Was the Maikop culture the PIE homeland? May 19, 2018 18:23:46 GMT
Post by Admin on May 19, 2018 18:23:46 GMT
The mountain ranges of the Greater Caucasus and the southern Lesser Caucasus form a bridge linking the mountainous zones of the Near East to Eurasia. The South Caucasus river systems are connected to the upper Euphrates and Tigris drainage, and the mountain passes of the Great Caucasus offer a number of passages to the steppe landscapes north of it. However, the most important ecological demarcation is the interface of mountain and steppe ecozones in the North Caucasian foothills, a mid-altitude zone of hills and narrow plateaus and the slightly hilly piedmont steppe1. Intermediate biospheres, such as ecotopes, which are micro-environmental patches between larger vegetation zones, are characterized by higher biodiversity and provide fodder-rich landscapes ideal for pastoralism but also for basic agriculture2. This demarcation and the correlated ecotones fluctuated considerably during the Bronze Age. For instance, the 6 to 5 ky rapid climate change event placed Maykop sites in a much more steppe-like environment than it is today, while the 4.2 ky event put a halt to the exploitation of the steppe zone for several hundred years due to severe aridisation3. The ecological division separates mountain- and steppe-based economies despite the fact that both are biologically highly diverse environments with rich pastures ideal for mobile and semi-sedentary pastoralists and which are traditionally shared by groups practising such economies. At a local level, the Caucasus is therefore characterized by a large variety of specific economic and social adaptations. These are reflected in a large cultural and linguistic diversity, and complex networks of interaction within and between the Caucasus and the adjacent regions.
The geographical dichotomy of the mountain and steppe-based economies in the Caucasus is also reflected in the high diversity of archaeological cultural phenomena4, 5, 6. Our study includes representatives of all major Bronze Age groups in the North Caucasus. They reflect affiliations to either mountain-associated cultural groups such as the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic (4700-3500 calBCE)7, the Maykop phenomenon (3900-2900 calBCE)5, communities of a Northern variant of the Kura-Araxes culture (3600-2500 calBCE)8, the North Caucasian cultural formation or the mountain groups of the post-Catacomb grave horizon9, or to large-scale cultural phenomena of the steppe such as the Don-Kaspi Steppe Eneolithic (4300-4100 calBCE)10, the Yamnaya (3300-2600/2500 calBCE), the Catacomb cultural communities (2800-2200 calBCE)3 and the post-Catacomb Lola formation (2200-1700 calBCE)11. To represent the South Caucasus Kura-Araxes culture4 (3600-2500 calBCE), we also included individuals from the Kaps site in present-day Armenia. Each of these formations is outlined by particular sets of artefacts, settlement and burial practices, or adaptations to specific environments. However, the chronological overlap of sites within the same territory, regional variations in artefact spectra and a high frequency of elements crossing-over blur the delineation of clear cut ‘archaeological cultures’. Consequently, the applied terms must in their specific time frames be understood as operational tools rather than social entities that represent uniform and coherent peoples.
The significance of the Caucasus as a key study area is clearly visible in the current debate of large-scale cultural interaction in the 4th and 3rd millennium BCE in Western Eurasia. The impact of the archaeological cultures, which shaped this contact zone between the Near East and Eurasia during the Bronze Age, on the widening of social networks that operated between Mesopotamia, the Eurasian steppe and Europe is, however, still poorly understood12, 13. Early Neolithic communities establish a sedentary lifestyle with a Near Eastern set of domesticates in the South Caucasus by 6000 calBCE14. They developed a sophisticated set of settlements but kept to the floodplains of the major river drainages. Other Neolithic communities in the West Caucasian lowlands and at the Black Sea coast or in the central mountain valleys remain vague and might reflect local populations that selectively adopted elements of the Neolithic package. Neolithic elements in the Lower Don area north of the Caucasus and dating to the late 7th millennium BCE are disputed15 but might shed light on a southern component in the development of cultural formations before the actual advent of the Neolithic in the North Caucasus during the mid-5th millennium BCE.
The earliest attested evidence of the Neolithic lifestyle in the North Caucasus, including domesticates and settlement architecture, dates to the mid-5th millennium BCE and is associated with a cultural formation termed Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic7 or ‘pearl-ornamented ceramic’. Sites associated with this phenomenon are situated on both flanks of the West Caucasian Mountains and in all probability reflect groups advancing through the mountain passes from the southern to the northern side of the mountains. This cultural phenomenon represents a rather dispersed and flimsy settlement of the mountain zones. Some habitation sites were found under rock shelters or in caves such as the site of Unakozovskaya, but large fortified settlements are present as well. The settlers lived on agriculture, cattle herding and pig-rearing. Complementary to the southern Eneolithic component, a northern component started to expand between 4300 and 4100 calBCE manifested in low burial mounds with inhumations densely packed in bright red ochre. Burial sites of this type, like the investigated sites of Progress and Vonyuchka, are found in the Don-Caspian steppe10, but they are related to a much larger supra-regional network linking elites of the steppe zone between the Balkans and the Caspian Sea16. These groups introduced the so-called kurgan, a specific type of burial monument, which soon spread across the entire steppe zone.