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You never know until you look. The authors deconstruct a kurgan burial mound in the Great Hungarian Plain designated to the Yamnaya culture, to find it was actually shared by a number of different peoples. The Yamnaya were an influential immigrant group of the Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age transition. The burials, already charac-terised by their grave goods, were radiocarbon dated and further examined using stable isotope analysis on the human teeth. The revealing sequence began with a young person of likely local origin buried around or even before the late fourth millennium BC—a few centuries before the arrival of the Yamnaya. It ended around 500 years later with a group of different immigrants, apparently from the eastern mountains. These are explained as contacts built up between the mountains and the plain through the practice of transhumance.
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Immigration and transhumance in the
Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin: the
occupants of a kurgan
Claudia Gerling1,2,EszterB
anos Dani4, Kitti K¨
Gabriella Kulcs´
2, Vajk Szever´
Vol ke r He yd2
You never know until you look. The authors
deconstruct a kurgan burial mound in the
Great Hungarian Plain designated to the
Yamnaya culture, to find it was actually
shared by a number of different peoples.
The Yamnaya were an influential immigrant
group of the Late Copper Age/Early Bronze
Age transition. The burials, already charac-
terised by their grave goods, were radiocarbon
dated and further examined using stable
isotope analysis on the human teeth. The
revealing sequence began with a young person
of likely local origin buried around or even
before the late fourth millennium BC—a few
centuries before the arrival of the Yamnaya.
It ended around 500 years later with a group
of different immigrants, apparently from the eastern mountains. These are explained as contacts
built up between the mountains and the plain through the practice of transhumance.
Keywords: Hungary, Hungarian Plain, Carpathians, Early Bronze Age, kurgans, Yamnaya,
stable isotopes, transhumance
The transformation from Late Copper to Early Bronze Age societies in the Carpathian
Basin, from the final fourth to the mid third millennium BC, and the roles of locals and
incomers, remains controversial. Traditionally, the period is characterised by a number of
1Institut f¨
ur Pr¨
ahistorische Arch¨
aologie, Freie Universit¨
at Berlin, Altensteinstr. 15, Berlin 14195, Germany
2Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Bristol, 43 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UU, UK
3Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Uri u. 49,
Budapest 1014, Hungary
eri M´
uzeum Debrecen, D´
eri t´
er 1, Debrecen 4026, Hungary
ora Ferenc M´
uzeum, 1–3 Roosevelt t´
er, Szeged, Hungary
*Author for correspondence (Email:
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ANTIQUITY 86 (2012): 1097–1111
Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
Figure 1. Cultural geography of the Carpathian Basin in the first half of the third millennium BC (in black: archaeological
cultures and groups dating roughly to the first quarter; in red: those dating to the second quarter). Indicated also are regions
and sites mentioned in the text.
partly-overlapping ‘cultures’, ‘groups’ or ‘stylistic areas’ (Figure 1). Although these map
onto different landscapes and environments, their definitions stem primarily from pottery
inventories and burial customs, so they do not necessarily represent prehistoric social and
economic communities. Moreover, there are clear physical interactions between local and
intrusive individuals and population groups, as seen in the case of the contemporary late
Baden, late Cot¸ofeni, early Mak´
o, Livezile and Yamnaya groups. No doubt the decisive
element in this transformation was the appearance of Yamnaya people in the central and
eastern part of the Carpathian Basin. These people originated in the steppes north-east
of the Black Sea, subsequently spreading westwards up to the Great Hungarian Plain and
the Tisza Valley. One explanation of this event lies in an economic strategy based on
mobility—such as pastoralism and nomadism—or transhumance, where livestock move in
an annual cycle from their permanent home to seasonal pastures. Here, we present a study
in which the combined use of cemetery archaeology, pottery typology, absolute chronology
and geochemical methods point to a specialised mobility, practised by transhumant herders.
The archaeological setting
The western Yamnaya
The society and economy of the northern Pontic zone were reorganised radically in the later
fourth millennium BC. Here the Yamnaya cultural complex emerges, defined by its single
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Claudia Gerling et al.
burials under kurgans (burial mounds), grave pits arranged like rooms, supine body position
with flexed legs, ochre staining of bodies, and occasionally single prestige items. The lower
Don region seems to be the early nucleus for this formation (Merpert 1974; Rassamakin
1999; Anthony 2007). From there, between c. 3100 and 2400 BC, it expanded across the
steppe in all directions. From 3000 BC, similar kurgans and burials appear in a wide zone
further to the west, in the modern countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.
Of the many thousands of known kurgans, about 600 have been opened, and they share
notable similarities (Heyd 2011).
Our knowledge of the Yamnaya economy comes mostly from these kurgans and burials,
which occasionally feature cattle and domesticated horses. Additional proxy data may be
found in the distribution pattern and site location of the new burial mounds, which indicate
a deeper exploitation of the open steppe, and the probable coexistence of a nomadic lifestyle
for some segments of the Yamnaya society (e.g. Shishlina 2008). This is where the organised
movement of human beings—in one (or many) migratory events—embedded in a range
of socially induced strategies based on mobility, herding practices and horsemanship, took
place. We know from burials at Taraklya in Moldova and Sofievka in Ukraine that Yamnaya
people lived in the Carpathian Basin and the Lower Danube, since they were buried with
genuine pots of Cot¸ofeni and Mak´
o styles (Dergaˇ
cev 1998: fig. 20.2; Anthony 2007: 366;
Rassamakin & Nikolova 2008: pl. 1.3–4). There is also a climatic change affecting pasture
quality and abundance, as rainfall declines, which may have motivated herders to seek better
pastures in south-east Europe (e.g. Mackay et al. 2005; Shishlina et al. 2009).
