The coming of the Aryans: who and whence?

L. Kleijn

Bullettin of the Deccan College Research Institute
vol. 43, pp. 57-69, 1984

Allied images:   Figure 1    Figure 2    Figure 3

[57] Introductory Remarks

The author has been investigating the archaeological remains under consideration. viz., the Bronze Age catacomb graves of the Ukraine and south Russia, since 1951. In general these graves have been under study since the last century, and by now a total of no less than eight thousand graves have been studied. Their proposed identification with the Aryans was announced by the author on two previous occasions in 1979 - at the Leningrad University and at the Hermitage Museum; and it was well received by the Soviet archaeologists and linguists dealing with the problem. The present paper is a translation and enlarged version of the first Russian publication containing the author’s views (Klejn 1980).

The Problem

The Rgveda and other texts of the ancient Indian religion reveal the gradual colonization of India by the Aryans moving in a northwest to south-east direction, but they do not give any indications of their original homeland. The Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture (dated between 1300 and 800 B.C.), which surely belongs to the Vedic Aryans, was already developed in India. The problem however is: what culture did their ancestors possess and where did they live?

The Andronovo Hypothesis

For the past some decades Soviet archaeologists have been of the opinion that the original home of all the Aryans, i.e., Indo-Iranians (both Proto-Iranians and Indo-Aryans), lay in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and that the common ancestors of both these groups of Aryans were archaeologically represented by the cultures of the Timber-frame-Andronovo circle (dated to the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium B.C.). This hypothesis rested on the following grounds: (1) similarity of certain of its cultural elements (the possession of horses and waggons ar4 well-developed cattle-breeding) with those of the historic Aryans; (2) continuity between these cultures and the latter cultures of the Iranian-speaking peoples of the scytho-Sarmatian world; and (3) close affinity between the dialects of the Rgveda and the Avesta, which implies a relatively late unity among the ancestral peoples. But certain other considerations like the notions about the Asiatic roots of the Andronovo culture did not fit well with this hypothesis. How could one then possibly link the Aryans with the other Indo-Europians –the Slavs the Germans, etc.?

However, this difficulty was seemingly overcome when proto-Andronovo graves with remains of horses, chariots, swastika signs, traces of fire cult, and some traits of westerly origin were discovered in the environs of Southern Urals. These remains belong to the early Alakul culture and betray influences of the Poltavka, Abashevo and Multi-Band Ware cultures and are linked up with the Novokumak horizon (c. 16th century B.C.), which some archaeologists viewed as a cultural unity preceding the Alakul culture (Smirnov and Kuzmina 1977). But other workers (Stokolos 1983) doubted its cultural integrity as well as its chronological anterior[58]ity over the Alakul culture, irrespective of the undisputed nature of the western influences reaching the Alakul assemblages. It is this evidence concerning the western contribution which persuaded workers to advocate the view that the Andronovo culture area was the original home of the Indo-Iranians, from where they marched into Iran and India as two separate groups by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. or the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. (Smirnov and Kuzmina 1977).

The Andronovo hypothesis was nevertheless faced with a serious shortcoming from the very beginning. The cultures of the Timber-frame Andronovo circle took shape in the 16th or 17th century B.C., whereas the Aryans already appeared in the Near-East not latter than the 15th to 16th century B.C., and their occupation was intensive there by the 14th century B.C. The influx of the Indo-Aryan names appeared there as well as Indo-Aryan methods of and terms for chariot-driving and treaty swearing by the names of Indo-Aryan gods Mithra, Varuna, Indra, and Nasatyas (Mayrhofer 1966, 1974; Kammenhuber 1968; Gindin 1972; Abaev 1972). These regions contain nothing reminiscent of Timber-frame Andronovo materials; in fact, the latter could not have been there at so early a date.

