Seas), archeologically poorly described and so far lacking AMS dating, but according to Brunet 2005 sharing various communalities with Kelteminar, partly going back to Epi-Paleolithic/ Mesolithic traditions that relate to the SW Siberian Yangielsk culture (see Part 1 for details). Connections between the Lower Volga and Central Asia are also discussed in Wechler 2001 (as summarised by A. Sumzun), and briefly mentionned by Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015.
A final hint is provided by the colonists’ architecture: They used mudbricks, typical for SW and Central Asia and a.o. evidenced for Kel’teminar, but alien to Mesolithic Europe that, if building semi-permanent structures at all, used wattle-and-daub or thatched wooden constructions.
In summary, the Lower Volga Neolithic appears to be the north-western outpost of an East Caspian communication sphere, with which it shares lithic, pottery and building traditions. In the absence of any Neolithic aDNA from the region in question, we may only speculate what that means genetically. However, as discussed in Part 1, the Central Asian lowlands already in the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic were a communication zone between W. Siberia and the S. Caspian, transferring ANE admix towards Iran_Hotu, and small but measurable CHG admix into Sidelkino, and they may well have continued to do so during the (pottery) Neolithic.
Rakushechny Yar on the Lower Don
Rakushechny Yar has been puzzling many archeologists. The site lies on an island in the lower Don, some 100 km from the Sea of Azov, in-between the mouths of the Manych river providing connection to the NW Caspian Sea via the Kuma-Manych Depression, and the Donets river connecting into East Ukraine. It is an island in more than just geographical sense – amidst an apparently “mosaic” cultural set-up (Tsybrij e.a. 2017), Rakushechny Yar has provided very early pottery, AMS-dated to around 7.000 BC, while nearby sites, including Razdorskaya II on the opposite north bank of the Don, have staid aceramic until the first half of the 6th mBC.
There is good reason to question the dating of Rakushechny Yar pottery – the Kiev laboratory responsible is known to regularly come out with earlier dates than other labs (e.g. Poznan), and a plateau in the calibration curve doesn’t allow for much distinction within the period of 7,000 – 6,500 BC. Most importantly, AMS dates derived from shells, shell-tempered pottery, or pottery foodcrusts stemming from aquatic food may be significantly influenced by aquatic reservoir effects. Such effects have recently been demonstrated for Erteboelle and Narva pottery, in both cases leading to revising the respective dating downwards by around 500 years. Rakushechny Yar is characterised by shell middens and substantial heaps of fish bones, strongly suggesting similar effects may be at work here as well. Analysis of pottery Neolithic sites in the Donets basin yielded “that mollusk samples are affected by a freshwater reservoir effect, resulting in an offset of the actual date, when compared to terrestrial samples of animal bone or charcoal, of up to 3000 yr. These results call into question all the existing 14C dating results from eastern Ukraine” (Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute 2015). As such, the AMS dates reported by Tsybrij e.a. 2017 for soil (pollen) samples from the lowest Rakushechny Yar layers, which range around 6.2 ky BC, are probably more representative of the actual emergence of pottery there. Still, such dates are very early for Europe as a whole, and predate the appearance of pottery on other sites surrounding the Sea of Azov by several centuries.
Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 characterize Rakushechny Yar pottery as follows: “Most of this pottery is undecorated, and decorated vessels comprise only 9% of the assemblage (..). Vessels covered with red and yellow ochre on the outer and/or inner surfaces are also present at the site. (..) The analyses (..) made in the State Hermitage Museum by L. Gavrilenko (..) lead us to believe that more than 10% of the whole ceramic assemblage was covered with red and/or yellow ochre (..). The decoration is very simple, consisting of horizontal and parallel lines of impressions (..) usually covering only the upper part of the vessel.”
They set forth: “The great variety of raw materials and clay pastes used for pottery shows the ability of potters to adapt to different types of materials which were available at different periods, which might be an indicator of developed skills and experience in pottery making (Mazurkevich et al. 2013). (..) The range of similar technological operations typical of vessels of the lowest layers (e.g. surface smoothing and vessel treatment with a comb-like tool, modelling of symmetrical flat rims, predominance of the coil technique with N-junction, use of well-kneaded clay and additional pieces of clay for modelling, typical vessel forms) allow us to characterise this pottery assemblage as one made according to established cultural standards.” IOW: This was obviously not some home-grown practice that emerged from observing how wattle-and-daub or mudbricks reacted to fire – these potters absolutely represented the late 7th mBC state of the art.
Elshan pottery from the Samara region
(Y)Elshan(skaya) pottery from the Samara area, especially the Sok river valley, has equally delivered very old AMS datings, up to 7 ky BC. However, isotope analysis (Schulting/ Richards 2016) indicates a prevalence of aquatic food, so concerns about possible reservoir effects apply here as well. Consequently, Vybornov e.a. 2017 date its onset to ca. 6.500 BC, whereby most of the credible AMS datings center around 6.2 ky BC.
Elshan ware displays many similarities to Rakushnechy Yar. It is also sparsely decorated, decorations typically restrict to knobbed and/or pitted rims. As concerns technology, Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 state: “Some types of Elshanskaya culture are similar to pottery from Rakushechny Yar (form 2), made with the ‘S’ technique with an admixture of grog (only in this case, crushed pottery was used). Also, the straight walls and roundish or pointed rims of the earliest stage of Elshanskaya culture are similar to forms 1 and 5 from Rakushechny Yar (Pl. 1).” Against this background, Kulkova e.a. 2015 regard Elshan as “secondary centre” that developed under Rakushechny Yar influence.
OTOH, there are important differences: While Rakushechny Yar pottery was flat-based, Elshan ware had conical bases “although it might be supposed that flat bases would have been among the most ancient types” (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015). Most importantly, early Elshan ware included thin-walled pottery (3-4 mm thickness) unknown from Rakushechny Yar. As such, in addition to possible cultural relations between the Lower Don and the Samara area that are so far hardly explored archeologically, another stream into Elshan culture needs to be envisaged.
