In the Late Chalcolithic (ca. 4250–3000 BC), the western cultural koiné characteristic of the previous period continues, at least in south-west Anatolia and along the southern and middle Aegean coast. Further to the east, cultural developments show a different trend, with influence from the Late Uruk pottery reaching ca. 3500 BC eastern Anatolian regions, including the Plateau. This influence coincides with the start of Transcaucasian contacts, too. Regional fragmentation is the rule, and the Black Sea coast shows no eastern influence. On the contrary, ring-shaped figurines—flat objects of stylised female shape made of silver, lead, or gold—connect the Plateau to the southern Balkans, which is seen as evidence of close contacts with the west Pontic area, particulary Bulgaria (Palumbi 2011)..
In Syrian and northern Mesopotamian regions, south-eastern Anatolia, and the Upper Euphrates, the period ca. 3500–3000 BC was associated thus with the formation of large and important regional centres, a general reorganisation of the craft production – with growing specialisation –, and the emergence of stratified societies and elite groups. Late Chalcolithic architecture evolves into settlements of huge dimension. Increasing social and economic complexity lead gradually into the Early Bronze Age (EBA), although nothing suggests the emergence in the area of proto-urban structures typical of the Upper Euphrates or northern Syria (Palumbi 2011).
The Ubaid or Uruk expansion is supposed to have affected wide regions in the Middle East, although the precise regional mechanisms are still unknown. For example, whereas the Upper Euphrates shows indigenous social complexity, the Upper Tigris Valley shows a resistance to foreign influence. South-eastern Anatolian and northern Mesopotamian populations interacted ca. 3500–3000 BC with settlements in the Upper Euphrates, Upper Tigris, and beyond in their quest to obtain raw materials. Uruk colonists seem to have expanded to the north. Although it had been presumed that early state systems were restricted to the southern Mesopotamian alluvium or Uruk-influenced sites to the north, different sites show that indigenous societies which whom Urukians interacted had independently evolved into complex administrative centres in south-eastern Anatolia, like Hamoukar, Tell Brak, or Arslantepe (Palumbi 2011).
Two periods reveal the centrality of the Arslantepe site, located in the Malatya plain, as a place of cultural boundary in the network of interregional relations of the Middle East. The first is the Late Chalcolithic period, over the entire 4th millennium BC, when a very early hierarchical and politically centralised society developed on the site; and the second period refers to the 2nd and early 1st millennium BC, when Arslantepe was affected by the eastward expansion of the Hittite state (Frangipane, Manuelli, and Vignola 2017).
During the first half of the 4th millennium, Arslantepe had already developed a political system in which the elites had gained some control over staples, and developed well-established circuits for the centralisation and redistribution of foodstuffs, carried out in public ceremonial areas. The material culture of the site was local, although it seems to have been a powerful regional centre, whose leaders interacted with their Mesopotamian neighbours. The elites had their residence separated from the common houses, on top of a mound, close to temples, which indicates their social importance and the symbolic emphasis on their prestige and growing power. Their role as central authority included control over food and its redistribution in ceremonies and feasts (Frangipane, Manuelli, and Vignola 2017).
Around 3500–3400 BC, the main temples were abruptly abandoned, and a radical change occurred in the power system, which led to an extraordinary development of the Arslantepe society towards a stronger and more centralised structure. A monumental, imposing, tall building with very thick walls—although much smaller than the previous buildings—was built, without any cultic or religious features. This building and the courtyard, whose entrance was decorated with stamped lozenge motifs and wall paintings, constituted the core of the new public area. There seems to have been a throne room opened towards the courtyard, a place for audience, and also a private section for authorised persons (Frangipane, Manuelli, and Vignola 2017).
The public area may have been conceived for the leader to address the public and held audiences in a ceremonial environment, now without any cultic or religious connotations. On a corner, a temple with a floor plan identical to the audience building shows that cultic and religious rites were of restricted access, probably for people of high status. Authority was thus excercised without any religious mediation, and elites preserved the religious authority, detaching themselves still more from the rest of the population. Economic and administrative rooms were added, evidenced by intensive sealing and sophisticated accounting system. Interesting are certain scenes, like those of bulls pulling a cart or plough driven by a coachman (depicting a ploughing scene), and a transport of an eminent person on a threshing sledge car found on a cylinder seal (Frangipane, Manuelli, and Vignola 2017).
