Migrations in the Eurasian Steppes in the Light of Paleoanthropological Data

Article excerpt

Cranial series provide vital clues about human history. The purposes of this analysis is to investigate the biological interactions between the population of Western Eurasia and that of the Armenian uplands, reconstructed on the basis of phenetic affinities between separate populations. Measurements of the neurocranium and facial skeleton have been used for many years to provide an assessment of the degree of biological relatedness among samples from past and living populations. Although these measurements are influenced by an unknown combination of hereditary and environmental factors (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1971), and may be affected by masticatory mechanics (Van Gerven 1982) and environmental variation (Beals 1972, Guglielmino-Matessi et al. 1979), twin studies (Clark 1956, Orczykowska-Swiatkowska et al. 1975, Saunders et al. 1980), familial studies (Devor 1987, Howells 1966), and worldwide comparisons of craniometric variation have revealed a moderate degree of genetic control (Susanne 1977), and have demonstrated the utility of such variables for reconstructing patterns of biological interaction between populations (Howells 1973, 1989, Abdueshvili 1982, Alexeev 1986). Our study involved the multidimensional craniometrical analysis of more than 204 cranial series from the fifth to the second millennia BC in Eurasia. These were analyzed using canonical variates analysis of Mahalanobis D^sup 2^ generalized distances between each pair of samples. New anthropological data allowed identification of alien Mediterranean characteristics influencing various ethnic Eurasian groups and revealed evidence of a migratory stream from the Armenia, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. This research provided new evidence of patterns of ethnic contact and intermixture in Western Eurasia.

Key Words: Craniometrical characteristics; Mediterranean racial type; Bronze Age; Armenian uplands; Caucasus; Black Sea Coast; Near East; Eurasian steppelands; Siberia.

The Armenian highlands (also known as the Armenian uplands, the Armenian plateau, or simply Armenia (Hewsen 1997), is the centermost and highest of three land-locked plateaus that together form the northwestern sector of the Middle East (Hewsen 1997). To its west is the Anatolian plateau which rises slowly from the lowland coast of the Aegean Sea and rises to an average height of 3,000 feet (Hewsen 1997). In the Armenian highlands, the average height above sea leval rises dramatically to between 3,000 and 7,000 feet (Hewsen 1997). To its southeast is the Iranian plateau, where the elevation drops rapidly to an average 2,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. The Armenian highlands include all of present day Armenia, and much of eastern Anatolia, southern Georgia, northwestern Iran, and western Azerbaijan (Armenian Highland 2007). Their eastern parts are also known as the Transcaucasian highlands (Clifford 1984).

The Armenian highlands were in early history a crossroads linking the worlds of East and West. At the end of the fourth millennium and beginning of the third millennium there was a most important agriculturalist culture in the Armenian highlands called the Kura-Araxes Culture. Wheat and a variety of vegetables and fruits were grown, and sheep, goats, donkeys, and horses were bred, so that the food supply was ample for the entire region. Metal goods were produced and widely distributed, having been found in the Volga, Dnieper and Don-Donets systems in the north, in Syria and Palestine in the south, and to the west in Anatolia (Krupnov 1966, Trifonov 1991, Nechitailo 1991, Pystovalov 2002, etc.). Its pottery has been found as far south as Syria and Palestine (Amiran 1952; Braidwood et al. 1960, etc.), and as far north as Dagestan and Chechnya (Gadzhiev 1966). The spread of its pottery and metal goods suggests that the Kura-Araxes people have had extensive trade contacts. Recent genetic studies confirmed that this avenue served not only for commerce and cultural diffusion, but also for the exchange of genes (Balaresque et al. …