Possible origins of Rakushechny Yar and Elshan cultures
There is an abundance of theories on the origin of the (pottery) Neolithisation of South Russia and Ukraine. Some of them, e.g. descent from Cardium / Impresso pottery and as such ultimately EEF Mediterranean “island-hopping” as proposed by Gaskevych 2011, can easily be discarded based on aDNA (see below). When mussels anyway make up for a good part of your diet, as evidenced by the manifold shell middens at Rakushechny Yar and other Pontic/ Caspian sites, it should’t require inspiration from outside to use them for stamping pottery. Moreover, assigning value to shells (shell imprints) isn’t specific to the Mediterranean, but well known around the world, and might actually go back to the Middle Paleolithic (OOA). Intriguing in this context, however, is that the Lagoon Cockle (Cerastoderma glaucum) that most likely accounts for a good part of the a/m shell middens and imprints appears to be a human introduction from the Sea of Azov into the Caspian Sea around 6,000 BC (Krijgsman e.a. 2018). Unless one wants to propose Early Neolithic aquaculture, the most likely explanation is boat portage across the Pontic-Caspian watershed via the Kuma-Manych depression.
At NW Anatolia, pottery making could have arrived just in time to account for Rakushechny Yar – Barcin and Mentese have both yielded AMS dates around or slightly before 6.2 ky BC (Seeher 2009). However, the associated Fikirtepe pottery, characterised by triangular incisions, is a poor match that rather aligns with “Steppe” or “circum-Caspian” decoration as a/o known from the Lower Volga than with Rakushechny Yar. aDNA (see below) also speaks against intensive contact between NW Anatolia and the S. Pontic/ Sea of Azov.
Far more substantial is the claim brought forward by Gorelik e.a. 2014: “In the PPNB period, across the Caucasian shore of the Black and Azov seas, possibly also by sea, there were connections established between Zagros and Lower Don regions. The penetration of the new reproducing economy, possibly, together with its bearers, took part between 8500—7000 BC. (..) Together with ceramics, we suppose the provenience of domesticated animals (cattle, swine, sheep/goat) from the territory of Zagros and adjacent regions of Iran. The existence of close contacts between the population of Neolithic sites in Lower Don region and some areas from the Fertile Crescent are confirmed by analogies for such inventory, as clay balls, adzes/axes of soſt stone, specific “polishers”, medallions, bone pendants with snake ornamentation, stone vessels and geometrical microlites.”
The paper is worth a look even for those not understanding Russian for its many distribution maps such as the one replicated here that deals with polished adzes/ axes. A recurrent theme is the connection of the Lower Don to Shanidar and Jarmo in Iraqi Kurdistan.
However, as the same authors discuss in a later publication (Gorelik e.a. 2016), the 7/6th mBC inhabitants of the Lower Don (and also of Southern Ukraine) weren’t yet holding domestic animals other than dogs (with the possible exception of ovocaprids that still require further analysis). Moreover, the cultural influence from the Zagros appeared far earlier than Rakushechny Yar pottery, and also affected aceramic sites such as Mateev Kurgan. Ultimately, the whole idea of the pre-pottery Zagros Neolithic supplying pottery, but not agriculture to the North Pontic looks counter-intuitive. Essentially, Gorelik e.a. 2014 seem to describe a valid pattern of Mesolithic cultural interaction that, however, cannot explain the emergence of North Pontic pottery in a satisfactory manner.
Shulaveri-Shomu pottery displays manifold parallels to Rakushechny Yar: Use of organic temper, essentially undecorated, but regular presence of plastique decoration such as knobs on/ near the outer rim (around 1/3 at Arukhlo acc. to Chataigner e.a. 2014) , and also occasional painting with ochre. However, so far, Shulaveri-Shomu has only supplied AMS dates from 6,000 BC onwards, i.e. several centuries later than credible dates from Rakushechny Yar. Chokh in Dagestan, a possible Shulaveri-Shomu outpost, hasn’t yet been AMS-dated, but for the ceramic phase palynologic analysis points towards a damp climate that only evolved around 6,000 BC. Moreover, Chokh was fully Neolithic, including wheat and barley agriculture and animal husbandry, and is in this respect a poor match for Rakushechny Yar. Last but not least, Kamiltepe in Lower Karabagh has produced some pottery with knobbed rims (D’Anna in Lyonnet e.a. 2012), but that site equally only dates to the early 6th mBC, and its black-on-white painted triangular decorations are otherwise more reminiscent of Haji Firuz and Hassuna.
Available pollen analyses point to significant climatic deterioration in Caucasia during the 8.2 kya event. The quite dense Mesolithic archeological record of the (North) Caucasus thins out massively during the Neolithic, and a hiatus, most likely climate induced, is apparent at many sites: From Gubs Cave, e.g., one of the most important Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites, no Neolithic finds are known; occupation apparently only recommenced during the Chalcolithic (Leonova 2014). In Darkveti (W. Georgia, next to Dzudzuana), the late Mesolithic layer 5 is separated by one meter of sterile soil from the yet undated Neolithic layer 4 (Rostunov e.a. 2009). There also appears to be a hiatus between the Mesolithic and Neolithic layers of Chokh, Dagestan.
Quite instructive in this respect is Tsmi in N. Ossetia as described in Rostunov e.a. 2009 (in German). The site lies at the junction of two of the main connections through the Central Caucasus, namely the Ossetian Military Road to the Upper Rioni, the only connection into Colchis east of Abkhazia, and the Transcaucasian Highway that connects North and South Ossetia via the Roki pass/ tunnel. For its strategic location, Tsmi can provide us with a good idea of what was passing through the Central Caucasus, and what not.
