The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures
that flourished c. 2000–900 BC in western Siberia and the central
Eurasian Steppe. Some researchers have preferred to term it an archaeological
complex or archaeological horizon. The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800
BC), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered
separately within Early Andronovo cultures.
researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian
languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area
at its northern fringe.
to genetic study conducted by Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo
culture and the preceding Sintashta culture are partially derived from
the Corded Ware culture, given the higher proportion of ancestry matching
the earlier farmers of Europe, similar to the admixture found in the
genomes of the Corded Ware population.
2006, the late Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina wrote a hefty book
on the Origin of the Indo-Iranians (Brill, Leiden). No one who is serious
about deciding the Indo-European Homeland question can afford to leave
this book unread.
2006, the late Russian archaeologist Elena Kuzmina wrote a hefty book
on the Origin of the Indo-Iranians (Brill, Leiden). It gives a very
detailed history of the Andronovo culture and its surroundings in time
and space. The Andronovo culture spanned most of Central Asia in the
2nd millennium BCE, from the Urals to Bactria. At the same time, the
book contains a lot of speculation about links to the information given
in the Veda and the Avesta, generally convincing. While it has become
a very authoritative work on Andronovo, there remains a big question-mark
over its presumptuous title: was this culture indeed the cradle of the
cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo,
BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations
one who is serious about deciding the Indo-European Homeland question
can afford to leave this book unread. It promises to give the prehistory
of the Aryan invasion, the preceding movements of the tribes concerned,
perhaps even the events that triggered their migration into India. No
one serious about arguing the case for an Indian Homeland can afford
to leave it unanswered. I have had it on my shelves for a few years,
hoping to find time to thoroughly review it. Realistically, I still
haven’t found that time, and I have not yet co-operated with an
archaeologist on this. But a review simply cannot wait anymore.
book ends with a discussion of the procedure for establishing the chronology
of Andronovo, and starts with a detailed explanation about the archaeological
method and the rules for ethnographic reconstruction. Then follows an
analysis of the typical Andronovo features that allow her to define
the spatial and temporal boundaries of the culture she studies. Culturally
important and archaeologically easily accessible are funeral practices:
“Cremation dominates in the Urals; in central and northern Kazakhstan
the cemeteries are bi-ritual; in eastern Kazakhstan and south Siberia,
at once, we notice something that will characterize many passages: though
convinced of the Aryan invasion, she furnishes data that are compatible
with, or even point to, an opposite Bactria-to-Urals migration. In this
case, the Indo-Europeans, historically known to practise both types
of disposal of the dead, but mainly cremation (though inhumation will
be magnified in the eyes of the archaeologists as it leaves so many
more traces), brought cremation with them along the Amu Darya to the
Aral Lake area and on to the Urals. The native practice was predominantly
inhumation, and it was preserved far from this trajectory, in areas
where the Indo-Europeans didn’t come.
Indo-Iranian culture :
While the observation has no evidential value in itself, it deserves
noting that the cultural identity of the Andronovo culture has now virtually
become a matter of consensus: the Andronovo culture was Indo-Iranian.
This book itself has greatly contributed to that consensus, for before
its publication, there was still some hesitation.
many sacrificial and burial practices (and sati, the self-immolation
of widows) “characterize the burial practice of the majority of
Indo-European peoples: Hittites, Greeks, Germans, Balts, Slavs etc.
It leads to the undisputable statement that the Andronovans were Indo-Europeans.
However, the common Indo-European character of the whole burial complex
does not, strictly speaking, permit one to declare the Andronovans as
Indo-Aryans.” (p.195) However, she finds that “the variety
of Andronovo funeral rites finds a complete and thorough correlation
in early indic texts “. (p.195)
decides the question for her, is the wealth of correspondences between
her material findings and references in Indian or Iranian texts. Thus,
she describes the typical fireplace and then the corresponding reference
in Vedic literature. These “hearths comprise a shallow round or
oval pit… often covered with flat stone slabs on the bottom….
