Prehistory of the Steppes
The original people of the western and central steppes were likely
Proto-Uralic (the ancestors to Finnish, Hungarian, Samoyede, etc.).
They would include the neolithic Samara culture of the Volga valley,
as well as the fishing communities of the Kelteminar culture further
south. These would evolve into the Pit-Comb culture beginning around
4200 bc, which would extend all the way to Scandinavia and both
sides of the Ural mountains, including the Khvalynsk copper culture
of the Volga valley.
At around this same time period, proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were
expanding from the Balkans into the Ukraine. The Dnieper-Donets
culture (~5000 bc) and the Sredny Stog culture (~4000 bc)
represented an eastern PIE dialect, ancestral to the Indo-Iranian
and possibly the Tokharian and Hittite languages as well.
The Ukrainian cultures expanded eastward and are represented by the
Botai horse culture (~3700 bc), speaking a dialect we might call
far-eastern PIE, while the Stedny Stog culture would continue
to evolve into the proto-Indo-Iranian dialect. These
proto-Indo-Iranians would also move eastward and develop the
extensive Yamna culture (~3600). The Yamna culture would absorb much
of the far-eastern PIE and proto-Uralic people as well as drive
others even further east.
Of the far-eastern PIE people, one group, already located north of
the Caucasus, developed the Maykop culture (~3700 bc), which thrived
as an intermediary between the Indo-Iranians of the steppes and the
civilizations south of the Caucasus. I believe that they would
eventually move into Anatolia to become the Hittites and their
relations. Another group moved north and east where, by 3300 bc,
they would form the Afanasevo culture of the Tokharians.
In the following millenium, we see several bronze age cultures
develop in the area: the Catacomb culture (~2800 bc) in the Ukraine;
the Poltavka culture (~2700 bc) in the Volga valley; and, north of
the Poltavka culture, the Abashevo culture (~2500 bc), which may
have been at least in part Finno-Ugric.
Next, we see the Andronovo culture (~2300 bc) in Kazakhstan and
further east, the Sintashta culture (~2100 bc) in the Volga valley,
followed by the Srubna culture (~1800 bc) coverning both the Ukraine
and the Volga valley.
The famous Tarim Basin mummies (Xinjiang, in western China) -
presumed to be Tokharian - are from this time period as well, the
earliest dating to 1800 bc. By the final centuries bc, the Yuezhi -
likely Tokharians - would be displaced by the Turkish Xiongnu.
Beginning around 1500 bc, some of the Indo-Iranian tribes moved from
Scythia into Afghanistan, the Swat valley, and northwestern India. A
second wave - Medes, Persians, and Parthians entered into Iran
through Bactria circa 1000 bc. Both would absorb (and be absorbed
by) the original populations and develop the rich mixed cultures of
Iran and the Indian subcontinent.
By 1000 bc, the Indo-Iranian tribes have taken control of most of
the western and central steppes, from the Ukraine to the Volga to
Khazakstan and southern Siberia. By 600 bc, Greeks would begin to
refer to the area as Scythia, and to the people as Scyths. As the
Scyths extended back into Europe as well as into Xinjiang, they
differentiated into extended tribes such as the Cimmerians in the
west and the Sakas in the east. By the last centuries bc, the Scyths
and their relations would be driven out of the steppes by the Turks,
resulting in a spit between the Asian Indo-Europeans and the
European Indo-Europeans that persists to the present.
Scythia, circa 100 BC
© 2013, C. George Boeree