The lowest level at Tsmi, AMS-dated to around 6.4 kya, has yielded Mesolithic artefacts such as large trapezoids with manifold Caucasian parallels, especially from the Terek basin. Seperated by 55 cm of sterile soil, two Neolithic levels, both AMS-dated to around 5.9-5.7 ky BC, followed, which displayed a quite different lithic inventory with a prevalence of microblades. Chalcolithic level 4, AMS-dated to ca. 3,6 ky BC, contained typical Kura-Araxes pottery (note, btw., the dating as one more indication of Kura-Araxes possibly having emerged earlier than commonly assumed).
In Neolithic level 3, sherds of a pot, thick-walled and undecorated except for a knobbed rim, were found. While the decoration is reminiscent of Shulaveri-Shomu, according to the excavators Tsmi pottery is technologically quite different and might rather be related to the Neolithic layer of Chokh, Daghestan. Analogies to Rakushechny Yar are alluded to in a footnote but unfortunately not explored further. Nevertheless, the hiatus between the late Mesolithic and the Neolithic layers that falls into the late 7th mBC speaks against Rakushechny Yar originating from a migration through the Central Caucasus.
In Colchis, pottery seems to have appeared comparatively late, and then only in a narrow strip along the Black Sea Coast. The Anaseuli-1 site, AMS-dated to 5,746 – 5,595 cal BC, e.g., was still aceramic. Late Neolithic Colchian pottery is described as “undifferentiated red-baked jars with a button base [that] could be decorated with incised geometric ornaments and grooves on the rim” that bears “typological parallels of the pottery assemblages with the Early Chalcolithic of eastern Georgia (Sioni culture)”.(Chataigner e.a. 2014). Typical of the latter are “incisions and circular or comb impression decorations always applied on the rims” (Palumbi 2015), and such decoration pattern is set forth in Chalcolithic/ EBA Shengavit, commonly considered as Kura-Araxes type site.
In conclusion, Rakushechny Yar pottery might be considered as “typical Caucasian”, wasn’t it for the facts that it chronologically precedes Caucasian pottery, and the Caucasian uplands were apparently deserted during the period in question, i.e. the 8.2 ky event, and as such don’t qualify as migration route.
As concerns Elshan, Vybornov e.a. 2017 propose the south-eastern Caspian coast, including the Dzhebel (Djebel) cave, as origin. Djebel belongs to the same EP to Neolithic SE Caspian ensemble as Hotu and Kamarband (Belt) Caves. I was unable to figure out any details about Dzhebel pottery – the site is generally poorly described, sources listed are usually from the Soviet period and in Russian. However, Hotu and Belt Cave “soft ware”, generally thick-walled, lightly-fired and undecorated (except for one piece with incised decoration around the rim), seems to bear some similitarity to Elshan pottery and comes from layers that have delivered late 8th/ early 7th mBC C14-dates (Gregg/ Thornton 2012) – a long enough pottery-making tradition to possibly generate the extent of mastership seen in Rakushechny Yar and Elshan.
Moreover, nearby Sang-e-Chakhmag on the southern foothills of the Alborz Mts. has supplied similar “soft ware”, this time painted with red ochre, from a layer AMS-dated to the early 7th mBC. From ca. 6.3 ky BC onwards, Sang-e-Chakhmag produced thin-walled pottery that is generally believed to have been the prototype of equally thin-walled Jeitun ware from the Kopet Dag foothills in South Turkmenistan (A. Tsuneki 2014).
As such, the SE Caspian fulfils the neccesary prerequisites to qualify as potential source of Rakushnechy Yar and Elshan ware: Long-enough pottery tradition to acquire mastership, and presence of all of undecorated, red ochre-painted, rim-decorated and thin-walled wares before ca. 6.2 ky BC. Surely, that is no proof that Rakushechny Yar / Elshan actually originated there, and a detailed comparison yet to be undertaken by someone may well uncover various incompatibilites. However, unless one wants to turn to the Chinese Peiligang culture (a rather unlikely candidate IMO for various reasons), options really get scarce…
Well, there is a final one, namely Gobustan some 30 km SW of Baku, an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its petroglyphs that partly date back to the Epi-Paleolithic. “The rockshelters of Kyaniza and Firuz have produced two layers of homogenous lithic material, (…) the upper level containing vessels with pointed bases evoking the Neolithic of the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Formozov, 1966; Rustamov and Muradova, 1972, 1978)” (Chataigner e.a. 2014). Fortunately, some post-Soviet, non-Russian language publications about Gobustan start to come in: Farajova 2017 reports about the Firuz rockshelter: “Numerous female figures, images of hunters, animals and boats are fixed. (..). Besides these, images of animals (aurochs, wild boars, onagers, gazelles, bezoar goats) were depicted on stone №19 (..) found in the Neolithic layer. (..) AMS dating of the cultural layers of the “Firuz 2” site allowed to understand the variability in the form and meaning of the petroglyphs of various periods. (..) The last AMS dating provided the result: 7850 ± 30 BP, which led to suppose that Gobustan was the earliest center in which navigation emerged in the Caucasian region.“
“Neolithic” here, in a context of depicting hunters, aurochs, gazelles, etc., obviously means pottery. If the cited AMS dating of 7850 ± 30 BP is to be understood as uncalibrated, CalPal converts it into ca. 6,700 cal BC. Appropriate time, appropriate cultural context (pottery-using HGs), and a pottery tradition apparently connected to the E. Caspian, i.e the area that Russian authors propose as Elshan origin – this sounds promising. Even more so as seaworthy boats would have enabled access to the Lower Don, via the Kuma-Manych depression/ rivers, and to the Middle Volga. Of course, I would still like to see some depictions, ideally also technological analyses of Gobustan pottery (and believe me, I searched for it, for no avail), but for the time being, I deem Gobustan as the most likely origin of Rakushechny Yar and Elshan.
