Diverse origin of mitochondrial lineages in Iron Age Black Sea Scythians
Anna Juras, Maja Krzewińska, Alexey G. Nikitin, Edvard Ehler, Maciej Chyleński, Sylwia Łukasik, Marta Krenz-Niedbała, Vitaly Sinika, Janusz Piontek, Svetlana Ivanova, Miroslawa Dabert & Anders Götherström
Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 43950 (2017)
Published: 07 March 2017
Scythians were nomadic and semi-nomadic people that ruled the Eurasian steppe during much of the first millennium BCE. While having been extensively studied by archaeology, very little is known about their genetic identity. To fill this gap, we analyzed ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Scythians of the North Pontic Region (NPR) and successfully retrieved 19 whole mtDNA genomes. We have identified three potential mtDNA lineage ancestries of the NPR Scythians tracing back to hunter-gatherer and nomadic populations of east and west Eurasia as well as the Neolithic farming expansion into Europe. One third of all mt lineages in our dataset belonged to subdivisions of mt haplogroup U5. A comparison of NPR Scythian mtDNA linages with other contemporaneous Scythian groups, the Saka and the Pazyryks, reveals a common mtDNA package comprised of haplogroups H/H5, U5a, A, D/D4, and F1/F2. Of these, west Eurasian lineages show a downward cline in the west-east direction while east Eurasian haplogroups display the opposite trajectory. An overall similarity in mtDNA lineages of the NPR Scythians was found with the late Bronze Age Srubnaya population of the Northern Black Sea region which supports the archaeological hypothesis suggesting Srubnaya people as ancestors of the NPR Scythians.
(…)The Scythians are thought to have originated from the Central Asian region of Persia, as a branch of the ancient Iranian peoples expanding north into the steppe regions from around 1000 BCE. The Scythians first appeared in the historical record in the 8th century BCE.(…)
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A CHRONOLOGY OF THE SCYTHIAN ANTIQUITIES OF EURASIA BASED ON NEW
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND 14C DATA
A Yu Alekseev1 • N A Bokovenko2 • Yu Boltrik3 • K A Chugunov4 • G Cook5 • V A Dergachev6 N Kovalyukh7 • G Possnert8 • J van der Plicht9 • E M Scott10 • A Sementsov2 • V Skripkin7 S Vasiliev6 • G Zaitseva2
Pre-Scythian and Initial Scythian Epoch (9th to 7th Centuries BC)
The most famous Scythian monument in Central Asia (Tuva Republic) is the Arzhan barrow, which was discovered by M P Gryaznov (1980) in the 1970s. It is the key monument of the early Scythian epoch for all Eurasia. There are two main opinions on its chronology. According to the first, this monument dates to the 9th century BC (Bokovenko 1996; Zaitseva et al. 1997; Sher 1998) or to the 8th century BC (Gryznov 1980, 1983; Grach 1983). According to the second view, this monument dates to the 7th century BC (Kyzlasov 1977; Chlenova 1996, 1997). Undisputed, however, is that the Arzhan barrow is the earliest monument of the Scythian type in Central Asia. The specific details of its tomb construction, the complicated burial tradition, the perfection of the weapon’s features, horse equipment, and artifacts would suggest the existence of an earlier stage in the formation of the Scythian-type cultures for this region in the 10th–9th centuries BC (Bokovenko 1992, 1994).
The monuments of the early Tagar culture of Southern Siberia are closely connected to the Central Asian antiquities and include among them the Khystaglar, Bol’shaya Erba, Kazanovka-3, and Shaman Gora barrows. For a long time these monuments have been traditionally dated to the 7th century BC (Kiselev 1949; Chlenova 1967). After the discovery of the Arzhan barrow, some archaeologists suggested dating the initial period of the Tagar culture to the 8th century BC (Kurochkin 1991; Bokovenko 1987). For dating the earliest stage of the Tagar culture, a most important role is played by the dates of the last stage of the Karasuk culture which preceded the Tagar culture and which belongs to the final stage of the Bronze Age. On the basis of the archaeological evidence, the final stage of the Karasuk culture existed in about the 10th century BC (Bokovenko 1996).