it is little wonder then that the earliest materials belonging to the Timber-frame Andronovo circle, i.e. the Proto—or Early Andronovo materials as represented by the Sintashta and Early Alakul graves, correspond not so much to the Indo-Aryan Rgveda as to the Iranian Avesta (the practice of removing flesh from the corpses and dismembering them, the important part played by the dog in the funeral cult and the sizes of grave pits) (Gening 1977). Moreover, the Avesta regards the adjacent eastern territory up to the Volga (Raha) as the original homeland (Airyo-Shaiana, Airyana-Vaija) of the first Iranians. Several of the Andronovo sites yielded bones of a two-humped camel (Bactrian) as well as a figurine of that animal(Kuzmina 1963). The Avesta contains many references to ustra (Bactrian camel) and also gives the name of the prophet Zaratustra, whereas these are completely unknown to the Vedas; the Bactrian camel is unknown to the PGW culture.

The principal religious feature of the Ayestan Iranians which serves to distinguish them from the Vedic Aryans, viz., keeping the earth as well as fire and water untouched by the dead body, was obviously evolved within the Andronovo culture. In this culture (in its Alakul variety) the dead were placed in stone cists or, more appropriately speaking, in pits with stone-revetted floor and walls. In the Timber-frame culture the same task was accomplished by using wooden frames; hence the culture is called the Timer-frame culture. It is known that latter Mazdaists in Iran, apart from the exposure on the dahmas, sometimes used similar methods for safeguarding the purity of the earth.

The New Evidence

As the Andronovo hypothesis was being developed, fresh evidence calling for a revision of the problem of the origin of Aryans was also being gathered.

I. Long ago linguists identified in the Finno-Ugric languages a stratum of words borrowed from the pre-Aryan tongue via the pre-Finno-Ugric and Ugric. These terms refer to domestic animals, cereals, weapons, social status and sacral things (Jacobsohn 1922; Kalima 1936; Collinder 1955:129-141; Joki 1973; Abaev 1972: 27-30, 1981; Harmatta 1981).

Based upon the linguistic evidence (names of plants, animals, etc.) the original home of the Finno-Ugric people has been in the meanwhile frequently fixed in the forest zone lying to the west of the Ural ridge, namely, in the Middle Volga-Oka basin. Methodologically speaking, Keppen (1886), Setadlad (1926), Ravila (l949), Läszö (1961, 1972) constitute [59] systematic studies in this regard. Notwithstanding other hypotheses their most probable identification is the group of Pit-Comb Ware cultures (Ailio 1922, Meinander 1974). The Aryan community must have been situated somewhere in the neighbouring area, particularly in the adjoining steppes in view of the fact that they were mobile cattle-breeders. In Saami language ariel, arjadn (lit. "Aryan", "Aryan side") means "southern", "southwestern" (Abaev 1981: 85).

2. The cultural heritage common to the Indo-Iranian peoples (Scythes. Persia ns, Indians, etc.) reveals a whole system of mythical notions about the Utmost North (obviously derived from the Finno-Ugrians): knowledge about the Polar half-year long day and half-year long night, the North-Star in zenith, the northern lights and the Arctic ocean with its blocks of ice. The Aryans knew the names of the river Volga (Ved. Rasa, cf. Mord. Ravo) and Ural mountain (Ved. Rep.); they also possessed the conception of a miraculous multifeet deer-like animal (Ved. Sarabha) reminiscent of the multifeet elk of Ugrian myths (shorp being the Ugric name for it). The Rgveda (10,75.2) and the SatapathaBrahmana (1, 5. 4-5) speak of leaves falling down from the trees in the autumn and of birds flying away. The area was described as containing great rivers which flowed from north to south. It is the Ponto-Caspian steppes (Ukraine and the Lower Volga basin), not Central Asia and Kazakhstan. which satisfy these conditions (Bongard-Levin and Grantovskv 1974, Lelekov 1982).