Expansion, Contact and Admixture
Interestingly, while “West Siberian” Combed Ceramics seems to have expanded quickly across most of the forest zone between the Urals and Moscow, all of Lower Volga, Rakushechny Yar and Elshan ceramics initially remained restricted to relatively small core areas. For Kairshak ceramics from the eastern Lower Volga, it took around 500 years to also appear on the western bank of the Volga, and another 200 years to make it to the Volgograd area (Vybornov e.a. 2017). A similar time scale was required by Elshan pottery to expand from the Sok river further upwards the Volga towards the Oka basin (ibid.). For the Donets Neolithic (Starobelsk, Novoselovka), technologically and stylistically related to Rakushechny Yar and located less than 300 km north, AMS dates on sources that are unsuspicious of conveying reservoir effects (animal bones, charcoal) point to an onset during the 58th cBC (Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute 2015), i.e. several centuries after credible Rakushechny Yar datings. This seems to indicate the “foreign” character of these early pottery makers – it obviously took surrounding Mesolithic populations quite some time to accept pottery and the changes in lifestyle associated with it.
This doesn’t mean early potters were immobile – quite to the opposite. Kairshak-type triangular decorations make occasional appearance already in lower Rakushechny Yar layers and in Middle Elshan, while the Algay site on the Lower Volga has delivered one sherd with grooved rim decoration, so both ceramic spheres seem to have been in contact.
Intriguing is the case of the Serteya culture in the Dnepr-Dvina-Lovat region around Vitebsk and Smolensk at the watershed between the Black and Baltic Seas. Its pottery has delivered AMS-dates as early as 7,500 BC that most likely require substantial downward correction for reservoir effects but should still fall into the second half of the 7th mBC, i.e. precede Balkans pottery. The region may be considered a major ceramical province, having supplied some 130 early Neolithic vessels from 22 sites. Typologically, it is divided into three phases, “a-1”, “a” and “b”: “Phase ‘a-1’ seems to be the oldest in this region, given the typological-technological analysis and 14C dates, and could have originated in the pottery of the Rakushechny Yar site. (..) The pottery of phase ‘a’ is similar to the early Neolithic pottery of the Northern Caspian region (..) The traditions with triangular impressions first found in materials of phase ‘a’ continued into phase ‘b’. It was probably during this time that the influence of this decoration of steppe cultures first spread in different directions along the basins of the Middle Volga, Middle Don, Upper Volga, Sursko-Moksha basin, Desna, Upper Dvina, Upper Dnepr and Valdai valley” (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015). Of course, the story doesn’t end here: Phase “b” witnesses the arrival of comb-incised decorations in dense horizontal rows as typical of West Siberian and East European forest-zone pottery, and Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 (Plate 5) see that amalgamation of “steppe” and “combed” decorations set forth in the chronologically later Bug-Dniestr culture.
Another long-distance expansion may be indicated by the appearance of Rakushechny Yar-like pottery at Onega Lake (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 Plate 6, w/o further discussion except for assigning it to the late 7th-6th mBC). Early Upper Volga pottery, undecorated or just carrying notched/ grooved rims, and AMS-dated to ca. 6,000 BC (Hartz e.a. 2012) seems to better align with Rakushechny Yar/ Elshan than “combed” traditions, and precedes attestations of the latter. Kulkova e.a. 2015 e.a. furthermore assign Valdai pottery (Dvina-Volga watershed) and the Berezovaya Slobodka site in the upper Northern Dvina basin east of Belozero, both dating to around 6,000 BC, to this tradition.
What seems to shine up here for the first time is the river-based East European trade network that is well known from Medieval Varangians (Kiev Rus) as described a/o in Carlsson/ Selin 2012. The quasi-simultaneous appearance of geographically disjunct but nevertheless closely related pottery traditions is strongly suggestive of a spread by boats, availability of which is attested by the Gobustans petroglyphs. “Southern” trade commodities seem to have included obsidian – Mt. Elbrus obsidian has a/o been found in early 6th mBC contexts on the Lower Volga (Rostunov e.a. 2009); the late 6th mBC Azov-Dniepr Culture has supplied four specimens of Armenian obsidian blades (Biagi e.a. 2014) as typical of Shulaveri-Shomu. No “Northern” commodities are archeologically attested, but one may speculate about fur, beeswax, maybe also amber.
Expectably, the next step on the route was the Narva Culture (from ca. 5,100 BC) on the SE Baltic Sea. Interestingly, Narva pottery displays quite a geographic differentiation, with NE Narva (N. Estonia) more alluding to Combed Ceramics, W. Narva (W. Latvia/ Estonian Isles) aligning with Elshan/ Rakushechny Yar, and the zone inbetween reflecting both influences plus some triangular, Lower Volga-like decorations (Kriiska e.a. 2017). The (West) Narva origin of Erteboelle pottery has been supposed for long. Gronenborn 2003 extended the connection even further to the south-west, to the HG Melsele Group in Belgian Flanders (ca. 5,000 BC) and some “atypical” pottery found in Alsatian LBK graves. Against this background, occurence of Elshan-typical pitted rims in Bischheim (SW German MN), Michelsberg, and Michelsberg/ Erteboelle-influenced cultures such as TRB-N, Baalberge and Wartberg is at a second look not as surprising as it might seem initially. [Intriguing, however, is that Wartberg, in addition to pitted rims, also has knobbed rim pottery otherwise best known from Shulaveri-Shomu]. Prevalence of such patterns also in the Bavarian MN/LN (Altheim, Cham, etc.) is still somewhat puzzling to me. Maybe we are dealing here with another, yet unrecognised EN expansion out of the SE Balticum. The relatively sudden appearance of pile-dwellings in SW Germany during the 4th mBC is so far unexplained. Origins are commonly sought for on the French/ W. Italian Mediterranean coast, but the Dniepr-Dvina interfluve has also early evidence of pile-dwellings.