Local inhabitants and newcomers on the Great Hungarian Plain
There were forerunners to the Yamnaya migration dated as early as c. 4200 BC, in the form
of a few individual graves, such as that from Csongr´
oshalom (Ecsedy 1979), and
others likely to continue throughout the fourth millennium BC (e.g. the supine burials from
akhalom; Dani 2011), which coincidentally may be linked to the bones of
the first domesticated horses in Baden settlements (Heyd in press). The subsequent material
record shows exchange between the local groups and incoming Yamnaya people, seen in
the transmission of a package of innovations (Harrison & Heyd 2007; Heyd 2011). East
of the Tisza River, there seems to be a structured distribution pattern to the Yamnaya
kurgans (Ecsedy 1979; Figure 1). By contrast, there are no settlements of late Baden (IV),
Cot¸ofeni (II/III) or (early) Mak´
o type from this core Yamnaya zone, defined by the tumulus
cemeteries at K´
aza, Hajd´
as and S´
etudvari (Sava 2008; Kulcs´
ar 2009; Dani
2011; Horv´
ath 2011). However, a larger Mak´
o settlement site 35km away has been excavated
at Beretty´
o and radiocarbon dated to the twenty-sixth/twenty-fifth
century BC (Dani & Kisjuh´
asz in press), contemporary with a later Yamnaya occupation.
This could point plausibly to coexistence of peoples in different settlement areas and activity
zones, possibly practising different economic strategies.
Rescue excavations at the S´
 rhalom kurgan
To investigate the complex relationship between the local and the incomer, and infer the role
of mobility, we can use the example of a rich kurgan from eastern Hungary. This mound, c.
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Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
Figure 2. The S´
rhalom kurgan: outline of the kurgan, sections, position of graves, and plans of burials.
50m in diameter, was excavated at S´
 rhalom (Figure 2) by Ibolya M. Nepper
in the 1980s (Dani & Nepper 2006; Dani 2011). There were two construction phases:
a smaller (c. 35m) mound covered the primary grave (no. 12), dug into the old ground
surface; and a later mound above it first received graves nos. 8, 10 and then nos. 4, 7/7a, 9
and 11. Radiocarbon dates show the burials were made intermittently for several centuries
ar 2009: 355; Dani 2011: 48–49; Table 1).
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Claudia Gerling et al.
Table 1. The S´
 rhalom kurgan: summary of archaeological, anthropological and
radiocarbon (2σcalibration results using Oxcal 4.0 and IntCal09) data. See also Figure 2.
Age at Grave Flexed Radicarbon
Burial Sex death Sample goods position Orientation dates
4 male old adult
(40–59 y)
ceramic vessel
animal bone
left side ENEWSW 2886–2503
(95.4%) cal
BC (deb-7182,
60 BP)
7/7a 7a ? child infans
II (5–7 y)
M1 ceramic vessel
copper axe
copper dagger
ochre lump
7 male old adult
(40–59 y)
supine? NESW –
8? youngadultM1mathide??NWSE or
9 male young adult
(23–30 y)
ceramic vessel
grave fill
NNWSSE 28612472
(95.4%) cal
BC (deb-6871,
50 BP)
10 male old adult
(44–50 y)
grinding stone
horse & cattle
bones in grave
right side WE 30902894
(95.4%) cal
BC (deb-6639,
40 BP)
11 male? adult
(23–39 y)
maxilla P2 ceramic vessel
cattle bones in
grave fill
?NWSE? –
12 female?
(15–17 y)
juvenile maxilla P2
/ left side NW–SE 33613097
(95.4%) cal
BC (deb-6869,
40 BP)
The earliest burial (grave 12), dated to 3361–3097 cal BC (Table 1), was a juvenile lying
on its left side in a strongly contracted position. This does not follow a Yamnaya burial
custom, and it can be dated to the preceding Late Copper Age. The next burial is grave
10 (3090–2894 cal BC), the inhumation of a mature man on his right side in a slightly
contracted position. Besides traces of ochre on the bones, the grave goods include a grinding
stone, and there were bones of horse and cattle in the grave fill. Grave 8 was disturbed. The
body was laid on a mat and covered by a hide, of which traces remained.
The second group of later graves (nos. 4, 7/7a, 9 and 11) were found in the upper structure
of the kurgan. Following the traditional Hungarian terminology, these belong to the Early
Bronze Age. In grave 4 (2886–2503 cal BC) there was a mature male skeleton, lightly
contracted on his left side. The skeleton was probably covered by a hide, and accompanied
by a globular pot, two silver/electrum Lockenringe, and an animal bone. Grave 7/7a contained
a mature man (perhaps in a supine position), and a child of five to seven years. In addition,
the bottom of the grave was covered in an organic substance. The grave goods included a
pot, two identical silver/electrum Lockenringe, a copper axe, a copper dagger, and an ochre
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Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
amulet. Grave 9 (2861–2472 cal BC) was disturbed, but showed evidence for an adult man
laid on his back, and an organic substance covered the bottom of the grave. In the grave there
was a handled pot, and a dog’s tooth in the fill. Grave 11 was disturbed so that the skeleton
remained only approximately in the NW–SE(?) position, while the grave fill contained an
amphora-like pot and cattle bones.
 rhalom is a Yamnaya kurgan, typical for the Great
Hungarian Plain. Its chronology begins, however, before the arrival of the Yamnaya, and
the later graves date to the end of the western Yamnaya occupation. The later group buried
there have metal finds with international parallels, confirming the dating to the first half
of the third millennium BC (Dani 2011; and see below), yet their pottery is related more
regionally to the Romanian Livezile and Hungarian Mak´
ar 2009; Ciugudean
2011: 29). The task of the new research was to identify the communities making use of
the ‘Yamnaya’ kurgan, by determining the provenance of the buried persons through stable
isotope analysis.
