Notes on Bronze Age Eurasia: the Kura-Araxes Early Transcaucasian ‘Culture’ and the sudden emergence of the Maikop Culture


Origin of Early Transcaucasian Culture (aka Kura-Araxes culture) July 3, 2013

 

From the paper:

Akhundov (2007) recently uncovered pre-Kura-Araxes/Late Chalcolithic materials  from the settlement of Boyuk Kesik and the kurgan necropolis of Soyuq Bulaq in  northwestern Azerbaijan, and Makharadze (2007) has also excavated a pre-Kura-Araxes  kurgan, Kavtiskhevi, in central Georgia. Materials recovered from both these recent  excavations can be related to remains from the metal-working Late Chalcolithic site  of Leilatepe on the Karabakh steppe near Agdam (Narimanov et al. 2007) and from  the earliest level at the multi-period site of Berikldeebi in Kvemo Kartli (Glonti and Dzavakhishvili 1987). They reveal the presence of early 4th millennium raised burial  mounds or kurgans in the southern Caucasus.Similarly, on the basis of her survey work  in eastern Anatolia north of the Oriental Taurus mountains, C. Marro (2007)likens chafffaced wares collected at Hanago in the Sürmeli Plain and Astepe and Colpan in the eastern  Lake Van district in northeastern Turkey with those found at the sites mentioned above  and relates these to similar wares (Amuq E/F) found south of the Taurus Mountains in  northern Mesopotamia

The new high dating of the Maikop culture essentially signifies that there is no
chronological hiatus separating the collapse of the Chalcolithic Balkan centre of
metallurgical production and the appearance of Maikop and the sudden explosion of  Caucasian metallurgical production and use of arsenical copper/bronzes.
 More than  forty calibrated radiocarbon dates on Maikop and related materials now support this high  chronology; and the revised dating for the Maikop culture means that the earliest kurgans  occur in the northwestern and southern Caucasus and precede by several centuries those of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) cultures of the western Eurasian steppes (cf. Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a and b). The calibrated radiocarbon dates suggest that the Maikop ‘culture’ seems to have had a formative influence on steppe kurgan burial rituals and what now appears to be the later development of the Pit-Grave (Yamnaya) culture on the Eurasian steppes (Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a: 97).

In other words, sometime around the middle of the 4th millennium BCE or slightly subsequent to the initial appearance of the Maikop culture of the NW Caucasus, settlements containing proto-Kura-Araxes or early Kura-Araxes materials first appear across a broad area that stretches from the Caspian littoral of the northeastern Caucasus in the north to the Erzurum region of the Anatolian Plateau in the west. For simplicity’s sake these roughly simultaneous developments across this broad area will be considered as representing the beginnings of the Early Bronze Age or the initial stages of development of the KuraAraxes/Early Transcaucasian culture.

The ‘homeland’ (itself a very problematic concept) of the Kura-Araxes culture-historical community is difficult to pinpoint precisely, a fact that may suggest that there is no single well-demarcated area of origin, but multiple interacting areas including northeastern Anatolia as far as the Erzurum area, the catchment area drained by the Upper Middle Kura and Araxes Rivers in Transcaucasia and the Caspian corridor and adjacent mountainous regions of northeastern Azerbaijan and southeastern Daghestan. While broadly (and somewhat imprecisely) defined, these regions constitute on present evidence the original core area out of which the Kura-Araxes ‘culture-historical community’ emerged. 

Kura-Araxes materials found in other areas are primarily intrusive in the local sequences. Indeed, many, but not all, sites in the Malatya area along the Upper Euphrates drainage of eastern Anatolia (e.g., Norsun-tepe, Arslantepe) and western Iran (e.g., Yanik Tepe, Godin Tepe) exhibit— albeit with some overlap—a relatively sharp break in material remains, including new forms of architecture and domestic dwellings, and such changes support the interpretation of a subsequent spread or dispersal from this broadly defined core area in the north to the southwest and southeast. The archaeological record seems to document a movement of peoples north to south across a very extensive part of the Ancient Near East from the end of the 4th to the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE. Although migrations are notoriously difficult to document on archaeological evidence, these materials constitute one of the best examples of prehistoric movements of peoples available for the Early Bronze Age.

Tel Aviv vol. 36, 2009 241–265

Origins, Homelands and Migrations: Situating the Kura-Araxes Early Transcaucasian ‘Culture’ within the History of Bronze Age Eurasia 

Philip L. Kohl

This paper summarizes current understanding of the emergence, nature and subsequent southwestern and southeastern spread of the early Transcaucasian (eTC) or Kura-Araxes ‘culture-historical community’ (Russian: obshchnost’) and then places this complex cultural phenomenon in the context of the larger early Bronze Age world of the Ancient Near east and the western eurasian steppes.