This hearth is described in ancient Indian texts as the domestic fire
garhapatya-, ‘fire of the master of the house’… Such
hearths were used for ritual purposes: a bride would go around it, a
widow would perform a ritual dance, people jumped over it during a feast.”
type of hearth “has a rectangular form… and was made of
closely adjusted rectangular stone slabs inserted into the ground on
their narrow ends. Such hearths were found in the centre of a house,
kept clean, and it is likely that they had a ritual function…
This type of hearth corresponded to the early Indian special cult hearth
ahavaniya…” (p.45) As she notes, round and rectangular hearths
had different functions among the Indo-Europeans. Thus, in Rome, round
hearths were sacred to the goddess Vesta, rectangular (including square)
ones to male deities.
could be coincidence, for there are only that many ways of making a
fireplace, and it may have been by coincidence that Indo-Iranians and
Andronovans hit upon the same design. But let us assume a genealogical
relationship: either the Andronovan hearth became the Vedic one, as
Kuzmina assumes, or vice-versa. Then everything depends on the chronology.
South-Asians may have left their homes and taken the fireplace design
with them to Central Asia, where from 2000 BCE they participated in
the Andronovo culture.
of course, presupposes that an “Aryan emigration from India”
took place at the very least 500 years before the AIT posits its own
Aryan invasion of India. Indeed, this would fit what Shrikant Talageri
says in his The Rigveda and the Avesta, a Final Analysis: the proto-Mitanni/Kassite
Indo-Aryans left India ca. 2000 BCE (for West Asia, but some of them
may have branched off to Central Asia), the Iranians even earlier.
and Iranians :
Indo-Aryan and Iranian, together with Dardic, are usually reckoned as
branches of a single linguistic group, there is evidence for a conflict
between an Indo-Aryan and an Iranian population connected with the Vedic
c.q. Avestan tradition: “H. Oldenberg showed that in spite of
the genetic closeness of religious beliefs, the Vedas and Avesta differ
considerably, and that in the Avesta many of the heroes play opposite
roles to their counterparts in the Veda.” (p.183)
starts at the level of the gods, where Indra is glorified in the Vedas
and demonized in the Avesta. Rjashva, the Vedic king in the Varshagira
battle, is glorified in the Rg-Veda, but demonized in the Avesta. And
yet, except for Shrikant Talageri, no one has drawn the logical conclusion:
that Indians and Iranians waged a war against one another, in which
one side’s heroes were the other side’s villains.
fought even though they were linguistically and religiously very close.
That is one thing most Western or Western-trained scholars miss out
on in their study of Vedic conflicts: the battles are not between the
very different cultures of an invader group and the natives, they are
between different groups of “Aryans”. Even in the Aryan
Invasion paradigm, where Indo-Aryans and Iranians are like colonizers
of adjoining territories after penetrating south of Bactria, this should
have been thought of.
compare with the colonial wars: the English against the Spanish on the
high seas (pirates), the French against the English in Canada, the Dutch
against the Portuguese in Sri Lanka, the English against the Dutch Boers
in South Africa: after the initial conquest, subsequent conflicts were
between different groups of conquerors. So it didn’t even take
the Out-of-India Theory to see that the Vedic Aryans were not fighting
the “black aboriginals” in the Battle of the Ten Kings,
but their own proto-Avestan cousins.
mapping the connections between Indo-Aryans and Iranians, her grasp
of social and family relations and how these are different between the
two groups, is a bit hazy and ultimately incorrect: “Kinsmen marry
each other among modern Iranian peoples (…) This could be attributed
to the caste system in India when marriage was within a caste without
taking into account kinship affiliation.” (p.195) Good try, but
this analysis from a distance obscures the thorough difference between
the Iranian and Indian family structures.
is definitely mistaken in linking cousin marriage with the caste system.
Iranian cousin marriage probably predated the caste system. Even in
the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), the invasion predated and occasioned
the genesis of the caste system, which took place in India, where the
Iranians never set foot. Indian sources too indicate that caste endogamy
(not even cousin marriage) was only gradually formed, and that initially
caste was passed on only in the paternal line, regardless of the mother’s
Brahmin law books prohibited cousin marriage and enacted what the Catholic
Church was to call “forbidden degrees of consanguinity”.