Isotope analyses
Isotopic studies with 87Sr/86 Sr and δ18O analyses can distinguish individuals using differing
drinking water sources, their displacement from the original catchments often interpreted as
the result of immigration (e.g. Bentley 2006; Knipper 2009). Only a few such studies have
so far targeted the Carpathian Basin. A recent study by Julia I. Giblin (2009) used 87Sr/86Sr
analyses from human and animal teeth to explore the Neolithic/Copper Age transition in
the Great Hungarian Plain, but it relates to a period 1500 years earlier than the Yamnaya.
The data to be presented here derive from two new international and interdisciplinary
 rhalom (eight
individuals), and eight other Yamnaya kurgan sites, providing twelve more individuals from
the Carpathian Basin (Ecsedy 1979; Table 2).
Strontium isotope analysis
Strontium isotope ratios in rocks vary due to formation age (Faure 1986), and with
weathering the strontium passes into sediments, and finally reaches animals and humans
where it is stored in hard tissues such as teeth as a coincidental replacement for calcium
(Bentley 2006). While the dentine of a tooth reflects the intake at the time of death, the
enamel reflects diet and location of the first years of an individual’s life (e.g. Price et al.
2002). Therefore it is possible to identify individual people who have travelled from their
birthplace, and come to live (and die) in another region, provided there is sufficient isotopic
difference between the two regions.
There is some information on the baseline readings for the study area. The S´
Orhalom kurgan is located in the flat Greater S´
et region, near today’s Hungarian-
Romanian border. The plain is composed of sediments that derive from Tertiary and
Quaternary rocks that should result in low 87Sr/86 Sr ratios (Trunk´
o 1969: 107). This falls
within the range of 0.708–0.710 for Central European lowland loess regions (Bentley et al.
2003). However, ratios from loess sediments from Saxony-Anhalt in east Germany can reach
higher values, over 0.712 (De Jong et al. 2010), and a recent survey of Hungarian loess
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Claudia Gerling et al.
Table 2. Results of 87 Sr/86Sr and δ18 O analysis for the sampled individuals (S´
 rhalom
kurgan and Yamnaya graves) of the Great Hungarian Plain. Errors are given at 2σ. Typical errors for
oxygen values are 0.2%. The equation given in Longinelli 1984 was applied for oxygen isotopes.
St. error
Site Grave Sex Age Sample 87Sr/86 Sr (2σ)δ18Ow
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 4 male mature maxilla
0.71091 7.07E-06 –11.75
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 7a ? infans II M1 0.71016 6.96E-06 –7.30
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 7 male mature mandibula
M2 (?)
0.71102 7.93E-06 –11.44
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 8 ? adult M1 0.71034 6.82E-06 –8.27
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 9 male adult mandibula
M3 (?)
0.71098 7.55E-06 –10.94
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 10 male mature maxilla
0.71047 6.32E-06 –7.18
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 11 male? adult maxilla
0.71157 7.96E-06 –10.54
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom 12 female? juvenile maxilla
P2 (?)
0.70996 6.84E-06 –8.48
1 male adult maxilla
0.70954 7.50E-06
Debrecen-Basahalom 1 male adult maxilla
0.70950 6.59E-06
Debrecen-Dunahalom male? adult mandibula
0.71000 6.56E-06 –8.48
1 male mature maxilla
0.70965 6.49E-06
2 ? juvenile mandibula
0.70962 7.28E-06
3 ? infans I maxilla
0.71012 7.60E-06
7 (kurgan 3) ? juvenile maxilla
0.70923 6.36E-06 –8.12
1 (kurgan 5a) male adult maxilla
0.70917 7.02E-06 –9.19
1 (kurgan 6) female adult maxilla
0.70987 6.29E-06 –7.98
3 (kurgan 6) male adult maxilla
0.70917 7.11E-06
1 male adult maxilla
0.71010 6.01E-06
female adult maxilla
0.71004 7.17E-06
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Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
Table 3. Results of 87 Sr/86Sr analysis for baseline samples for the determination of the biologically
available Sr values of the S´
etudvari region. Errors are given at 2σ.
