What happened 4,000 years ago in the Urals?
Together with Russian researchers, archaeologists from the universities of Frankfurt and Mainz are studying Bronze Age activity in the steppe between Europe and Asia
Credit: Ural Project, Goethe University
The aim of the project is to reconstruct demographic processes and settlement structures in the late Bronze Age up to the transition to the Iron Age – what is known as the post-Sintashta-Petrovka period. Artefacts discovered so far have shown that the southern Trans-Ural region at the dividing line between Europe and Asia on the northern edge of the Eurasian Steppe constitutes a unique cultural landscape. Superb Bronze and Iron Age monuments, such as burial mounds (“kurgans”) and settlements, show that this was a centre of economic development and sociocultural processes that already began in the third millennium BC. After the decline of fortified settlements, the housing structure changed and “open” settlements with terraced houses without fortifications emerged. Russian research dates these settlements to the middle of the second millennium BC, i.e. the Late Bronze Age.
During the research phase that lasted from 2008 to 2014, Professor Rüdiger Krause devoted himself above all to the fortified settlements of the Sintashta-Petrovka period (around 2000 BC). Characteristic for this culture were early chariots, intensive copper mining and substantial bronze production. Attention has now shifted to various other archaeological sites of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the microregion at the confluence of the Yandyrka and Akmulla rivers and the upper end of the Karagaily-Ayat valley. How have settlement structures evolved? How was the landscape used as the economic foundation for livestock farming? And how have funeral customs changed? The intention is to study the demographic processes underlying all this in the course of the project, using not only palaeogenetic techniques but also archaeological excavations, geophysical surveys, interpretation of the material culture and archaeobotany.
Who were the people responsible for the shift at that time from a settled form of existence to a nomadic way of life? Where did they originate from and how did they come to arrive in the Urals? Archaeology and palaeogenetics will work hand in hand in the search for answers to these questions. One of the aims of this collaboration is to analyse population genetics using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods.
The team led by Professor Joachim Burger at the University of Mainz is specialised in the analysis of genomes from archaeological skeletons. In the framework of this project, the palaeogenetics experts from Mainz will examine the question of to what extent genetic influences from Europe or the central Asian steppe coincide with the cultural transformation to be observed in the Trans-Ural region. Was it foreigners who introduced the change? Or did regional cultural developments take place here? How have demography and population structure changed over the millennia? To find answers to these questions, the researchers from Mainz will use high-resolution sequencing to study the genomes from the project’s archaeological sites and analyse them with statistical methods they have developed themselves, in order to unearth as much detailed information as possible about the people of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
A report on the first phase of the research project can be read (in German) in Forschung Frankfurt, 1.2012, pp. 32-36: “Innovationwen vor 4000 Jahren in der Eurasischen Steppe. Streitwagenfahrer und Metallurgen in befestigten Siedlungen” by R. Krause and J. Fornasier.
Further information: Professor Rüdiger Krause, Institute of Archaeological Sciences, Prehistory and Early History, Westend Campus, Norbert-Wollheim-Platz 1, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-32120; https://www.uni-frankfurt.de/61564916/LOEWE-Schwerpunkt
Professor Joachim Burger, Palaeogenetics Group, Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution (iomE), Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Anselm-Franz-von-Bentzel-Weg 7, 55128 Mainz, Tel.: +49(0)6131-39-20981; http://palaeogenetics-mainz.de
Image material can be downloaded from: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/75784479
01 Trans-Ural region. Konopljanka-2 Bronze Age terraced house settlement with a filled-in well shaft in the foreground. 2018 excavation. © Ural Project, Goethe University
02 Trans-Ural region, Neplujevka. Burial of an adult in a large kurgan. Late Bronze Age, 2017 excavation. © Ural Project, Goethe University
03 Trans-Ural region, Neplujevka. Burial of a young person in a large kurgan. Late Bronze Age, 2016 excavation. © Ural Project, Goethe University
04 University of Mainz, documentation of bone samples in the cleanroom laboratory in preparation of palaeogenetic tests. © Joachim Burger, JGU Mainz
05 University of Mainz, preparation of bone samples in the cleanroom laboratory for genome analysis.
© Joachim Burger, JGU Mainz
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