The Center for the Study of the Eurasian Nomads (CSEN)

Following is an abstract from the lecture presented by
Dr. Ludmila Koryakova
Ural State University
The Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural
Division of Russian Academy of Science
at the
University of California, Berkeley
April 7, 1998


An Overview of the Andronovo Culture:

Late Bronze Age Indo-Iranians in Central Asia


In the 1914 near the village Andronovo in the Enisei river valley, southern Siberia, several burial grounds containing skeletons in crouched position and pottery with very rich decoration were discovered. Archaeologists gave the name Andronovo to the distinctive Bronze Age culture dated mostly to the 2nd millennium BC. The Andronovo Culture covers a vast portion of western Asia. Its western flank constitutes a contact zone with the Srubnaya (Timber Grave Culture) in the Volga-Ural interfluvial; extending eastward to the Minusinsk depression. Sites are found as far south as the foothills of the Koppet Dag, the Pamir and Tian Shan mountains, while the northern boundary is rather vague reaching the taiga zone. Moreover, there is a chain of Andronovo type cultures in the forest-steppe zone of Western Siberia.

The Andronovo Culture is of great importance in understanding the early history of the Indo-Iranian speaking peoples. The linguistic interpretation of this culture is under discussion as well as its origin and chronology.

The Andronovo Culture, or Cultural Family, is represented by a great variety of settlements and burial ground sites. It is composed of several cultural lines of evolution: Petrovka-Sintashta (2000 -1600 B.C.), Alakul' and Fyedorovo (1500-1300.B.C.), Sargary-Alexeevka (1200-1000 B.C.). These differed by some features in pottery design, tool sets, and funeral rituals. For example, the Alacul' people buried their tribesmen in flexed position at the bottom of the pit. The Fyedorovo ritual was related to cremation where ash was placed in the pit supposedly together with a " doll" (some object with held the ash and calcined bone) before a stone or earthen construction was erected above the burial.

A basic disagreement between scholars lies in the interpretation of the interrelation between the Alakul' and Fyedorovo complexes, and in the definition of intermediate types.

The Andronovo settlements are usually situated on small river banks and quite often occupy low flood plains. They may be of two types: (1) small, consisting of several timberbuilt houses and (2) large, comprising from 20 to 100 houses. Over time the settlements grew larger to accomodate the increasing population as evidenced by the expansion of the territory they occupied. Characteristic are the roomy semi-dugout dwellings (100-130 sq.m) with deep storage pits and corridor-shaped exits. Settlements in the Andronovo region usually have a rectangular plan: (1) houses are placed in a line along a river; (2) houses are situated along a street; (3) houses are constructed in two rows either in a semi-circular or rectangular plan. A particular feature of many settlements is a great mound of ashes which accumulated as the settlements grew larger in size and the plans became more complex.

It is traditionally accepted that the economy of the Andronovo Culture and the parallel in time Srubnaja Culture in Eastern Europe was based on animal husbandry supplemented by some agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Andronovo stockbreeding is similar to that of Eastern Europe with regard to herd composition. By this time metallurgy was advanced and concentrated in centers in the western Asia: the Urals, Kazakhstan, western Siberia, and the Altai, and metal production was surprisingly uniform throughout this region. At the turn of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. the Andronovo Cultural Family began to transform from the sedentary to nomadic mode of life characterized by annual cyclical animal herding and shared a portable material culture.

The Koryakova lectures were sponsored by:
The Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads
The Archaeological Institute of American, San Francisco Chapter
The Doreen Townsend Center for the Humanitites, Center for Slavic and East European Studies, Department of Anthropology, Indo-European Languange and Cluture Working Groud, Archaeological Research Facility
University of California, Berkeley
(Created May 9 1998)