Sample Period Contamination 87Sr/86 Sr St. error (2σ)
grave 9 dentine prehistoric diagenetic changes 0.71036 6.60E-06
grave 10 dentine prehistoric diagenetic changes 0.71027 6.66E-06
grave 11 dentine prehistoric diagenetic changes 0.71048 5.94E-06
grave 12 dentine prehistoric diagenetic changes 0.71016 5.86E-06
field sediment recent probable 0.71122 2.50E-04
field plant recent unknown 0.71053 6.70E-06
grave 8 bone (sheep/goat) prehistoric diagenetic changes 0.71021 6.98E-06
field bone (sheep/goat) recent? unknown 0.71043 7.68E-06
samples located roughly parallel to the Danube also resulted in considerably higher values
ari et al. 2010), while modern water samples from the Tisza River yielded an 87Sr/86Sr
ratio of 0.7096 (Palmer & Edmond 1989: 14, tab. 1). For her project, Giblin analysed faunal
samples from prehistoric sites of the K¨
os River valley less than 50km away from the S´
region. They yielded a mean 87Sr/86 Sr ratio of 0.7097 (Giblin 2009: 494, tab. 2) and she
calculated the local isotope range from 0.7092 to 0.7103 (Giblin 2009: fig. 2). The Great
Hungarian Plain is bordered by the Carpathians in the north and by the Apuseni Mountains
in the east. Both mountain chains have different geological formations, reflected in varying
87Sr/86Sr ratios (Giblin 2009: 493). Ratios of 87Sr/86Sr in the range 0.7040–0.7083 are
recorded for the Apuseni, 0.7083–0.7012 for the Gutˆ
ai and the Northern Transcarpathian
Basin, and 0.7077–0.7114 for the B¨
ukk Mountains, and a single value of 0.7074 is reported
for the Tokaj (Seghedi et al. 2004: 122–26, tab. 1). However Seghedi et al. focused on the
Neogene-Quaternary magmatism and geodynamics in the Carpathian-Pannonian region,
and these young magmatic rocks (with low 87Sr/86 Sr ratios) form only a proportion of the
geology of the mountain ranges. Consequently, further sampling in the existing Precambrian
to Mesozoic rocks will likely show that the 87Sr/86Sr ratios for the whole mountain chain
have wider ranges, and particularly higher values on average.
As there were no 87Sr/86 Sr ratios available for the S´
et region, baseline samples were
taken from plants, prehistoric sheep bone and cattle tooth enamel, as well as dentine of four
humans, presumed local (graves 9–12) (Table 3). At 2σstandard deviation, the range of
these samples was from 0.7101–0.7105. These values represent the Sr isotopic ratio of the
immediate surroundings and the burial environment, and may not reflect the presumably
broader dietary catchment of local people. Therefore we also included Giblin’s local values
for the K¨
os River valley and the Tisza River water, giving a ‘local’ bio-available Sr range
from 0.7092 to 0.7105.
Results of strontium isotope analysis
The eight individuals from the S´
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom kurgan (Figure 3) had ratios between
0.7100 and 0.7116. Primary grave 12 shows the lowest value, but graves 7a, 8 and 10 also
fall within the range of the measured bio-available strontium for the S´
et region and can
therefore best be considered as ‘local’. By contrast, the occupants of graves 4, 9 and 7 had
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Claudia Gerling et al.
Figure 3. 87 Sr/86Sr ratios of graves from the S´
rhalom kurgan, of dentine and baseline samples from
etudvari, and of other Yamnaya graves from the Great Hungarian Plain.
strontium isotope values higher than the local range. This indicates that they were either
born elsewhere, or at least spent their childhood/juvenile period at another location, or
perhaps were more mobile. The individual in grave 11 had the highest radiogenic value and
can certainly be regarded as an immigrant into the Great Hungarian Plain.
Among the 12 individuals from the other kurgan sites (see Table 2), 10 lay within the
local range. The two other burials (from K´
aza: kurgan 5a, grave 1, and kurgan 6,
grave 3) were just below the strontium level for the region. Therefore, we infer that everyone
was a local person, or alternatively, grew up in a region with the same underlying geology.
Oxygen isotope analysis
The oxygen isotopic composition (δ18O) of body tissues is closely linked to the water
drunk by the person or animal (e.g. Balasse et al. 2002 with literature). Furthermore, the
δ18O composition of water varies with climate, so that the weather conditions in which
an individual grew up are recorded by the δ18O composition of tooth enamel (Longinelli
1984). However there are many factors that interplay locally, such as humidity, temperature,
altitude, distance from the sea, latitude, rain-shadow effects and variability of past climate.
Their precise modelling is not yet satisfactorily solved, but a comparison of δ18O between
broadly contemporary individuals can indicate different geographical origins.
Two groups were revealed by our data. Graves 7a, 8, 10 and 12 had values around δ18Ow
-7.18 and -8.48, while graves 4, 7, 9 and 11 clustered around δ18Ow-11(after
conversion using the equation in Longinelli 1984) (Figure 4). A map of δ18O ratios
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Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
Figure 4. Combined 87Sr/86 Sr and δ18O isotope results from S´
etudvari, K´
aza and Debrecen-Dunahalom. The
equation given in Longinelli 1984 was applied for oxygen isotopes.
in modern precipitation was consulted (OIPC; The first cluster
coincides with the values expected for today’s Central Carpathian lowlands. They also
match oxygen isotope ratios obtained from the analysed Yamnaya graves of K´
and Debrecen-Dunahalom. The second group of graves matches the δ18O ratios of colder
climate zones and/or hillier regions.
Combining strontium and oxygen isotopic analyses
The combined isotopic analyses provide two independent data sets, which distinguish two
grave clusters from the S´
etudvari- ˝
Orhalom kurgan: the first is essentially local in origin.
The second group (graves 4, 7, 9 and 11) consists of non-local people who either grew
up in a colder, or more eastern and continental, or higher altitude region. The fact that
both the diet (Sr) and drinking water (O) show similar patterns makes it reasonable to infer
that the clusters came from geographically distinct regions. The Apuseni Mountains, lying
immediately to the east, being partly formed by crystalline basement and Palaeozoic rocks,
and reaching peak heights between 1100 and 1850m, would indeed be a candidate for the
second group. One has to note, however, that some other regions deeper in eastern and
north-eastern Europe may turn out to have similar values.
The most interesting of the local people is the occupant of grave 12, which is the earliest
grave in the kurgan and the main statistical range of its radiocarbon date clearly predates the
arrival of the western Yamnaya groups c. 3000 BC. This is also confirmed by the burial rite,
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Claudia Gerling et al.
which is not typical for the Yamnaya (Dani 2011: 29–33; Heyd in press), although some
heterogeneity may apply in Yamnaya communities too.
