Afanasievo culture
Afanasievo culture and contemporary polities c. 3000 BCE.
: Original site of Gora Afanasieva, Minusinsk Basin.
: Ukok Plateau Afanasievo burials.[1]
: Ürümqi (Tuqiu) Afanasievo burials.[2] The area of Dzungaria also had Afanasievo burials and close genetic connection.[3]
: Afanasievo burials at Shatar Chuluu in central Mongolia.[4]
Alternative namesAfanasevo culture; Afanasevans
Geographical rangeSouth Siberia
Dates3300 BCE — 2500 BCE
Major sitesMinusinsk Basin
Followed byOkunev culture, Chemurchek culture, Karakol culture, Andronovo culture[5]

The Afanasievo culture, or Afanasevo culture (Afanasevan culture) (Russian: Афанасьевская культура Afanas'yevskaya kul'tura), is an early archaeological culture of south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin and the Altai Mountains during the eneolithic era, c. 3300 to 2500 BCE. It is named after a nearby mountain, Gora Afanasieva (Russian: Гора Афанасьева, lit.'Afanasiev's mountain') in what is now Bogradsky District, Khakassia, Russia.[6] Afanasievo burials have been found as far as Shatar Chuluu in central Mongolia, confirming a further expansion about 1,500 km beyond the Altai mountains.[4] The Afanasievo culture is now considered as an integral part of the Prehistory of Western and Central Mongolia.[7]

David W. Anthony believes that the Afanasevan population was descended from people who migrated c. 3700–3300 BCE across the Eurasian Steppe from the pre-Yamnaya Repin culture of the Don-Volga region.[8] It is considered as "intrusive from the west", in respect to previous local Siberian cultures such as the Mal'ta–Buret' culture (24,000 to 15,000 BP).[9]

Because of its geographical location and dating, Anthony and earlier scholars such as Leo Klejn, J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair have linked the Afanasevans to the Proto-Tocharian language.[10][11][12][13] A 2021 study by F. Zhang and others found that Afanasievan ancestry persisted in Dzungaria at least until the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, but that early Tarim mummies from the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BCE were unrelated to the Afanasevians, and came from a genetically isolated population derived from Ancient North Eurasians, that had borrowed agricultural and pastoral practices from neighboring peoples.[14]


Carbon dating of Afanasievo burials.[15]

Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date the Afanasievo culture at around 2500–2000 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains.[16] The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture, and 2500 BC for its termination.[17]


Bertek-33, an Afanasyevo Cemetery on the Ukok Plateau, Altai Mountains.[18]

Mass graves were not usual for this culture.[19] Afanasievo cemeteries include both single and small collective burials with the deceased usually flexed on their back in a pit. The burial pits are arranged in rectangular, sometimes circular, enclosures marked by stone walls. It has been argued that the burials represent family burial plots with four or five enclosures constituting the local social group.

The Afanasievo economy included cattle, sheep, and goat. Horse remains, either wild or domestic, have also been found. The Afanasievo people became the first food-producers in the area. Tools were manufactured from stone (axes, arrowheads), bone (fish-hooks, points) and antler. Among the antler pieces are objects that have been identified as possible cheek-pieces for horses. Artistic representations of wheeled vehicles found in the area has been attributed to the Afanasievo culture. Ornaments of copper, silver and gold have also been found.[10]


Further information: Western Steppe Herders

The analysis of the full genome of Afanasievo individuals has shown that they were genetically very close to the Yamnaya population of the Pontic–Caspian steppe.[5][20][21] The Afanasievo and Yamnaya populations were much more similar to each other than to groups geographically located between the two (which unlike Afanasievo samples carried a large amount of ancestry from eastern Siberian hunter-gatherers). This indicates that the Afanasievo culture was brought to the Altai region via migration from the western Eurasian steppe, which occurred with little admixture from local populations.[21]: Supplementary Information, p. 235

From the Altai mountains, steppe-derived Afanasievo ancestry spread to the east into Mongolia and to the south into Xinjiang. The Yamnaya-related lineages and ancestry in Afanasievo disappeared in the course of the Bronze Age in the Altai region and Mongolia, being replaced by the migrating populations from the Sintashta culture arriving from the west. In Dzungaria, Afanasievo-related ancestry persisted at least into the late first millennium BCE.[22][23]

Paternal haplogroups

The genetic closeness of the Yamnaya and Afanasievo populations is also mirrored in the uniparental haplogroups, especially in the predominance of the Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b.[21][note 1]

Maternal haplogroups

A 2018 study analyzed the maternal haplogroups of 7 Afanasievo specimens. 71% belonged to West Eurasian maternal haplogroups U, H and R, while 28.5% belong to the East Eurasian maternal haplogroup C.[24]


At Afanasevo Gora, two strains of Yersinia pestis have been extracted from human teeth. One is dated 2909–2679 BCE; the other, 2887–2677 BCE. Both are from the same (mass) grave of seven people, and are presumed near-contemporary.[19] This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response; so it was not a bubonic plague.[25]

