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Hunters from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – as European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in general – possessed no domesticated animals before the arrival of stockbreeding, spread with Neolithic farmers from Anatolia after about 6100 BC.
However, before the arrival of farmers from the Middle East (Olalde et al. 2015; Szecsenyi-Nagy et al. 2017), pottery was produced in the first half of the 7th millennium BC by hunter-gatherer groups in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, first in the Volga steppes (with the earliest pottery found in the Elshanian culture), probably derived from the Eastern Asian tradition of the Late Pleistocene through Siberia and the Transurals (Piezonka 2015).
To the south- and westward pottery spread into the Northern Caspian culture ca. 6500 BC, and then into north Pontic societies ca. 6200-6000 BC (Zaitseva et al. 2009). Sparsely decorated pottery dispersed north into the Forest Zone ca. 6000 BC or slightly earlier, from the upper Volga and Dvina-Lovat’ regions to the east (into the Dvina-Pechora region) and west (into the eastern Baltic), reaching the Upper Volga, Serteya, and Valday cultures, and later the Narva culture.
Contacts of north Pontic cultures with Criş settlers from the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş culture about 5800 BC introduced domesticated cattle to the Bug-Dniester culture, but no signs of cultural assimilation has been found, with the later invasion of Linear Pottery sites ca. 5500-5200 BC respecting a similar cultural frontier, geographically coincident with the Dniester (Anthony 2007). Hence the language of western Neolithic settlers – assumed to come from the Middle East – was probably not transferred to north Pontic herders. A second expansion of eastern pottery reached the eastern Baltic region ca. 5500 BC, expanding from the Dnieper region to the north-west, generating the sparsely decorated Dubičiai pottery (later evolving into the Neman culture), and influencing the north European regions from the Narva to the Ertebølle cultures (Piezonka 2015).
From the Bug-Dniester culture domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats spread quickly from about 5200 BC east- and northward into Pontic-Caspian sites, reaching Khvalynsk and the Samara region about 5100 BC.
Diachronic map of Mesolithic migrations ca. 6500-5000 (Anthony 2007; Piezonka 2015), Uni-Köln. Original from <https://indo-european.eu/en/maps/mesolithic/>.
A third expansion of eastern pottery spread from the Volga-Kama region to the east ca. 5000 BC, connected to influences from beyond the Urals, showing a more elaborately decorated ware (with bands of pits and impressions made from comb stamps), spreading north and west in the Sperrings and Säräisniemi 1 cultures (Piezonka 2015). A sample of R1b1a1a-P297 reported as possibly an intermediate stage of its formation (positive and negative markers in the M478 node) was found in a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer at Lebyanzhinka in the Samara region, dated ca. 5600 BC (Mathieson et al. 2015), and later samples from the same region show continuity of R1b1a1a2-M269 lineages, which seem to have expanded from east to west in the Pontic-Caspian steppes.
In the north Pontic steppe – apart from the earlier R1a-M420 and R1b-M343 samples from Vasylivka (see above) – there are samples dated ca. 5500-4800 BC: nine of R1b-M343 lineage, probably from an extinct branch of R1b1a-L754 (xR1b1a1a-P297, xR1b1a1a2-M269; one of R1a-M420 lineage; four of haplogroup I-M170, probably I2a2a1b-L701, in Deriivka; and another four samples of I-M170 and one IJ, probably also all I2a2a1b-L701, in neighbouring Volniensky (Mathieson et al. 2017). The diversity in lineages (all of them extinct) points to a mix in the different groups that emerged in the early Mesolithic period, before the mass expansions that occurred later.
Haplogroup R1a1a1-M417 (formed ca. 6500, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC) is first found in a Karelian hunter-gatherer dated ca. 6850-6000 BC (Lazaridis et al. 2016), and two samples of R1a1a1-M417 dated ca. 6125-4885 BC have also been found in Baikalic cultures at Irkutsk (Moussa et al. 2016) – near the zone where the ancient Mal’ta-Buret’ culture was located. Given the Eurasian origin of the eastern European pottery, and its western expansion into Europe, it seems logical to find a common origin of both populations in an expansion from Eurasian territory, dated around the subclade’s formation date. The traditional association of Forest Zone hunter-gatherers’ expansion with hunters of the Kelteminar culture, would imply a date ca. 5500 BC, which is too late for the attested samples. Ancestors of this population are supposed to have originally migrated from the Hissar range ca. 6000 BC, though, with an earlier expansion from this area potentially fitting the available data.
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