This prohibition happens to make biological sense too, for a population
with frequent cousin marriages produces more handicapped or malformed
children (as can be seen by a comparison between native Britons and
the worse-afflicted British-Pakistani community, where cousin marriages
often form the majority). So, Iranian cousin-marriage can safely be
disconnected from Indian caste endogamy.
was just to illustrate how her knowledge of the Indo-Iranian cultures
she is dealing with, is not as good as her undoubtedly first-class knowledge
of Andronovo archaeology. That is not an argument in itself, but it
is good to keep in mind before accepting her correlation between scripturally
attested cultures and archaeology.
difference is the Iranian predilection for sheep, partly replacing the
central place of cattle among the Vedic people: “An ancient term
for ‘cattle’ was recorded in the Avesta and was later attributed
to ‘sheep’ in the Iranian languages; Yima’s sacrifice
of cattle (Yasna 32:8) was replaced by a sheep sacrifice. These facts
indicate that the rise of sheep-raising in Iranian society occurred
after the collapse of Indo-Iranian unity.” (p.158)
facts, including their chronological order, are not explained by any
Central-Asian development, but fit Shrikant Talageri’s Out-of-India
scenario precisely. The first Indo-Aryans and Iranians were neighbours
in Northwest India; they developed a conflict in which the Vedic people
were victorious while the Iranian regrouped in a territory where some
of them had already migrated: Afghanistan. In this mountainous territory,
sheep flourished much better than cattle, and therefore became the centre
of the Iranian economy.
Fedorovo culture :
Within the Andronovo horizon, one culture stands out as especially related
to the Vedic culture of the Indo-Aryans: the Fedorovo culture. While
she finds plenty of Iranian toponyms, many probably stemming from the
later Scythian period (1st mill. BCE, as far west as Ukraine), yet “part
of the Andronovo toponyms can only be interpreted as Indo-Aryan”.
Moreover, ”the Indo-Iranian toponyms of the pre-Scythian period
have been found on the territory populated by the Fedorovo tribes”.
us assume, with the author, that the Fedorovo culture is Indo-Aryan;
though mixed in its classical habitat on the eastern slopes of the Urals
with Ugrian, the Uralic branch that was to spawn Hungarian. It flourished
around 1700 BC, just in time to reach India for an invasion ca. 1500.
That looks neat and surely AIT believers will seize upon it as supporting
their invasion scenario.
then, Kuzmina herself provides material reasons for inverting this northwest-to-southeast
scenario: “The hypothesis of an origin of the Fedorovo type in
the Urals has been disputed. The sources for Fedorovo ceramic technology
and triangular ornamentation are found in the Eneolithic of central
and eastern Kazakhstan.” (p.201)
even eastern Kazakhstan and beyond: “Federovo monuments are discovered
not only in the Urals, but also in the south of Central Asia and Afghanistan,
where Ugrians have never lived.” (p.201) Moreover, elsewhere she
designates central Kazakhstan as the Fedorovo heartland: “The
further one moves from central Kazakhstan, the frequency of the complex
diminishes and substratum elements increase”. (p.24)
won’t take any special pleading to have the Fedorovans migrate
from Bactria to the Urals instead. At best we could agree that at present,
the distribution of Fedorovo findings across Central Asia can be interpreted
in more ways than just the Urals-to-Bactria scenario. Moreover, any
movement understood as going to Bactria, is never traced as going beyond
it, entering India. Here too, we notice a disappointment for those who
expected an underpinning for AIT-compliant migrations from the Andronovo
of Aryan Invasion :
When it comes to the AIT, we note that Elena Kuzmina totally relies
on an outdated and certainly wrong racial account: “In the Rigveda
light skin alongside language is the main feature of the Aryans, differentiating
them from the aboriginal Dasa-Dasyu population, who were a dark-skinned,
small people speaking another language and who did not believe in the
Vedic gods.” (p.172) This is strictly separate from her archaeological
findings, but it strongly colours her interpretation of those findings
in favour of a northwest-to-southeast migration. It is mostly based
on the usual reading of the Vedic references to the Battle of the Ten
Kings, which is in fact not against any dark aboriginals but against
her view, three stages are discernible in the movement from Andronovo
1 takes place in the 20th-17th century BCE. Material culture, including
“a cult of the horse” moves from the eastern slopes of the
Urals to Central Asia, but: “There is no evidence that they reached
India.” (p.452) She naturally rejects whatever might still remain
of a belief in the invaders’ violent destruction of the Harappan
to the northwest, on the Amu Darya near the Aral Lake, “the newcomers
were not numerous, but they employed horses and chariots and established
elite dominance and adopted the culture of the BMAC.” (p.452,
Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) So what she has actually found,
is the cultural elements of BMAC near the Aral Lake. This means the
BMAC was expanding northward, precisely what you would expect if you
assume the Iranians first settled in Bactria and then expanded into
Kazakhstan and onwards to the Urals. We will meet a later movement from
Bactria to the west, but this movement took place several times, including
in ca. 2000 BCE.