3. The more recent folk-lore and literature of the Indo-Iranian peoples have preserved some references to shamanist notions and practices, i.e. ideas about the soul flying into other worlds after separating itself from body and then rejoining it later. These notions were probably developed under the influences of the Ugric shamans and their drug-stimulated practices (Bongard-Levin and Grantovsky 1974). This idea finds support in the identification of one of the prototypes of the Vedic plant Soma with mushroom or, more appropriately, a toadstool by name fly-agaric which was actually a hallucinogenous medium in the ritual practice of Ugric shamans (Wasson 1968). The Finno-Ugric name for fungus is pangh (Hante), panga (Mari and Mord.) and so on. In the Ugric (Hante, Manri) its meaning is restricted to "fly-agaric", "death-cap" and, since in the South this plant was later on replaced by locally available plants, the name was transferred to hemp in India (Vedic bhanga) and to henbane in Iran (bangha of Avesta). The name Soma itself may also have been derived from the North; the common Finno-Ugric Soima (vessel) was restricted by the Ugrians to the connotation of "sacred wooden vessel" ("mortar") and was pronounced as Soma (see here Redei and Erdelyi 1974: 421-422). This, so the author would suppose, is the derivation of the Aryan term Soma. A mortar with a spout, evidently for pressing juice out of some plant, was found in Marlik (Negahban 1964: 42, fig. 33; also explained in Kurochkin 1974: 43).

4. Besides Aryan (Pre-Aryan) and Iranian (Scythian, Sarmatian and Alanian) contributions of general nature, the Finno-Ugric languages preserve a specific Indo-Aryan contribution. i.e., words having distinctly Indo-Aryan formal features but completely lacking in features of the Iranian languages. This would mean that the division of the Aryan stock into Indo-Aryans and Iranians already took place in the Ponto-caspian steppes (Abaev 1972; 1981). It is worth noting that the reverse influence, from North to South, went mainly from the Ugres (see the above remarks on "shorp," "pangh" and "soma"). From the then existing spatial interrelationships, one may get the impression that the Indo-Aryans were situated towards the eastern end of the European steppe belt. The Indo-Aryan words appearing in the Ugric were not the same as those [60] present in the rest of the Finno-Ugric stem of the western parts. This would mean that this stem (Finno-Ugric) already branched itself off by the time period in question and that the Indo-Aryans separately entered into contact with each of the two branches. Therefore the Indo-Aryans must have been situated rather quite far to the west in the steppes.

5. An "Indian people" by name sinds has been refered to by ancient Greek writers as living in the Fore-Caucasian steppes near the Azov Sea (cf. Berzin and Grantovsky 1962). Ideas have also been put forward that the Scythean language, albeit iranian, by and large contains some Indo-Aryan elements (Bilecky 1953; Treimer 1954 : 41,47, 75). Not only Iranian hydronims and personal names were discovered in Scythia-Ukraine but also those belonging to the common Aryan stratum and to the Indo-Aryan one separately (though the latter (Trubachev 1975; 1976; 1977; 1978 a; 1978 b; 1979; 1980; 1981) only with difficulty separable from the former (cf. critical remarks by Grantovsky and Raevsky 1980, opposed by Lelekov 1980; 1982: 225)).

6. Much more striking are the Indo-Aryan survivals in the culture of the Scythes. The Scythes knew the difference between the round and the square sacral hearths (àhavaniva and garhapatya)—both these geometric signs being seen on a relief with a man before a goddess (Raevsky 1977: 104-105). They worshipped the Indo-Aryan goddess Tapati whom they called Tabiti (Dumezil 1979) and performed the Asvamedha sacrifice (Machinsky 1978) in full conformity with the detailed rules laid down in the indian texts, i.e., 360 horses divided into 20 groups of 18 each (Lelekov 1980). They may have inherited these rites as well as the catacomb mode of interment and other peculiarities (Klejn l963b; 1975) from their Ponto-Caspian predecessors.