In the European part of the steppe, the pre-Scythian period is represented by the Chernogorovskaya culture (steppe zone of the Northern Black Sea region) and the antiquities of the Novocherkassk treasure discovered in 1939 (steppe zone of the Northern Black Sea region and the Northern Caucasus). The chronology and the partial synchronization of these cultures have been confirmed by Klochko and Murzin (1980). They suggested the following chronological periods: the 10th to the beginning of 7th century BC for the Novocherkassk culture and the 9th to the middle of the 8th century BC for the Chernogorovskaya culture. There are other opinions on the chronology of these cultures.
According to one such, it can be subdivided into three periods:
1) pre-Scythian period I, from the 9th to the first half of the 8th century BC (the Chernogorovsk type monuments),
2) pre-Scythian period II, from the middle to the end of the 8th century BC (the period of the co-existence of Chernogorovsk and Novocherkassk monuments), and
3) pre-Scythian period III, from the end of the 8th to the first half of the 7th century BC (the classical Novocherkassk monuments)(Dudarev 1995, 1998, 1999, 1999a).
Alternatively, Kossack (1987) restricted the existence of the Novocherkassk-type monuments to the end of the 8th century BC. In all cases, the Chernogorovsk-type monuments are interpreted as being pre-Scythian, linked to a wave of nomads from the Eastern-Eurasia steppe zone who appeared in the Northern Black Sea region in about the 9th century BC (Klochko et al. 1997).
One of the key monuments of the pre-Scythian period in the European part of Eurasia is the Uashkhitu barrow in the Northern Caucasus which is related to the Novocherkassk culture and dated by archaeological evidence to the first half of the 7th century BC (Erlikh 1994).
The most ancient Scythian monument in Europe is considered to be barrow Nr 15 of the Steblev group of barrows located on the right bank of the River Dnieper in the forest-steppe zone. According to archaeological data, the artifacts from this barrow are similar to those in the Kazakhstan region and can be dated to the 8th century BC (Klochko and Skorii 1993).
A 14C chronology for this period has been developed for the monuments of Southern Siberia and the Central Asian regions. A number of 14C dates were produced for the Arzhan barrow whose dating began with its discovery and continues until the present day. They are widely reported in the literature (Zaitseva et al. 1998a, 1998b; Dergachev et al. 2001). Currently, there are about 30 14C dates for this monument, confirming its existence at about the 9th–8th century BC.
Comparison of the 14C dates for the monuments of all Eurasia belonging to the 1st period is rather difficult because there was an unevenness in dating between European and Asian monuments. The monuments from the Asian territory contain more wooden remains suitable for 14C dating. The dating of these monuments began in the 1960s and continues to the present day. Now there are about 40 14C dates, which are presented in Table 1. These dates confirm the age of the beginning of the Tagar culture (to the 7th century BC). Here only the most recent 14C dates are presented for the European monuments. The histogram of the distribution of the 14C dates for the monuments investigated is presented in Figure 2. The 14C dates for the Arzhan barrow were published earlier (Zaitseva et al. 1998a, 1998b). This histogram shows the co-existence of the Arzhan barrow and the pre-Scythian and Scythian monuments in Southern Siberia (Tagar culture). This fact does not contradict the appearance of the Tagar artifacts found in the Arzhan barrow.
The earlier Scythian monuments in Europe appeared some hundred years later.
The series of 14C dates for the monuments of the Scythian epoch of Eurasia are consistent with the existing chronological and archaeological theories. The three periods of Scythian history confirmed in this research are in concordance with the categorization suggested by Gryaznov (1979) on the basis of the synchronization and typology of the key monuments:
1) The Arzhan-Chernogorovsk phase: 8th–7th century BC,
2) the Maiemir-Kelermess phase: 7th–6th century BC, and
3) the Pazyryk-Chertomlyk phase: 5th–3rd century BC.
The lack of reliable imported objects in the Scythian monuments of Central Asia and Siberia enhances the role of scientific methods including dendrochronology and 14C dating (sometimes incorporating wiggle matching) in defining a unified chronology for these cultures.