Anatolian has long been considered the first language to branch off of the Proto-Indo-European trunk, due to its peculiar archaisms (Trager and Smith 1950), even before the proposal of a Late Indo-European community from which all other known Indo-European languages branched out (Meid 1975; Kortlandt 1990; Lehmann 1992; Dunkel 1997; Melchert 1998; Adrados 1998; Ringe 2006; Mallory and Adams 2007; Beekes 2011). Based on the known Khvalynsk migrations of the previous period, and on the presence of a prehistoric geographic and genetic barrier in the Caucasus Mountains (Wang et al. 2019), the most likely route of expansion of Proto-Anatolians lies in the Balkans (Anthony 2007), which is supported by the presence of Balkan outliers with Steppe ancestry (see §iv.2. Indo-Anatolians).
The main question has turned thus to the when and how of the migration into Anatolia of Proto-Anatolian speakers. One important cue, based on its relevance for Suvorovo–Novodanilovka chieftains (see §IV.2.2. Horses), is horse domestication: it is found at Çadir in north-central Anatolia already in the early 4th millennium BC, continuing into the 3rd millennium (Arbuckle 2009), representing thus the earliest evidence of its presence in Anatolia, comfortably earlier than Late Chalcolithic remains of eastern Anatolia or the earliest representations of a wheeled vehicle by Sumerians ca. 3100 BC, probably pulled along by oxen (Sagona 2011).
Similarities between the Varna culture (lasting until ca. 4200 BC) and that of İkiztepe on the central coastal region of the Black Sea strongly imply close ties between the eastern Balkans and central Anatolia (see §IV.4.1. Anatolia and the Levant), with this population having been proposed as cultural predecessors of the Hittites (Bilgi 2001, 2005) based on its connection with Balkan Early Eneolithic pit grave cultures, including extended, supine inhumations with the use of ochre, as well as the use of ring-shaped idols (Zimmermann 2007), and also craniometric features proper of south-eastern Europeans (Welton 2010). The lack of similar remains in western Anatolia may suggest an ancient maritime connection to continental Europe through the coasts of the Black Sea rather than by way of a land route (Özdoğan 2011). This is compatible with the Anatolian Chalcolithic sample of Barcõn, Marmara Region, north-west Anatolia (ca. 3800 BC) showing “eastern” contribution (see §iv.4. Late Middle Easterners), but no Steppe ancestry (Lazaridis et al. 2016).
The lack of relevant cultural or genetic connections in north-west Anatolia may also suggest the infiltration of small groups of Proto-Anatolian speakers who have not left much traces in other intermediate Balkan regions, either. In any case, the Sea of Marmara had become a true cultural barrier during the Chalcolithic, separating south-eastern Europe from Anatolia, as evidenced by the split of the “Balkano-Anatolian Culture Complex” by the turn of the 5th to the 4th millennium BC, at the end of the Vinça Period (Özdoğan 2011).
Based on the likely presence of Anatolian speakers ca. 2500 BC in south-eastern Anatolia, it is tempting to locate the arrival of pioneer Proto-Anatolian speakers in İkiztepe, north-central Anatolia, via the south-eastern Balkans—whether by land or sea—and their expansion southward into central Anatolia with the sociopolitical change at Arslantepe ca. 3500–3400 BC. The lack of genetic traces from the steppe on south-western and central Bronze Age samples (see §vii.4. Aegeans and Anatolians and §viii.13. Assyrians and Hittites) may suggest a low genetic impact of the Anatolian migration, or the replacement of this early population with eastern migrants, or both. Among the investigated eighteen ancient individuals from the Late Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age in Arslantepe, there is no evidence of a major genetic shift, although there is high heterogeneity compared to other Anatolians, and more Iran Neolithic-related ancestry (Skourtanioti et al. 2018).