The migrant group, graves nos. 4, 7, 9 and 11, all occupy late stratigraphic positions
in the mound, and have radiocarbon dates in the second quarter of the third millennium
BC. It is also noteworthy that they are all adult or mature men. The contextual data, their
physical distribution over the space of the whole kurgan, and the variety of burial practices,
indicate several generations of burials. The cultural attributes of this group are summarised
in Figure 5. Overall, their closest match lies in the Livezile group from the eastern and
southern Apuseni Mountains, which is also the likely place of origin of the buried persons.
Aspects of the burial rite, and accompanying pottery vessels such as the vessel in grave 9, are
reflected in the Livezile burial sites at Ampoit¸a, Cheile Aiudului, Telna, Metes¸ and Livezile
itself (Ciugudean 2011: 23–27). The settlement sites of Livezile-‘Baia’ (Ciugudean 1997),
Zlatna and Cetea have produced similar material. Livezile-‘Baia’ lies at an altitude of c. 700m
and probably received drinking water from even higher altitudes, which would agree well
with more depleted δ18O ratios in relation to the Great Hungarian Plain.
The metal objects found in grave nos. 4 and 7 have much wider connections. The best
comparisons for the precious-metal Lockenringe are from a handful of graves in western
Yamnaya kurgans, such as from Goran-Slatina in Bulgaria (Dani 2011: 32). Related to
these, and probably sharing the same hair fashion, are the gold/electrum Leukas and Mala
Gruda type hair-rings known from some of the most lavishly equipped graves of the Balkans,
but also from the Livezile site of Ampoit¸a in Transylvania (Dani 2011: 32.). The Manyˇ
type dagger from grave 7 has a clear Pontic steppe background in both Yamnaya and
Katakombnaya assemblages (Zimmermann 2003).
The key question is, what cultural process could be responsible for attracting these men
from their homeland to the Great Hungarian Plain, over several generations? Their sex and
age uniformity indicate they are a social sub-set within a larger group, implying that only
a portion of their society was on the move. Exogamy can probably be excluded, since one
would expect more women than men to move in prehistoric times; not to mention the
distance of more than 200km between the places of potential origin and burial.
One hypothesis would see these men involved in the exchange of goods, with long-term
relations between the mountain and steppe communities. Normally living in, or next to, the
Apuseni, these men would journey for weeks into the plain, returning to the same places and
people over many decades. Ethnographic examples of such travels to exchange objects and
ideas, and perhaps people, are numerous (e.g. Helms 1988). However, the child’s (grave 7a)
local isotopic signature would remain unexplained, and one has to wonder for how many
generations an exchange continues for four men to die near the ˝
A second hypothesis is essentially an economic model of transhumance, with livestock
passing the winter and spring in the milder regions of the Great Hungarian Plain, and
returning to higher pastures in the warmer months (Arnold & Greenfield 2006). Such
systems can endure for centuries, provided the social relations underpinning them are
stable. This has the advantage of accounting for relatively long periods of time spent away
from home, as herdsmen guarded their animals, and perhaps some women and their children
came too, which would account for the child’s presence, and the pottery relations of the
Livezile group. Furthermore, regular visits to a region would increase the likelihood of
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Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin
Figure5. Theimmigrantgraves4,7,9and11oftheS
rhalom kurgan and their funeral equipment.
Livezile transhumant herders becoming integrated locally. The second quarter of the third
millennium BC was a period when Yamnaya ideology, and thus its internal coherence,
might have already diminished. This would likely have resulted in a weakened grip by
Yamnaya people on pastures and territory, consequently allowing Livezile herders, and
potentially others, to step in and take over locally, perhaps first on a seasonal basis and then
Since the discovery of the Alpine ‘Iceman’ in the early 1990s, transhumance and socio-
economic mobility have been seen as suitable vectors for social connectivity and information
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Claudia Gerling et al.
exchange (Spindler 2003; Arnold & Greenfield 2006; Porˇ
c 2008). Other projects using
isotopic analyses show that early forms of complex stock management flourished north of
the Alps (White 2008; Knipper 2009).
Our analysis shows that the burial place denoted as a Yamnaya kurgan had a complex
and continuous use. The earliest burial occurred before the conventional date of Yamnaya
immigration. A group of four men were identified as later migrants, dated to before the
mid-third millennium BC; they probably came from the Apuseni Mountains of western
Transylvania, but their metal artefacts and burial customs indicate wider connections, to
the Pontic Steppes and the Balkans, and Yamnaya social identities. Yet as a group of Livezile
identity, they likely had origins other than the Yamnaya of the steppes, stemming ultimately
from the Cot¸ofeni of Transylvania. An economic model, based on the seasonal transhumance
of domestic animals, would account for the observed patterns in both the isotopic data, and
the archaeological data sets.
Part of this research was funded within an agreement between the Freie Universit¨
at Berlin and Bristol University
under the framework ‘Cluster of Excellence 264 TOPOI’ at FU Berlin, research group A II, under the supervision of
W. Schier and H. Parzinger. Samples were provided as part of a pilot study between the Institute of Archaeology,
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Bristol, aiming to investigate Hungarian fourth and third-millennium
BC populations. We would like to thank all our partners in Hungary, in particular A. Marcsik (Szeged), Zs.
K. Zoffmann (Budapest), I. Pap (Budapest), and Gy. P´
alfi (Szeged) for supplying samples for this pilot study.