she jumps to India, without positing any causal link with any Andronovo
development, and quotes G. Possehl to the effect that “the way
of life essentially changed in India in this period” (453): urban
culture became a village culture, luxuries and international trade disappeared,
but means of transport, types of pottery and procedures of house-building
continued. “So the opinion of the Indian scholars, who emphasize
the conservation of the Harappan traditions in the culture of the subsequent
periods is quite correct.” (p.453)
2 is situated in the 16th-14th century BCE. All kinds of movements take
place north of (or at most, in the north of) present-day Afghanistan,
such as the Timber Grave culture mixing with the Andronovo culture around
Samarkand, far away from India. No sign, apparently, of an invasion
of Andronovans into India, confirming the non-discovery of Andronovan
elements by Indian archaeologists. Yet, this is precisely the age of
the supposed Aryan invasion, that AIT believers go around declaring
to have been confirmed by Kuzmina’s research.
is when the “Fedorovan tribes reached the Amu Darya… And
actively interacted with the bearers of the farming Bactria-Margiana
culture.” (453) We note “the penetration of the Andronovo
population in the BMAC and the probable subjugation of the indigenous
population” (454), the “synthesis of the Andronovo Fedorovo
culture and BMAC” (454). Fine, but none of that amounts to an
invasion of India.
3 really comes too late for the Aryan invasion of India: 13th-9th century
BC. It was “caused by the cultural transformation of the Eurasian
steppes as a result of internal development and ecological crises”.
(p.454) That is richly vague, but it has no effect anymore on a putative
invasion of India around 1500 BCE.
migration that is identified, however, is east-to-west: “a part
of of the Timber-grave tribes moved [from Uzbekistan or even the Amu
Darya basin] to the North Caucasus because of the crisis; they had already
begun appearing and settling in the Caucasus at an earlier time”.
(p.454) This must be the Scythian migration, which only added to the
already existing Iranian presence near and beyond the Urals. Intermittently,
groups of Iranians must have moved from Bactria to the Urals and even
to Ukraine for more than a thousand years. (One of the later migrating
tribes were apparently the Hrvat, now known as the Croats. Before migrating
west and adopting the Slavic language of the Serbs, they belonged to
the Harahvaita tribe in Afghanistan mentioned as tribute-payers to the
Persian empire in an Achaemenid document.)
is important here that we can recognize a historically known migration,
viz. from Bactria westwards. This means that archaeology, though uncertain
and vague, is nonetheless relevant for history. That makes the archaeological
silence on another supposed historical development, viz. the Aryan invasion
of India, all the more significant.
We have nothing to add to the wealth of archaeological data on the Andronovo
culture that Elena Kuzmina provides. Her interpretative framework, however,
is flawed and limited by the rather dated presuppositions about the
Homeland and the invasion of India. Moreover, a culture beginning in
2000 BCE comes a bit late to stage an Aryan invasion, especially given
the many indications that the concomitant chronology of ancient Indian
literature is late.
would be more challenging, if we had been shown a rootedness of the
Andronovo culture in preceding cultures, thousands of years older.
that case, it would be difficult to deduce those earlier cultures from
an emigration from India, and the case for an intrusion from a non-Indian
Homeland would be that much stronger. Perhaps this was not the object
of her book, and another archaeologist might be able to trace Andronovo
to earlier cultures, to the exclusion of Indian influences. There are
many might-have-beens in the Homeland debate, but this deeper non-Indian
genealogy of cultures has at any rate not been offered in this book.
Nor, to our knowledge, anywhere else. If it had been, it would be mustered
by interested parties all the time.
this is undoubtedly an important book, and as far as I can judge, it
is a classic of Andronovo archaeology, but it fails in its primary mission:
to show that this culture was the staging-ground for an Aryan invasion
of Iran and India. It only assumes that much, but doesn’t demonstrate