Just for fun, I have also screened the “Göttinger Typentafeln” (Raetzel-Fabian 2002), a comprehensive catalogue of Neolithic pottery from Germany, for occurence of “Steppe decoration“, i.e. triangular incisions in Lower Volga/ Kelteminar (plus Sintashta/ Andronovo) tradition. There is certainly no lack of such decoration, starting already with Youngest LBK, becoming predominant in SBK (Stroke-ornamented pottery) and Rössen, to be set a/o forth into Bernburg, GAC and Corded Ware. Some Russian authors (I unfortunately forgot to bookmark them) have used these parallels to postulate a pre-EEF migration from the Lower Volga into W. Ukraine and ultimately Bohemia (with further spread, via SBK, into Germany and beyond). I personally feel that a lot of caution is advisable in this respect – “Steppe decoration” was a/o also present at Fikirtepe (Barcin), Pottery Neolithic Jericho, and Haji Firuz. It may well have been transferred at various points in time and space from Upper Paleolithic/ Mesolithic stone/ wood carving onto ceramics.
Ukranian Neolithic aDNA
We don’t have any aDNA yet from the Lower Don and the Lower Volga, as entrance points of pottery, and with it possibly some CHG ancestry. However, we may infere a bit from comparisons of Ukrainian Mesolithic and Neolithic aDNA. [In this context, I thank Alberto for having run various models based on G25 data, the most informative of which are displayed below.]
There are some caveats in this respect: As described in Part 1, Southern Ukraine is likely to have experienced CHG inflow from Colchis during the Final Paleolithic (Kammenaya Balka) and the Mesolithic (Kukrek-Imereti Culture). Moreover, 9-8th mBC cultural connections to the N. Zagros as described by Gorelik e.a. 2014 (see above) might have brought in more easterly CHG ancestry. Therefore, a Mesolithic baseline is in order. It shows the following:
- CHG was, in varying shares up to 6.6%, already present during the Mesolithic.
- Mesolithic Ukraine had quite some substructure, noteably co-existence of a more westerly strain pre-dominated by IronGates_HG plus some 5% Barcin (to be interpreted as approximating pre-Neolithic NW Anatolian HGs), best represented by UA_Mes:I1734 (yDNA R1b1a2), and a more easterly strain with strong AG3 component. Intriguingly, all samples except for UA_Mes:I5876 stem from the same location, Vasilevka in the Dniepr rapids region half-way between Dnipro and Zaporoshje, commonly associated to the Kukrek Culture.
- Inclusion of Sidelkino as a source significantly improves the fit, at the same time doing away with some of the CHG and Barcin components, suggesting that Sidelkino is a reasonably good approximation of an early Holocene population that not only shaped the Samara area, but much of Eastern Europe. The same effects, i.e. significantly better fits, and disappearance of spurious CHG traces, also occured when Sidelkino was introduced as a source into models for Baltic_HGs and SHG (not shown here).
- Even with Sidelkino, which contains some 3% CHG of presumably East Caspian provenance (see Part 1), as a source, Ukrainian Mesolithic samples contain up to 4% extra CHG.
- The samples are chronologically poorly resolved and may in addition require date corrections for reservoir effects. Still, the youngest of them, UA_Mes:I5876 that already falls close to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, seems to indicate some westward shift, as well as a slight uptake in CHG. The latter might speculatively be connected to the N. Zagros connection described by Gorelik e.a. 2014. OTOH, as UA_Mes:I5876 falls into the same date range as early Rakushechny Yar (uncorrected for reservoir effects), it also may already incorporate some genetic influence from there. As long as reservoir effects have not been systematically analysed, we can’t be certain. For that reason, I have excluded I5876 from any further inclusion in modelling.
For the apparent substructure, I deemed it unwise to pool all Ukraine_Mesolithic samples, and asked instead Alberto to analyse each of them separately for their explanatory quality. Expectedly, “western” and Barcin-heavy I1734 fared poorly in this respect. The same applied to comparatively CHG-heavy I1733: Whether because of comprising the “wrong CHG”, i.e. from Colchis rather than further east, or being too CHG-loaded overall, it forced the models to drive up both IronGates_HG and Sidelkino in order to get the CHG profile right, resulting in very poor fits. The remaining two samples, I1763 and I1819, in spite of their apparent similarity, yielded very different results depending on the target, so I decided to have them both included in the model.
Apparently, there was quite some CHG influx during the Neolithic. Barcin and Levante_N only appear sporadically, signifying some contact but no decisive role of NW Anatolian and Balkans farmers in the spread of pottery. In interpreting the data, the “mosaic” nature of the cultures in question that becomes apparent from widely variating shares of EHG (Sidelkino) and Iron Gates HG needs to be considered. Clearly, at some point in time and space the diffusion of pottery disentangled from substantial demic change. While Narva pottery, e.g., reflects Rakushechny Yar traditions, early Narva samples still show genetic continuity with the preceding Mesolithic Kunda culture. However, note Jones e.a. 2017 reporting that their Latvia_MN2 (6,179–5,750 cal BP) sample ” is placed toward EHG in PCA space and has several components in ADMIXTURE analysis that are found in Native Americans, Siberians, and hunter-gatherer samples from the Caucasus.”