We are indebted to the Bristol Isotope Group, especially C. Coath and T. Elliot from the Department of Earth
Sciences, for help and the use of laboratory equipment. We are also grateful to E. Kaiser (Berlin) for her guidance
on Pontic third-millennium BC steppe archaeology. Finally, it is a pleasure to name Prof. Emeritus Richard J.
Harrison for advice and for giving a final touch to this article.
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Received: 25 July 2011; Accepted: 1 November 2011; Revised: 22 March 2012
Antiquity Publications Ltd.
... Strontium isotope analyses have proven their potential in archaeological research that aimed to reconstruct mobility patterns (Alt et al., 2014;Depaermentier et al., 2020a;Knipper et al., 2020;Whittle et al., 2013), husbandry strategies (Balasse et al., 2002;Gerling et al., 2012Gerling et al., , 2017, and socio-cultural structures (Knipper, 2017;Knipper et al., 2020) within past societies. However, the analyses require the determination of local isotope baselines, whose reliability is closely linked to the size, type, availability, and preservation of the baseline sample (Gerling, 2015;Makarewicz and Sealy, 2015). ...
... Two sites delivered only faunal and shell samples and one site only human bones and shells. Therefore, a total of n = 113 published 87 Sr/ 86 Sr isotope comparison data (Alt et al., 2014;Gerling et al., 2012;Gerling, 2015;Giblin, 2009;Giblin et al., 2013;Heinrich-Tamáska and Schweissing, 2011;Price et al., 2004;Whittle et al., 2013) were added to our dataset (see Data S2). The in many cases poor quality and quantity of baseline samples per site required the development of a new strategy to combine strontium isotope baseline data from sites with comparable environmental settings. ...
... Strontium isotope analyses often focus on a single site or a cluster of a few sites within a specific region. The determination of the baseline is consequently targeted to only interpret the data from the site or the site cluster (Gerling et al., 2012;Giblin et al., 2013;Knipper et al., 2018;Naumann et al., 2014). To determine a so-called 'local' baseline, two main approaches have been suggested. ...
Full-text available
Strontium isotope analysis has recently proven to be a useful tool to elucidate population movements and subsistence strategies in ecological and archaeological sciences. The interpretation depends on the size, type, availability, and preservation of the sample and the reliability of the produced strontium isotope baseline. However, collecting quantitatively and qualitatively suitable baseline samples is considered a challenging task in archaeological research. To meet these challenges, we introduce an innovative analytical technique, which enables the analysis of small sample sizes from heterogeneous site distribution and environmental settings. This article integrates multivariate environmental modelling and bioarchaeological data of 49 sites to establish the first scale-based differentiation between site-specific and micro-regional strontium isotope baselines with various sample sizes in Hungary. In future mobility studies, this approach will allow distinguishing human and faunal movement ranges on different geographical scales.
... If all MBA Wietenberg communities had uncontested access to the uplands to hunt, they may have also been able to directly procure metal from upland sources. It is also possible that metal procurement was embedded within hunting forays or pastoral exploitation of upland landscapes (see Gerling et al. 2012). ...
... thwest Transylvania, there has been very little consideration of how it might be organized.Instead of looking at metal procurement directly, its organization has been explored by considering how southwest Transylvania articulates with surrounding regions, particularly the better-studied eastern Carpathian Basin to the west of the Apuseni Mountains.Gerling et al. (2012) have argued that individuals (primarily adult males) with non-local isotopic signatures found in the Sárrétudvari-Örhalom Early Bronze Age kurgan (burial mound) in the eastern Carpathians came from southwesternTransylvania. Gerling et al. (2012:1107-1108 suggest individuals from southwest Transylvania were moving down to the Carpathian ...
This dissertation examines the development of regional polities with institutionalized inequality in Bronze Age Transylvania, Romania (2700-1320 BC). During the Bronze Age, southwest Transylvania became one of the most important mining regions in Europe, providing the copper, tin, and gold that funded the establishment of permanent social hierarchies across the continent. Through a holistic approach across social, economic, and ideological institutions, I document how communities living in these metal-rich mountains participated in, and were effected by, these social, political, economic, and ideological transformations. Specifically, I focus on two interrelated research questions: (1) How were communities in the mining districts of southwest Transylvania organized during the Bronze Age, and (2) How did community organization in southwest Transylvania change throughout the Bronze Age? This study makes two important contribution to the culture history of the Transylvanian Bronze Age. First, I develop an absolute chronology for the Transylvanian Bronze Age based on the largest corpus of dates yet published. Second, I present a regional survey and spatial analyses conducted in Transylvania to document changes in community organization at multiple scales. This study develops the first historical trajectory of the organization of economic, political, social, and ideological institutions in Bronze Age Transylvania. More broadly, this dissertation builds on existing frameworks for studying community organization in middle-range societies in two key ways. First, it moves beyond political economic approaches to incorporate alternative pathways towards hierarchical complexity. In addition to economic and political realms, ideologies, identities, and how they are materialized are important factors in the institutionalization of inequality. Different institutions, however, will not always be organized the same way. I argue that the coherence and dissonance in the presence of inequalities across institutions is a critical attribute of social organization. Second, it further problematizes the study of change in community organization in middle-range societies. The proposed framework distinguishes qualitative and quantitative changes in how institutions are organized, how they articulate, and social forms that emerge out of human action and institutional conditions. Through examination of settlement, mortuary, chronological, and artifactual evidence, I argue that inequality became institutionalized only during the Late Bronze Age, centuries later than previously assumed. Throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, there was dissonance across multiple institutions in how inequality was made, marked, and masked. Many institutional changes that occurred throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Age set the stage for Late Bronze Age social transformations. In particular, the expansion of long-distance trade, a diversification in burial rites that emphasized intra-community difference, and an increase in the venues for signaling identities and inequalities provided opportunities for Late Bronze Age communities to reorganize hierarchically. These institutional changes were incremental, and unintentionally created the context in which historically specific events and processes ultimately led to the emergence of complex regional polities. The social history of communities in southwest Transylvania challenges how archaeologists conceptualize mining districts in Bronze Age Europe. In regions with rich ore sources, more than just metal procurement mattered. In southwest Transylvania, changes in social organization throughout the Bronze Age involved ideological, political, social, and economic institutions beyond metal procurement. The archaeology of pre-state societies in mining districts is uniquely positioned to contribute a deep historical perspective to the origin and evolution of the dynamics of resource extraction.