7. Westwards of the Timber-frame Andronovo circle the catacomb cultural community was situated during the first half of the second millennium B.C. The designation catacomb arises from the fact that interments were done in the side chambers of the grave pits cut into harrows (described by Bratchenko 1974; Hadiisler 1974, 1976). Although the culture was formerly regarded as one homogenous unit (cf. Popova 1955), it is now clear that, despite close similarities in funeral methods and other ritual peculiarities (Klejn 1962. 1970), its various groups are so different in terms of pottery as to deserve the status of separate cultures. Hence it appears possible to correlate the groups of Bronze Age catacomb graves with the distinct ceramic fabrics, since it would be unreasonable to place more weight on spatial interrelations (that is, the location of groups close to one another or widely apart) than on typological considerations. The typological affinities between the groups appear to be the same irrespective of their closeness or otherwise in terms of spatial location. Hence even the relatively remote groups should be taken into account. The author has already considered the western ones while studying the origins of an Ukrainian catacomb culture (Klejn 1962 h; 1963 a; 1964; 1967). Now we must look eastwards for investigating its latter development.

8. In central Asia—the region lying between the Northern Black Sea region and India—a series of monuments and cultures with the catacomb mode of interment have been discovered during the last few decades. It was initially thought that, moving from the Black Sea area towards India, these remains are progressively younger, but this idea has proved to be wrong. So they can hardly be considered as evidence of gradual movement of one and the same population. It would rather appear that these are vestiges of peoples who migrated in one or several waves in approximately same time period. The distribution of these cultures may nevertheless indicate the main route of movement.

The groups involved are: the Zaman-Baba culture dated to the first half of the second [61] millennium B.C. and located in the lower reaches of Zeravshan (Gulyamov 1956; Kuzmina 1958. 1968; Askarov 1962); the Bishkent culture dated between thirteenth and eighth centuries BC. (Mandelshtam 1968) and the closely related Vahsh culture dated to the second half of the second millennium B.C., both located in the upper reaches of the Amu-Darya; and the more settled and closely related Sapalli and Dashly cultures belonging to the seventeenth to eleventh centuries B.C., the former lying to the north of Amu-Darya (Askarov 1973, 1977: 38-59) and the latter located in Afghanistan (Sarianidi 1977). The earlier graves of the Bishkent culture found in the Tulhar cemetery are described as unique in construction (pits with a sloping side entrance); it is the latter ones which have been described as catacombs. But surely the earlier ones were also catacombs, albeit damaged (cf. Klejn 1961).

9. The Italian and Pakistani investigations (Castaldi 1967; Dani 1967; Stacul 1968; Silvi Antonini 1969, 1973, Silvi Antonini and Stacul 1972) have brought to light a succession of cultures (dating between the sixteenth century B.C. and the early centuries of the first millennium B.C.) in the Swat valley and the neighbouring valleys of north-western Pakistan. Some of the remains are earlier than the Painted Grey Ware culture; and the whole succession of cultures has also been ascribed to the Vedic Aryans (Dani 1967; Kuzmina 1972; Allchin 1981; Thapar 1981). These cultures evidence a gradual change from inhumation to cremation; horse graves are present and some of the artefact types are analogous to those of Afghanistan, Iran and less commonly, to those of Central Asia.

Notwithstanding the absence of catacombs in Pakistan, the author was also initially attracted by the idea of linking these cultural materials with the above chain. He however refrains himself now from such an idea. Considering each of these chronologically distinctive complexes as a separate culture, Ghaligai V cannot be regarded as Aryan at all on account of its western affinities, whereas the preceding complex (Ghaligai IV) with its stone cists may be regarded as Aryan (rather Iranian than Indo-Aryan). The Pakistani discoveries testify to the many waves of the different peoples who went through the western passes into India during the second millennium B.C