Against this background, let’s have a closer look at the individual Ukraine_Neolithic samples:
- I1736, Vasiliveka 2 cemetery: The cemetary goes back to the Mesolithic Kukrek Culture, and hasn’t delivered any pottery, so technically it could still be regarded as Mesolithic. However, there is little genetic continuity with the Mesolithic, and around the sample’s date, the Neolithic Surska(ya) Culture emerges in the neighbourhood. Nadezhda 2009 explains its genesis as follows: “At the beginning of this arid period, around 6300 calBC, (..) the Surskaya culture in the Middle Dnieper Region [appeared]. The migration of the Grebeniki population from the Azov Sea steppe area to the Dnieper valley, where the big river mitigated the dry conditions, resulted in their coexistence with local Kukrek inhabitants and the formation a new culture on the bases of their respective traditions. It was probably at that time that pottery with line and pit ornamentation [and] polished tools (..) were borrowed from the Rakushechny Yar culture. (..) It is possible that the Vasilievka 2 and Marievka cemeteries date to the first period of the Surskaya culture, too.“
With the sample falling into the initial contact phase, no major aDNA signal from Rakushechny Yar is yet to be epected. The Surska culture was involved in long-distance exchange, as documented by a Cappadocian obsidian blade found in Semenovka 1 further south (Biagi e.a. 2014), which might explain the rather homeopathic Barcin and Ganj Dareh components of the sample.
- I1732/ I1738, Vovnigi 2 cemetery: The site lies just some 10km downstream from Vasilevka on the opposite (western) bank of the Dniepr. Its cultural assignment, or better, the overall cultural landscape of late 6th mBC SE Ukraine, is disputed: Some authors, e.g. Kotova, have proposed a separate Azov-Dniepr Culture “based on the common features of the burial rite (the latitudinal orientation of the deceased, the occurrence of burial pyre, the red ochre and specific funerary inventories)” (Dolukhanov e.a. 2009 p.104, see there also for a more in-depth discussion of competing approaches) as part of a wider ‘Mariupol cultural entity’. Others, e.g. Telegin, consider it as part of the Dniepr-Donets culture characterised by “comb-and-stroke” decoration, i.e. synthesis of forest-zone horizontally, all-over ornamented “combed”, and Lower Volga triangular traditions as also present in the late phase of the Serteya Culture in the Dniepr-Dvina interfluve. The Jones e.a. 2017 Suppl. Materials follow the latter opinion. I don’t intend to take a position in this debate. Rather, I think it illustrates the long-range connectivity along the main waterways of the East European plain that had emerged during the 6th mBC and blurred previously clear-cut cultural distinctions.
Several sites, e.g. Semenovka 1 and Kammenaya Mogila 1, show settlement continuity between an earlier Surska and a subsequent Azov-Dniepr layer. As such, Vovigni may capture Surska substrate. This makes it impossible to assign its “fresh” 2-7% CHG to a specific source – it could reflect Rakushechny Yar influence on the Sursk Culture, but also a spread of Lower Volga triangular decorations into Eastern Ukraine (Dniepr-Donets Culture). There is even a third possibility: Lysa Gora, 2km NW of Vasilevka, has alongside Azov-Dniepr sherds yielded four obsidian blades from Syunik in SE Armenia (Biagi e.a. 2014), a source otherwise so far only known to have supplied the Urmia Lake Basin, e.g. Chalcolithic (pre-Kura-Araxes) Pisdeli (Chataigner/ Gratuze 2013). Alberto has tested Haji Firuz as source, which wasn’t requested by any of the Ukranian Neolithic samples, so demic influence from the Urmia basin can be excluded, but an Armenian (Arashten-Shulaveri-Shomu) origin of the CHG admix could be considered. Otherwise, the samples show a decrease in WHG (IronGates) ancestry compared to preceding I1736, and for the younger I1732 also EHG (Sidelkino) admix, which in general corresponds to what might be expected under a “pottery from the (North-)East” scenario as archeologically suggested.
- I3715/I5870, Vilnyanka cemetery: Another site from the Dniepr Rapids area, some 20 km downstream of Vovigni. The cultural assignment is uncertain – Kotova 2010 lists it as belonging to the Surska Culture, but according to the Supp. Materials of Mathieson e.a. 2017, it was in use for a long time, i.e. (at least) also during the Azov-Dniepr stage. aDNA-wise, it closely resembles Vovigni: Around 5% fresh CHG, and some eastern influence, in this case resembling AG3, appearing in the younger sample some time after 5500 BC.
- Dereivka (various samples): This site, long wrongly assumed to have provided the earliest evidence of horse domestication, lies some 150 km further upstream the Dniepr. While described as Mariupol cemetery in Mathieson e.a. 2017, Dolukhanov e.a. 2009 state: “Dereivka cemetery which generally belongs to the Kiev-Cherkassy culture, includes the burials, which belong both to the Dniepr-Donets (longitudinal orientation) and Azov-Dnieprian (latitudinal) rites. The burials of the later stage of the same cemetery contain skeletons in the supine position having the longitudinal orientation. The burial inventory includes then pottery belonging to the second stage of the Kiev-Cherkassyan culture.” As per the Mathieson e.a. 2017 Supp. Materials: “According to craniometric analysis, the Dereivka I population consists of two components, one of which was similar to previous hunter-gatherers of the same region while another is more closely related to individuals from the northern forest zone.”
Obviously a multi-cultural set-up (major trade location?), the diversity of which is reflected in the aDNA that splits into two groups – one (I3717, I3718) consisting of Ukraine_Mesolithic ancestry with strong WHG (Iron Gates) influence and a bit of CHG, the other one (I4114, I5875, I5890) showing EHG (Sidelkino) admixture of up to 16%. Overall lower CHG admixture may relate to location outside the area of the Surskaya/ Azov-Dniepr cultures. Interesting are small but above noise level additional components in invidual samples that geographically range from Levante_N and Barcin in the SW to Ganj Dareh, Sarazm and W. Siberia in the SE. The fact that CHG, WestSiberia_N and for I3717 also Sarazm seem to form a “package” suggests joint arrival/ origin, possibly from the Lower Volga and ultimately the Kazakh Steppe (Sarazm is the closest approximation in time, space and material culture to Kelteminar for which aDNA is available).
