A more recent, revised and updated version of this paper has been published (2019)


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Late PIE and the Caucasus

The Uruk expansion in Mesopotamia after about 3700 BC intensified during the late Uruk period ca. 3350-3100 BC, and its expansion reached toward the gold, silver, and copper sources in the Caucasus Mountains. The Maykop culture of rich chieftains’ graves with Mesopotamian ornaments developed from this trade network in the North Caucasus Piedmont, and a western and probably also a later eastern southern routes through the shores of the Black and Caspian seas respectively have been proposed[Anthony 2007].

Steppe-Caucasian trade is supported by Maykop imports found in the north Pontic steppe from the Dniester to the lower Volga in the east, but no Caucasian imports have been found in the Volga-Ural region. Late Maykop peoples – most likely speaking languages ancestral to modern Caucasian languages – probably interacted with individuals from Repin and late Khvalynsk cultures, and the contact was most direct on the lower Don. Late Maykop graves incorporated carved stone stelae like those of western Yamna. The trading of drugs, wool, and horses has been proposed as main steppe imports into Maykop[Anthony 2007].

It is probably during these times of expansion that admixture in the Middle East was levelled, showing that western Iran had a wide impact on Levantine populations in the south and north-west Anatolians in the west, and the population of eastern Iran and the Caucasus was composed of the same ancestral components, albeit in slightly different proportions.

A population related to the Chalcolithic of the Zagros Mountains in east Iran contributed around 43% of ancestry of early Bronze Age populations of the Eurasian steppe. EHG ancestry is also found in samples from Chalcolithic Armenia, Iran, and Bronze Age Armenia in a slightly higher proportion than in CHG, which bears witness to the potential southern genetic flow from the steppe[Lazaridis et al. 2016].

Although Maykop has been cited as a likely candidate for the strong influence of CHG ancestry in Yamna[Jones et al. 2015], this ‘Yamna component’ has been found in two samples of the mid-fifth millennium BC from the Balkans (previous to the actual samples that define that ancestry), and later in the mid-fourth millennium in a Trypillian sample[Mathieson et al. 2017]. This suggests a more likely gradual contribution from intermittent contacts with cultures from the Caucasus, joint with western steppe expansions (see below Expansion of Corded Ware culture and Admixture analysis).

Horse trade – including wheels, carts, and the possibility of a quicker transport of metals into Uruk – is proof of an indirect contact between steppe herders and Mesopotamia. The association of exported domesticated horses with experienced breeders and riders of the lower Don offers a solid framework to support the hypothesis of the presence of Late-Indo-European-speaking peoples in Mesopotamia, and thus allow for IE borrowings in Sumerian[Sahala 2009-2013].

The condition of North-West Indo-European as an Euphratic superstratum of Sumerian[Whittaker 2008][Whittaker 2012] would require a more detailed explanation of internal and external influence, and reasons for potential language replacement and expansion in Mesopotamia.

eneolithic_Caucasus.jpg Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC (detail of the Caucasus and neighbouring regions) [Anthony 2007][Szmyt 2013][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln.


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