10. All the earlier investigations attempting to identify the ancestors of the Vedic Aryans were oriented towards seeking remains lying westwards and thus able to establish cultural links with the Painted Gray Ware culture. As Lal (1955; 1981) has shown, the Painted Gray Ware culture pertains to the period described in the Mahabharata and in the latter Vedas and Brahmanas. The Rgveda refers to a much earlier period lacking in iron, glass, rice and wheat and probably also potter’s wheel, which are all present in Painted Gray Ware culture. Recently, however, the pre-iron stage of the Painted Gray Ware culture has been discovered (Joshi 1976) and dated to not latter than the twelth century B.C., more probably to the centuries immediately preceding it (Lal 1981; Gaur 1981). It has not yet been established whether glass, rice and wheat occur at the sites belonging to this early phase of this culture. As concerns the potter’s wheel, it was introduced in Gandhara as early as the thirteenth century B.C. (Stacul 1969). The Aryans of Rgveda cannot therefore be associated with the Painted Gray Ware culture, whose earliest stage is as yet inadequately known.

Thus there is nothing surprising about Lal’s (1981) observation that the Painted Gray Ware culture has no evident similarities with Ghaligai V in Swat valley. The former may have actually been connected with and derived from the Near Eastern ceramic tradition. However, being the table ware, it constitutes a small part—hardly some 10% (Lal 1981 : 287) or even 3 to 10 % (Agrawal 1971: 51)—of the pottery then in use; the rest is [62] accounted for by the Red Ware devoid of painting. So it does not make sense to correlate the Painted Gray Ware culture as a whole with the culture of the Swat Valley. After excluding the Painted Gray Ware culture itself, it is rather its pre-iron stage which should be compared with the early period of the Swat graveyards (Ghaligai 1V) or most probably with some such remains yet to be found.

The Present Hypothesis

Some scholars put forward their own groupings of links within this chain. Thus Vatynin (1958) cautioulsy noted the affinity between the Zaman Baba culture and the Pit-grave and Catacomb cultures; he attributed this affinity to cultural contact rather than to migration. However his views have not received serious attention. Later Mandelshtam noticed certain features characteristic of the Indo-Aryans in the Tulhar cemetery excavated by him. This concerns the shapes of hearths: square ones meant for the priest fire (ahavania) and found in association with the male skeletons; round ones found with the female skeletons and meant for domestic fire (garhapatya). He has not taken cognizance of a third form known to the Aryans, i.e., the crescentic one (daksina) although it is present there also (see Mandelshtam 1968: Fig. 19 and 21). He supposed that the preceding stage of culture may have been similar to the Zaman Baba culture (Mandelshtam 1966: 252). Kuzmina (1972) has shown that the culture of Swat is in many respects rooted in the Bishkent culture and partly even in the Zaman Baba culture lying further away (see Anlonini 1973). Just this link of the chain is less reliable than the others but the chain by and large should be valid.

Now we have the opportunity or rather the necessity of taking the most decisive step of considering the Catacomb culture complex of the Black-Sea region as an initial link in this chain.

Unexpectedly, only very recently it has come to the author’s notice that the identification of Catacomb cultures with the Indo-Aryans was already suggested by others more than two decades ago (Berzin and Grantovsky 1962). On account of its publication in an illustrated fortnightly magazine of the Soviet embassy in India, this suggestion has completely missed the attention of scholars. Furthermore, the authors themselves never gave expression to it in their writings till now. The probable reason for this omission is that the above chain of cultures was not yet known then and it was evidently a logically derived observation of the authors with sufficient factual data. And while the facts gradually accumulated, the methodological criteria then obtaining did not allow archaeologists to make a proper use of the facts. (It is not a matter of accident that both the authors are non-archaeologists).

The Methodological Premises

It was practically impossible to reconstruct migrations, so long as criteria seeking transplantation of complete cultural complex onto the new place as well as total absence of local roots were adopted. Direct identification of archaeological links with ethnic ones have undermined the authority of ethnogenetic studies. Now another approach has begun to show up (Klejn 1973; 1978; 1982), according to which all kinds of records (archaeological, linguistic, anthropological, etc.) are considered as incomplete and are required to be synthesized in accordance with a special methodology.