... On the other hand, regional and local distinctions became increasingly emphasized leading to clearly delineated boundaries between cultural groups (Fischl et al. 2013), and even communities (Earle et al. 2011). For all the various forms of individual mobility (e.g., Allentoft et al. 2015;Cavazzutti et al. 2021;Gerling et al. 2012;Renfrew & Boyle 2000) and longdistance trade Ling et al. 2018;Pare 2000), significant stability and complex regional political systems were organized in many areas despite low population densities throughout Europe (Earle & Kristiansen 2010). To better understand the dynamics between local and interregional social and economic forces, I explore negotiations of resistance to and facilitation of regional and supra-regional integration from a bottom-up perspective as it played out in local communities in central Hungary. ...
The Hungarian Bronze Age witnessed rapid sociopolitical transformation during the 16th century BCE as large communities scattered across the landscape, most long inhabited tell-settlements were reorganized, and centuries-old cemeteries were abandoned. Historical change on this scale is often perceived as a single, momentous episode elusive in the process, but visceral and consequential in its effect. This study develops a multiscalar approach to recover unfolding sequences of actions that led to such fundamental transformation of Bronze Age society. Examining material assemblages of five cemeteries in central Hungary, I explore the ways broadening economic activities, and increasing importance and control of bronze led to changing interpersonal relations and finally to disarticulation of communities. The study integrates a series of theoretical concepts to develop a middle-range theory of mortuary practice. This approach can recover material signatures of micro-political discourse during singular funerary occasions illuminating processes behind the transformation of Bronze Age society.
... A number of publications have focused on prehistoric mobility in the Eurasian steppe, including populations from Kazakhstan (Bernbeck et al., 2011;Ventresca Miller et al., 2017), Baikal region (Haverkort et al., 2008;Weber & Goriunova, 2013), Mongolia (Machicek et al., 2019), the Carpathian Basin (Gerling et al., 2012), and the Pontic region . Overall, these studies suggest that, with few exceptions, mobility among Eurasian pastoralists was mostly small-scale and within limited ranges (Makarewicz, 2018). ...
Conference Paper
The traditional notions of "nomadic" cultures as homogenously mobile and economically simple is increasingly displaced by more nuanced interpretations. A large part of the scientific literature on diet and mobility among Eurasian pastoralists is focused on Bronze Age and Iron Age. The relative underrepresentation of more recent contexts in these analyses hampers a full discussion of possible chronological trajectories. In this study we explore diet and mobility at Tunnug1 (Republic of Tuva, 2nd-4th century CE), and test their possible correlation with social differentiation. We compare demographic patterns of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotope ratios (d13C, d15N, d34S) among 65 humans and 12 animals from Tunnug1 using nonparametric tests and Bayesian modeling. We then compare isotopic data with data on perimortal skeletal lesions of anthropic origin and funerary variables. Results show that: 1) diet at Tunnug1 was largely based on C4 plants (likely millet) and animal proteins 2) only few individuals were nonlocals, although their geographic origin remains unclarified 3) no differences in diet separates individuals based on sex and funerary treatment. In contrast, individuals with perimortal lesions show carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios consistent with a diet incorporating a lower consumption of millet and animal proteins. Our study provides new insights about the sociocultural variability of pastoralist societies in Southern Siberia during the early centuries CE. At the same time, they further support the economic importance of millet for these communities.
... Whether a new burial chamber was formed in the second construction phase cannot be overlooked, as it was common in the case of burial mounds [11] but neither the basic pit grave nor the grave presumed to be in the kurgan were revealed, and bones were not recovered from the section. This in itself does not prove the absence of a central grave, but leads us to consider that graves in kurgans may be present in the outer parts, as is the case with the SárrétudvarŐr Mound [74]. ...
Full-text available
Kurgans are the custodians of outstanding archaeological, natural and environmental-historical value in the lowland landscape of Eastern Europe, which has been continuously transformed over millennia by agricultural activity. Their protection and study are, therefore, essential. By comparative soil and sedimentological analysis of the soil levels buried during the kurgans’ construction, the levels of buried soil, and the recent surface soil, we can gain information on the environmental changes of the second half of the Holocene; we can also gain information about how the activity of humans, even in the case of prehistoric cultures, can cause changes in the soil and environment on a local scale, beyond the regional scale. The aim of our research was to conduct a geoarchaeological examination of the Császárné Mound, which is one of the kurgans in the Hungarian Great Plain. For this purpose, sedimentological analyses (grain size distribution, magnetic susceptibility measurements), a pollen analysis, and a malacological analysis were carried out on the samples from the Császárné Mound. The complex geoarchaeological investigation of the mound allowed us to distinguish three different construction layers in the kurgan’s soil material. Besides the archaeological results, we were able to reconstruct steppe-like environmental conditions before and during construction in the local surroundings of the kurgan.