Link

The Copper Age of the Caucasus or, more precisely, the immediately pre-Maikop and pre-Kura-Araxes horizons of, respectively, the northern and southern Caucasus appears
remarkably impoverished relative to Chalcolithic developments farther south in northern Mesopotamia or even more to the spectacular Cucuteni-Tripol’ye complexes and related
cultures in southeastern Europe during the 6th through the first half of the 4th millennium BCE; even more striking is the underdevelopment of the northwestern Caucasus prior to
the emergence of the famous Maikop culture, which most specialists (Munchaev 1994: 169–170) now date as beginning at least towards the middle of the 4th millennium, if not earlier, to the end of the first quarter of the 4th millennium (Trifonov 1996, 2001; Lyonnet 2000, 2007; Chernykh and Orlovskaya 2004a, 2004b; cf. below).
Such underdevelopment in Chalcolithic times, of course, contrasts sharply with what occurred during the Early Bronze Age when the Caucasus became one of the main suppliers of arsenical copper/bronzes to the peoples of the steppes, particularly to the Pit (Yamnaya) and Catacomb Grave cultural communities, and to Near Eastern cultivators farther south. The northern Caucasus from Maikop times through the Middle Bronze period may have functioned as the critical intermediary for receiving metals, many of which may have originated in the southern Caucasus, and for producing and transshipping arsenic copper/bronze artefacts to the steppes (Chernykh 1992: 159–162). Clearly a major shift in interregional relations occurred initially sometime around the second quarter to middle of  the 4th millennium BCE that brought the Caucasus onto the main stage of developments encompassing both the steppes to the north and the mixed agricultural/herding and settled agricultural regions of the Ancient Near East to the south.Maikop and the pre-Uruk expansion and pre-Kura-Araxes Mesopotamian presence in the Caucasus. The slightly prior emergence and development of the Maikop culture-historical community must ultimately be related to the subsequent advent of the Kura-Araxes culture-historical community. While these broadly defined Early Bronze archaeological cultures represent distinct formations in terms of most features of their material remains (architecture, subsistence economy, burial practices, etc.), they nevertheless formed integral parts of the same overarching system, a field of shared technologies that partially define what the Russian archaeologist Chernykh has termed the “Circumpontic Metallurgical Province” (1992: 54–97). The Maikop parallels with northern Mesopotamia or, more broadly, with the Ancient Near East, and the seemingly consistent and growing number of calibrated radiocarbon determinations not only more securely date the ‘Maikop phenomenon’, but also suggest some connections—albeit hard to specify—with larger historical processes, such as the northern Mesopotamian incursion into the Caucasus and then the later so-called ‘Uruk expansion’ north along the Upper Euphrates into eastern Anatolia.

Akhundov (2007) recently uncovered pre-Kura-Araxes/Late Chalcolithic materials from the settlement of Boyuk Kesik and the kurgan necropolis of Soyuq Bulaq in northwestern Azerbaijan, and Makharadze (2007) has also excavated a pre-Kura-Araxes kurgan, Kavtiskhevi, in central Georgia. Materials recovered from both these recent excavations can be related to remains from the metal-working Late Chalcolithic site of Leilatepe on the Karabakh steppe near Agdam (Narimanov et al. 2007) and from the earliest level at the multi-period site of Berikldeebi in Kvemo Kartli (Glonti and Dzavakhishvili 1987). They reveal the presence of early 4th millennium raised burial mounds or kurgans in the southern Caucasus [the chaff-faced wares collected in the eastern Lake Van District area are liked to the ones south of the Taurus mountains in northern Mesopotamia — interpreted as an intrusion into Southern Caucasus by northern Mesopotamian immigrants if not colonists, (and this is prior to the well-known Uruk north along the Upper Euphrates River) — this is thought to be rough contemporaneous (and therefore equated?) with the sudden emergence of the Maikop culture in northwestern Caucasus with its wealth of metal vessels, tools, ornaments and weapons.

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One thought on “Notes on Bronze Age Eurasia: the Kura-Araxes Early Transcaucasian ‘Culture’ and the sudden emergence of the Maikop Culture

  1. Shengavit (Kura-Araxes) Culture.

    The NAME of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Today its territory corresponds to parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. But the ORIGIN of the culture is clear: it is Ararat plain of Armenia., namely Shengavit, part of Yerevan. The earliest evidence for this culture is found in Shengavit; thence it spread to Iberia by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis) and to Mesopotamia via Armenian Van. Iberia now is part of Georgia and Colchis is Abkhazia.

    The culture was called Shengavit and was only later renamed into Kura- Araxes more for political reasons after they discovered the same cultural traces in neighbouring regions.

    The economy was based on farming and livestock-raising (especially of cattle and sheep).They grew grain and various orchard crops, and are known to have used implements to make flour. They raised cattle, sheep, goats, dogs and horses.

    There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor. It is, however, considered above all to be indigenous to Armenia and its major variants characterized later major cultures in the region.

    Over 5 and a half millennia before us Yerevan by the means of Shengavit was the centre of the Armenian Highland . And it retained its position during the millennium.

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