The Cultural Sequence on the Middle Volga
The other early pottery region we have aDNA from is the Middle Volga around Samara. However, the I0124 (“Samara_HG”) sample postdates the Elshan Culture. So, before having a look at that sample, a brief sketch of the post-Elshan cultural sequence is in order.
As mentionned above, Lower Volga triangular decorations already make appearance in Middle Elshan. Vybornov e.a. 2017 describe the subsequent development as follows: “The series of dates for typologically later sites of the Elshanian culture fall into the interval of 6000–5700 cal BC. What is important is that the dates on the organics from pottery correspond with the dates on the charred crusts from the pottery of the same type, taking into account the error of measurement and reservoir effect (..). The Elshanian culture was replaced by the Srednevolzhskaya [Middle Volga] culture (Vybornov 2008.490) (Fig. 9). On the base of a large series of radiocarbon dates, the period of this culture’s development can be determined from 5500–4700 cal BC (Tab. 1.59–63). There is a good correlation between dates obtained on the organics from pottery and bones.”
Middle Volga Culture pottery comes across as synthesis of Elshan pitted rims, Lower Volga triangular patterns and forest zone/ Transuralian horizontally combed decoration. Reszel 2011 constates in this respect: “A gradual disappearance of the Yelshanian tradition of the Mid-Volga Region (established also in the early stages of the Srednevolzhskaya Culture in these areas) is to be linked to the influx of the steppe patterns from the South (the second half of the 7th millennium BC the turn of 7th millennium BC), themselves responsible for the formation of the Srednevolzhskaya Culture with the stabbed-incised type of pottery, as well as the influx of the „forest” cultural component from the North, itself originating from the Neolithic Kamskaya Culture that subsequently became an important contribution to the origin of the Eneolithic Samara Culture Complex (the first half of the 6th millennium BC).“
A similar process, albeit somewhat delayed and with less of triangular, “Steppe” elements, took place in the Volga-Oka Region. Here, Elshan may have lasted somewhat longer but around ca. 5,200 BC at latest was replaced by Lyalovo Culture Pit-Comb Ware that closely resembles Middle Volga pottery (Vybornov e.a. 2018). [Lyalovo Culture was quite stable and lasted into the early 4th mBC. Its pit-combed traditions set forth in the subsequent Volosovo culture. For a general overview on the spread of (pit-)combed traditions across NE Europe see Piezonka 2012.]
More or less simultaneously (AMS dates from ca. 5,700 BC w/o correction for possible reservoir effects), the Samara Culture appeared. As per Morgunova 2015:
“The first stage in the development of the Samara culture is represented by the burials at the village of Sjezheye. The burials exhibit certain rituals, as well as decorations made of shells and the fang of a wild boar, stone axes and other goods (Fig. 2.7–10) that are similar to those found in burials at Mariupol in Ukraine (Makarenko 1933).
Pottery from the Sjezheye burials at can be divided into two types. The first includes high vessels with a small flat bottom (Fig. 2.1–3). The rim-like collars are rather pronounced. (..) The surfaces were painted with ochre (Vasilyeva 1999; 2006). The pottery has complex motifs with meander patterns and zigzags, which were made with incisions and comb stamps.
The pottery of the second type differs from the former (..). Here, not all the vessels have collars and the necks are prominently made with the help of rows of deep pits and grooves; the bottoms are large and flat. The surfaces are covered with motifs made with comb stamps. These distinctive features point to the connection of the second group of pottery to the local Neolithic cultures and their active participation in the development of the Eneolithic Samara culture in the Volga-Ural area (Morgunova 1995; Vasilyeva 2006).
As to the ceramics of the first type, they are supposed to indicate that people of some outlandish culture had entered the areas near the Volga and the Urals. As bearers of different cultural traditions, as evidenced by the pottery excavated at Sjezheye burial ground, the outlandish group appeared to be in a vulnerable position because it was not numerous (Vasilyeva 2006). It had to be assimilated into the local environment by the group that produced the second type of pottery which is found at other sites in the Volga area, such as at the Lebjazhinka III settlement.
Where did the outlanders who prompted the Eneolithic period in the Volga-Urals region come from? Considering the complex motifs of the pottery in question, which have some prototypes in the AzovDnieper culture and at the early stage of the Tripolsky culture (Kotova 2006), they most probably arrived from the west, i.e. from the north Black Sea area. This is suggested by a certain similarity between the grave goods from burial grounds at Sjezheye and Mariupol (Vasilyev 1981). The presence of close contacts between the population of the Volga area and that of the north-western Black Sea region manifests itself in the similarity in burial practices (large burial grounds, the supine position of the dead, places for sacrifice) and decoration of burial clothing. This evidence testifies to regular links between these groups.”
I must confess – I have problems in following Morgunova. Aside from ochre painting, I can’t see any similarities between Lower Don / Azov-Dniepr pottery and her “outlandish” type 1 pottery. If there is anything connecting with previous Neolithic, i.e. Elshan pottery, it is pronounced rims and pointed bases as typical for her “outlandish” type 1, but missing from type 2. And overall, both her types 1 and 2 are mostly reminding me of forest zone early “combed” decoration, i.e. all-over ornamentation in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns. Type 1 “meander patterns and zigzags” a/o occured in Trans-Uralic Kosharovsky (190 km N of Yekaterinburg), and otherwise rather recall Lower Volga decoration. Influence from the Lower Volga becomes more obvious in the subsequent stages of the Samara Culture, namely the Ivanovka (mid 5th mBC, synchronised by Morgunova with Khvalynsk/ Sredni Stog) and Turganik (early 4th mBC, synchronised with Repin/ early Yamnaya) phases, during which it expanded further south into the Orenburg Region.