... A number of publications have focused on prehistoric mobility in the Eurasian steppe, including populations from Kazakhstan (Bernbeck et al., 2011;Ventresca Miller et al., 2017), Baikal region (Haverkort et al., 2008;Weber & Goriunova, 2013), Mongolia (Machicek et al., 2019), the Carpathian Basin (Gerling et al., 2012), and the Pontic region . Overall, these studies suggest that, with few exceptions, mobility among Eurasian pastoralists was mostly small-scale and within limited ranges (Makarewicz, 2018). ...
Full-text available
Objectives: Contemporary archeological theory emphasizes the economic and social complexity of Eurasian steppe populations. As a result, old notions of “nomadic” cultures as homogenously mobile and economically simple are now displaced by more nuanced interpretations. Large part of the literature on diet and mobility among Eurasian pastoralists is focused on the Bronze and Iron Ages. The underrepresentation of more recent contexts hampers a full discussion of possible chronological trajectories. In this study we explore diet and mobility at Tunnug1 (Republic of Tuva, 2nd– 4th century CE), and test their correlation with social differentiation. Materials and Methods: We compare demographic patterns (by age-at-death and sex) of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotope ratios (δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S) among 65 humans and 12 animals from Tunnug1 using nonparametric tests and Bayesian modeling. We then compare isotopic data with data on perimortal skeletal lesions of anthropic origin and funerary variables. Results: Our analyses show that: (1) diet at Tunnug1 was largely based on C4 plants (likely millet) and animal proteins; (2) few individuals were nonlocals, although their geographic origin remains unclarified; (3) no differences in diet separates individuals based on sex and funerary treatment. In contrast, individuals with perimortal lesions show carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios consistent with a diet incorporating a lower consumption of millet and animal proteins. Discussion: Our results confirm the previously described socioeconomic variability of steppe populations, providing at the same time new data about the economic importance of millet in Southern Siberia during the early centuries CE.
Full-text available
The monograph is devoted to the reconstruction of cultural and historical processes in North-Western Black Sea at the end of IV–III millennium BC. The integration process in the Late Chalcolithic Age led to the formation in the region Budzhak culture of Pit Grave cultural and historical community, based on local protobudzhak horizon. Analyzed intercommunication population Northwestern Black Sea with other cultures. There has been no invasion "Kurgan culture" of the steppe areas in the west, but trading colonization, based on was an exchange of natural resources - metals Balkan-Carpathian area and salt from estuaries Northwestern Black Sea. The archaeological situation with the climatic fluctuations allowed the author to create a new model of correct cultural and historical processes that took place in South-Eastern Europe in IV–III millennium BC, to evaluate and migration (both trade colonization of new territories), and adaptive capabilities of the ancient population of the North-Western Black Sea, to characterize the leading role of natural resources and trade in cultural and historical processes.
Full-text available
The areal under consideration, Western Romanian Plain, represents the contact area of two important, Late Copper Age cultures, Baden and Coþofeni. The main objectives pursued by the study are: investigate the current state of research, elaborate the catalogue of the sites and analyze intra- and intercultural relationships, to establish points of departure for future studies.
Full-text available
The aim of the paper is to examine background knowledge about the orga-nizational properties of mobile pastoral groups in order to assess the likelihood of the existence of pastoral nomads in the Early Bronze Age in the central Balkans. The patterning found by A. L. Johnson (2002) is taken as a point of departure for the cross-cultural analysis conducted in this study. Johnson's findings are in the main corroborated. Acquired knowledge about the workings of pastoral societies suggests that highly mobile pastoral groups should not be expected in the Early Bronze Age of the central Balkans.
In the year 1944, a copper dagger (?) blade was found together with a double burial near Vienna-Essling. The blade does not resemble any local blade type of the Late Neolithic. Instead, the blade represents a characteristic weapon form of the North Pontic-Caucasian steppes, the so-called »Manych type«. These blades can be dated in that region to the Middle Bronze Age (approx. 2,600 BC). Thanks to further Catacomb Grave finds with »Manych« blades from Moldavia and Hungary, one can trace the influence of the nomadic steppe cultures into Central Europe. The burial at Vienna-Essling is currently the most western findspot of these Pontic-Caucasian copper blades, and with other burials, such as Bleckendorf in eastern Germany, testifies to steppe nomadic elements in the Final Neolithic cultural setting of central Europe. Althoug conventionally identified as dagger blades, the unusual technical conception of the type, with an over-proportioned long and blunt tang, allows for an alternative explanation, that they might have been shafted as lance- or spearheads.
Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagelifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization. David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony describes his discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding. And he introduces a new approach to linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language. The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagesolves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.
What do long-distance travelers gain from their voyages, especially when faraway lands are regarded as the source of esoteric knowledge? Mary Helms explains how various cultures interpret space and distance in cosmological terms, and why they associate political power with information about strange places, peoples, and things. She assesses the diverse goals of travelers, be they Hindu pilgrims in India, Islamic scholars of West Africa, Navajo traders, or Tlingit chiefs, and discusses the most extensive experience of long-distance contact on record--that between Europeans and native peoples--and the clash of cultures that arose from conflicting expectations about the "faraway.."The author describes her work as "especially concerned with the political and ideological contexts or auras within which long-distance interests and activities may be conducted ... Not only exotic materials but also intangible knowledge of distant realms and regions can be politically valuable goods, ' both for those who have endured the perils of travel and for those sedentary homebodies who are able to acquire such knowledge by indirect means and use it for political advantage."Originally published in 1988.The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.