Frînculeasa(2019) Children of the Steppe: descendance, key to Yamnaya success

Miscellanea Archaeology & Prehistory Frînculeasa(2019) Children of the Steppe: descendance, key to Yamnaya success

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    Carlos QuilesCarlos Quiles
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    The Children of the Steppe: descendance as a key to Yamnaya success, by Frînculeasa (2019), Studii de Preistorie, 16, p. 129-168.


    To cross the border raised by the raw information obtained after revealing an archaeological feature has always been a challenge. From the practical to the interpretative archaeology, lifting this veil has been a constant concern of researchers. In a hierarchised, masculinised society, as the Yamnaya one seems to have been, the presence of graves of subadults is an important piece of information for understanding the social framework specific to these communities. Due to the investigations conducted in the Prahova area, the topic of this article may be illustrated with relevant case studies. We shall further describe this subject, assess a number of recent finds within a larger framework and outline some ideas regarding the social structure of the Yamnaya funerary phenomenon.

    In the larger framework, I can’t really tell if the author is agreeing with Kristiansen’s women connection . It seems that lately Heyd is also starting to accept that “Steppe ancestry” is also culturally relevant, something he didn’t seem to consider before, so the impact of the 2015 papers is making a dent on archaeologists. The culprit, I imagine, is Kristiansen’s insistence on his Proto-Germanic from Denmark idea:

    Kristiansen established the Yamnaya – Corded Ware – pre‐Germanic ancestry. Simplifying, the conclusion is that the Yamnaya men, having just reached the west of Europe, married local women and, several generations later, the fruit of this hybridization would be the emergence of the Corded Ware and of a new dialect ‐ Pre‐Proto‐Germanic (K. Kristiansen et alii 2017). If women are seen as the origin of the pottery characterizing this cultural tradition (K. Kristiansen et alii 2017), the ideological element transformed at the basis of the Corded Ware society is reflected in the relevance and unity of burial practices (K. Kristiansen 2017), especially as regards the men graves (Q. Bourgeois, E. Kroon 2017), although this does not exclude the presence of local aspects (M. Furholt 2014). The small gap between the onset of the two cultural phenomena (the Yamnaya and the Corded Ware) in the areas analyzed (not of origin) might point to a very fast hybridization phenomenon, with rather different consequences.

    Having a common core with the Corded Ware (M.E Allentoft et alii 2015; W. Haak et alii 2015; I. Mathieson et alii 2018), the Yamnaya does not appear to have altered so deeply in the West‐Pontic as to speak of another culture. However, regional versions have been defined, such as the Dniestrean or Bugeac (V. Dergacev 1994; S. Ivanova 2013). The local cultural element seems to have survived and intersected with the Yamnaya ritual (see the occurrence of Cucuteni‐Tripolie CII bowls, Globular Amphora, Cernavoda II, Coțofeni, Ezero, Michalic, Livezile, Makó, Somogyvár etc. vessels in grave inventories) (A. Frînculeasa et alii 2015a), which naturally has lent a certain particularity to the Yamnaya phenomenon (S. Ivanova 2013; P. Włodarczak 2017).

    If the local/Neolithic man’s fate seems sealed, witnessing a genuine extinction at times (V. Heyd 2019), the woman appears to pass through this turbulent and revolutionary age influencing even the linguistic framework by preserving elements of the local corpus reflected in words with local origins specific to the Neolithic agrarian society (R. Iversen, G. Kroonen 2017; K. Kristiansen 2017).

    Anyway, what is certain is that the Yamnaya (and the society from where it emerged) were a society with strong patrilineal inheritance. That is also visible culturally:

    The tumulus seems a monument and, at the same time, a representation of the ideological power of this intrusive group. The establishment of lineage could ensure the passage in time and space of the unity of tradition and the relevance of ideology. At the top of the social pyramid stood a male figure symbolically endowed with the power of representing the continuity, stability, cohesion and unity of society. The homogeneity of this funerary phenomenon was visible for more than half a millennium and preserved the same coordinates until the end of the evolution of this tradition. We can assume that heredity/descendance was an important landmark in the Yamnaya society. Here palaeogenetics can lift the veil and illuminate the archaeological information. Beyond migration, before tracing transcontinental routes, we must still understand the social relationships within this cultural phenomenon and its interaction with the world around. Elements of Yamnaya ideology stood the test of time and were passed on, while the role played by the male individual at the top of the social pyramid was to cross the ages beyond this phenomenon until the historical times.

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