All in all, the Samara Region during the second half of the 6th mBC seems to have been quite multicultural. It experienced influences from the Trans-Urals and the forest zone, the Lower Volga, and possibly also the Don-Dniepr area that substantially overformed and ultimately replaced the preceding Elshan culture, a fate possibly shared by its bearers. The place of the I0124 sample within this multicultural set-up, including the question to which extent this single sample is representative of the region’s overall genetic set-up during the late 6th mBC, is unclear. Haak e.a. 2015 have remained rather cryptic in this respect: “The individual we refer to as ‘Samara hunter-gatherer’ – I0124/SVP44 (5640-5555 calBCE, Beta-392490) is an adult male from grave 1 in a Neolithic-Eneolithic settlement [Lebyazhinka IV ] producing artifacts from the Elshanka, Samara, and Repin cultures.” Korolyov e.a. 2017 report the presence of four different styles of Eneolithic pottery at Lebyazhinka IV. Moreover, a recent analysis has uncovered a substantial reservoir effect in a contemporary (5605-5490 calBC) burial from neighbouring Lebyazhinka V, where a human bone was AMS-dated 730 C14 years older than marmot canines from the same burial (Shishlina e.a. 2018), strengthening suspicions that it might rather represent a Sredni Stog incursion or early Khvalynsk than Samara Culture proper.
For all my reservations against Morgunova’s assessment of pottery styles, her and other researchers’ remarks on the presence of Mariupol burial traditions in the Samara Culture deserve attention, so I have deemed it appropriate to include an Ukraine_Neolithic source, namely I3715 as the oldest of the Surskaya/Azov-Dniepr samples, into G25 modelling.
The output shows substantial population replacement since the Early Holocene not only in the Samara Region, but also as concerns the more or less contemporary, but still aceramic Karelian_HGs from Onega Lake. Sidelkino EHG only captures some 40%, in the case of Uz0077 even only 15%, of the 6th mBC samples’ ancestry. New entrants have both come from the Southwest (UA_Mes, UA_N) and from Siberia (AG3, WSib_N), whereby AG3 seems to represent the bearers of the “Combed” pottery tradition. The perceived similarity of EHG samples is obviously an artefact – all of them represent admixture of ANE-rich Siberian with WHG-rich Ukrainian sources, but the admixture happened at different points in time, and also between different source populations, as demonstrated by the absence of WSib_N admixture from Samara_HG, and of UA_N admixture from Karelian Uz0077.
Interesting for the question at hand here is the 2.4% CHG admixture in the Samara HG. This doesn’t measure his total CHG share, which in distal modelling with AG3 and Villabruna as further sources lies around 8%. Instead, it represents the CHG that wasn’t already present in Sidelkino (2.9%), and didnt arrive from also CHG-enriched Mesolithic/ Neolithic Ukraine, which leaves us with either Elshan or the Lower Volga as its likely origin.
Summary and Conclusion
The Pottery Neolithic of the East European plain NE of the Dniestr witnesses the more-or-less contemporary arrival of three different pottery traditions, none of which is associated with agriculture:
- “Combed” Ceramics, all-over ornamented in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns, which can be traced back to the Trans-Urals and West Siberia;
- “Steppe” pottery, characterised by triangular and diagonal incisions, which finds close parallels in the Central Asian Kelteminar culture and is on the Lower Volga associated with mudbrick architecture as typical of Neolithic Central and West Asia;
- Rakushechny Yar and Elshan ware, sparsely decorated except for knobbed or pitted rims, but partly ochre-painted, which seems to be based on South Caspian pottery technology and finds close, albeit chronologically later parallels in the East Caucasus.
The spread of “combed” ceramics apparently included a substantial demic element, as indicated by some 30% newly arrived Siberian ancestry in 6th mBC Middle Volga and Karelian samples, traces of which also make it to the Middle Dniepr and into the Narva Culture (but were not yet present in Mesolithic Kunda samples).
For lack of baseline samples from Kelteminar, NW Kazakhstan and the Lower Volga, the impact of the “Central Asian/ East Caspian” connection on and beyond the Lower Volga is difficult to assess, especially as the typical “Steppe” decoration resembles motives widely used in Mesolithic stone, wood and antler engraving and may independently at various points in time and space have been transferred from stone or wooden vessels onto pottery. I haven’t yet come across any description of Pottery Neolithic mudbrick buildings outside the Lower Volga region, however, which speaks against substantial demic expansion outside of that area.
The arrival of Lower Don pottery in the Dniepr Rapids area coincides with a measurable increase of CHG-related ancestry by around 5%. Fresh CHG ancestry that may either relate to the Elshan Culture or the Lower Don Neolithic also appears in the Samara Region. This suggests a substantial CHG element in the bearers of the a/m early Neolithic cultures – how substantial is difficult to say until aDNA becomes available from the cultural horizons in question. Far more substantial than the genetic was the cultural impact – aside from introducing pottery, bearers of Rakushechny Yar / Elshan ware opened up a network of long-distance communication along the major waterways that ultimately reached from the Erteboelle Culture in the NW to the East Caucasus. That network was most likely based on the use of watercrafts – seaworthy boats are evidenced from Gobustan petroglyphs dated to the early 8th mBC. A West Caspian communication zone is evidenced by finds of Armenian obsidian in the Dniepr Rapids area, and of Mt. Elbrus obsidian on the Lower Volga. Communication zones along both the Western and Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea imply that genetic exchange may have been bi-directional, i.e. also have carried WHG, EHG and/or West Siberian ancestry into Central Asia and East Caucasia.
However, the introduction of pottery only raised the CHG share in the East European Steppe from some 3% in Sidelkino and 4% in Mesolithic Ukraine to 8 and 9%, respectively. The bulk of CHG ancestry must have arrived later, i.e. with the introduction of agriculture or during the Chalcolithic. These periods will be explored in the next part of this series.