Possible links to other cultures

Migration of Yamnaya-related people, according to Anthony (2007),[26] 2017;[27] Narasimhan et al. (2019);[28] Nordqvist and Heyd (2020):[29]
  • 3000 BC: Initial eastward migration initiating the Afanasievo culture, possibly Proto-Tocharian.
  • 2900 BC: North-westward migrations carrying Corded Ware culture, transforming into Bell Beaker; according to Anthony, westward migration west of Carpatians into Hungary as Yamnaya, transforming into Bell Beaker, possibly ancestral to Indo-Celtic (disputed).
  • 2700 BC: Second eastward migration starting east of Carpatian mountains as Corded Ware, transforming into Fatyanovo-Balanova (2800 BCE) -> Abashevo (2200 BCE)-> Sintashta (2100-1900 BCE)-> Andronovo (1900-1700 BCE) -> Indo-Aryans.

Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, the Afanasevans are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking.[10] Genetic studies have demonstrated a discontinuity between Afanasievo and the succeeding Siberian-originating Okunevo culture, as well as genetic differences between Afanasievo and the Tarim mummies.[30] A genomic study published in 2021 found that the population of earliest Tarim Basin cultures had high levels of Ancient North Eurasian ancestry and no connection with Afanasievo populations.[31]

Numerous scholars have suggested that the Afanasevo culture may be responsible for the introduction of metallurgy to China.[32][33] In particular, contacts between the Afanasievo culture and the Majiayao culture and the Qijia culture are considered for the transmission of bronze technology.[34] [35]

Multidimensional scaling of the Afanasievo culture and other ancient populations from Eurasia, based on mtDNA sequences.[36]

The Afanasievo culture may also display cultural borrowings from the earlier Banpo culture (c. 4000 BCE), suggesting influence from the Far East, specifically from Neolithic China, on the Afanasievo culture and other cultural complexes in the Middle Yenisei region.[37][38]


Earliest Bronze Age cultures in Central Asia.[39]

The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Okunev culture, which is considered as an extension of the Paleosiberian local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region.[10] The Okunev culture nevertheless displays influences from the earlier Afanasievo culture.[5] The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively.[40][41]

Allentoft et al. (2015) confirmed that the Afanasevo culture was replaced by the second wave of Indo-European migrations from the Andronovo culture during late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.[5][note 2] The Andronovo population was found to be genetically related, but clearly distinct from the Afanasievo population.[5]

Several scholars propose the Afanasievo culture as the ancestors of the Tocharians, who lived on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (in present-day Xinjiang, China) in the first millennium AD.[5] The Tocharian languages are believed to have become extinct during the 9th century AD. The Indo-European speaking peoples of the Tarim city-states intermixed with the Uyghurs, whose Old Uyghur language spread through the region.


  1. ^ Allentoft et al. (2015) sampled four females from the Afanasievo culture, two individuals carried mtDNA haplogroup J2a2a, one carried T2c1a2, and one carried U5a1a1. Narasimhan et al. (2019) analyzed the remains of 24 individuals ascribed to the Afanasievo culture. Of the 14 samples of Y-DNA extracted, 10 belonged to R1b1a1a2a2, 1 to R1b1a1a2a, and 3 belonged to Q1a2. The mtDNA samples belonged to subclades of U (particularly of U5), along with T, J, H and K.
  2. ^ According to Allentoft and coauthors (2015): "Afanasievo culture persisted in central Asia and, perhaps, Mongolia and China until they themselves were replaced by fierce warriors in chariots called the Sintashta (also known as the Andronovo culture)".


  1. ^ Pilipenko, A. S.; Trapezov, R. O.; Cherdantsev, S. V.; Pilipenko, I. V.; Zhuravlev, A. A.; Pristyazhnyuk, M. S.; Molodin, V. I. (31 December 2020). "The Paleogenetic Study of Bertek-33, an Afanasyevo Cemetery on the Ukok Plateau, the Altai Mountains". Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 48 (4): 146–154. doi:10.17746/1563-0110.2020.48.4.146-154. ISSN 1563-0110.
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  4. ^ a b Jeong, Choongwon (12 November 2020). "A Dynamic 6,000-Year Genetic History of Eurasia's Eastern Steppe". Cell. 183 (4): 890–904.e29. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2020.10.015. ISSN 0092-8674. PMC 7664836. PMID 33157037. Although the majority of Afanasievo burials reported to date are located in the Altai mountains and Upper Yenisei regions, the Early Bronze Age (EBA) site of Shatar Chuluu in the southern Khangai Mountains of central Mongolia has yielded Afanasievo-style graves with proteomic evidence of ruminant milk consumption (Wilkin et al., 2020a) and a western Eurasian mitochondrial haplogroup (Rogers et al., 2020). Analyzing two of these individuals (Afanasievo_Mongolia, 3112–2917 cal. BCE), we find that their genetic profiles are indistinguishable from that of published Afanasievo individuals from the Yenisei region (Allentoft et al., 2015; Narasimhan et al., 2019) (Figure 2; Figure S5C; Table S5B), and thus these two Afanasievo individuals confirm that the EBA expansion of Western Steppe herders (WSH) extended a further 1,500 km eastward beyond the Altai into the heart of central Mongolia
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  18. ^ Pilipenko, A. S.; Trapezov, R. O.; Cherdantsev, S. V.; Pilipenko, I. V.; Zhuravlev, A. A.; Pristyazhnyuk, M. S.; Molodin, V. I. (31 December 2020). "The Paleogenetic Study of Bertek-33, an Afanasyevo Cemetery on the Ukok Plateau, the Altai Mountains". Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia. 48 (4): 146–154. doi:10.17746/1563-0110.2020.48.4.146-154. ISSN 1563-0110.
  19. ^ a b Rasmussen, S15-16. These samples are marked "RISE509" and "RISE511".
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  21. ^ a b c Narasimhan, Vagheesh M. (September 6, 2019). "The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 365 (6457): eaat7487. bioRxiv 10.1101/292581. doi:10.1126/science.aat7487. PMC 6822619. PMID 31488661.
  22. ^ Zhang & Ning 2021: "Taken together, these results indicate that the early dispersal of the Afanasievo herders into Dzungaria was accompanied by a substantial level of genetic mixing with local autochthonous populations, a pattern distinct from that of the initial formation of the Afanasievo culture in southern Siberia."
  23. ^ Wang, Chuan-Chao; Yeh, Hui-Yuan; Popov, Alexander N.; Zhang, Hu-Qin; Matsumura, Hirofumi; Sirak, Kendra; Cheronet, Olivia; Kovalev, Alexey; Rohland, Nadin; Kim, Alexander M.; Mallick, Swapan (March 2021). "Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia". Nature. 591 (7850): 413–419. Bibcode:2021Natur.591..413W. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03336-2. ISSN 1476-4687. PMC 7993749. PMID 33618348. "Beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, there is no compelling evidence in the Mongolian time transect data for a persistence of the Yamnaya-derived lineages that spread with Afanasievo. Instead the Yamnaya-related ancestry can only be modelled as deriving from a later spread related to people of the Middle to Late Bronze Age Sintashta and Andronovo horizons who were themselves a mixture of ~2/3 Yamnaya-related and 1/3 European farmer-related ancestry4,5,6. The Sintashta-related ancestry is detected in proportions of 0–57% in groups from this time onward, with substantial proportions of Sintashta-related ancestry only in western Mongolia (Figure 3, Online Table 25). For all these groups, qpAdm ancestry models pass with Afanasievo in the outgroups while models with Afanasievo as the source and Sintashta in the outgroups are all rejected (Figure 3, Online Table 25)."
  24. ^ Hollard, Clémence (September 2018). "New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 167 (1): 6–7. doi:10.1002/ajpa.23607. See also Supporting Information document 1 for uniparental haplogroup details.
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  34. ^ JIANJUN, MEI (2003). "Cultural Interaction between China and Central Asia during the Bronze Age" (PDF). Proceedings of the British Academy. 121: 1–39. the argument for possible Afanasievo-Xinjiang contact based on the finds at the Gumugou cemetery in the north-eastern rim of the Tarim basin would seem reasonable and needs to be kept open for the future archaeological finds. In other words, the possibility for the dispersal of early copperbased metallurgy from the Eurasian steppe into Xinjiang and further east to Gansu cannot be excluded at present and will have to be considered when further archaeological evidence becomes available.
  35. ^ Wan, Xiang (2011). "Early development of bronze metallurgy in Eastern Eurasia". Sino-Platonic Papers. 213: 4–5. The metal-using Afanasievo culture is probably the origin of bronze metallurgy in Northwest China." (...) "Therefore it is conspicuous that one of the earliest bronze cultures in China, the Qijia culture, might well have borrowed its bronze metallurgy from the Steppe, via Siba, Tianshanbeilu, and cultures in the Altai region.
  36. ^ Pilipenko, Aleksandr S. (20 September 2018). "Maternal genetic features of the Iron Age Tagar population from Southern Siberia (1st millennium BC)". PLOS ONE. 13 (9): e0204062. Bibcode:2018PLoSO..1304062P. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0204062. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6147448. PMID 30235269.
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  38. ^ Zhang, Kai (4 February 2021). "The Spread and Integration of Painted pottery Art along the Silk Road" (PDF). Region - Educational Research and Reviews. 3 (1): 18. doi:10.32629/RERR.V3I1.242. S2CID 234007445. The early cultural exchanges between the East and the West are mainly reflected in several aspects: first, in the late Neolithic period of painted pottery culture, the Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BC) from the Central Plains spreadwestward, which had a great impact on Majiayao culture (3000-2000 BC), and then continued to spread to Xinjiang and Central Asia through the transition of Hexi corridor
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Further reading