Thus, although some individual links (they need not be complete) of the North Pontic monuments with the Zaman Baba etc. are established, it is not these links but rather the general situation and some direct correspondences between the North Pontic complexes and the Indo-Aryan peculiarities, as known from their language and mythology, which will serve as the main grounds and proofs.

[63] The Proofs

The catacomb method of interment cuts across the entire chain of these cultures except its terminal (?) link represented by the burials found in India. The Rgveda preserves references to an "earthen house" for the dead as well as to a "stopping stone" for the exit and to a "mountain" to cover the dead (RV 5,81. 1; 10, 18.4). in other words, we have here evidence concerning the catacomb grave, stone slab sealing its entrance and the barrow.

In all cultures of this chain (except the Painted Gray Ware culture, as we do not have the knowledge of inhumation graves), there are paired graves containing male and female skeletons evidently lying in poses of sexual contact. Accordingly in Rgveda (10, 18.8—9) we come across a hymn informing us of the abolition of an earlier practice of burying the widow with her husband (probably killed with her prior consent). Their burial as couples must be connected with notion that death is a sort of new birth implying the necessity of conceiving the new body (Klejn 1979 a, 1979 b). The diksa ritual included a real coitus not long before death (Mergautova and Mergaut 1969: 38-39). As a parallel to this Indo-Aryan ritual one may cite a custom of their northern Indo-European kinsmen. As described by Ibn-Fadlan, during the funeral of a noble Volga Rus (i.e., Norman) of the tenth century AD. participants in the funeral were performing coitus with a woman being worshipped, each saying "I do it for (instead of) the Lord" (Kovalevsky 1956).

Horse burials are found in North-Pontic graves and as special graves (but without stratigraphic evidence) in the cemeteries of Swat. In Rgveda we find a funeral hymn addressed to a horse (10, 56). in the North-Pontic burial in question (Lower Don basin, Veselyi, bar. 3. gr. 5) fore-part of a horse skeleton has been found (Moshkova and Maksimenko 1974, table XXIII, XXVI, I). If the Asvamedha ritual was performed here, then perhaps an early mode of discecting the body into two parts as in the Hittite dog sacrifice (cf. Dumezil 1966; Ivanov 1974), and not into three parts as prescribed by the Indian rules, was adopted. However the horse burial at Veselyi is not an independent grave, as would be required by the Asvamedha sacrifice, but rather represents a sacrificial offering to a dead man or forms part of the gravegoods, because the horse interment is cut accurately into the entrance pit of a human catacomb grave. As a parallel one may cite the finding of sheep (ram?) skeletons in North-Pontic catacomb graves (Dashly and Sapalli special ram graves); in India the ancient Aryans sacrificed castrated rams to their ancestors in memory of Indra’s deliverance from emasculation for his sexual sin by means of ram sacrifice.

In the North-Pontic pit and catacomb graves the human skeletons are usually covered with red-ochre or such other red paint powder, which is found especially on feet, hands and skull. In India even now it is just these parts of the body which are painted with red colour in ritual situations like birth and wedding, both of human beings and deities of their gods.

In the case of ancient Aryans the red colour was associated with death. Some traces of red-ochre have also been found in Zaman Baba graves. This connection becomes particularly noteworthy when we take into account the scarcity of ochre in the graves occurring elsewhere by the time of the Bronze Age. Even more remarkable is the fact that some of the catacomb graves of our steppes contain designs made on the floor with a powdery substance, which certainly recall to our mind the contemporary practice of rangoli in India.

The Vajra, Indra’s weapon, is not represented in ancient iconography so that it is difficult to find out the real prototype, especially in the Bronze Age. The early form of vajra was obviously forgotten by that time. Judging from the operations ascribed to it in the texts, it was a kind of club. Meanwhile, the Finno[64]-Ugric languages borrowed this word from the Aryans (Saam. vaecer; Fin. vasara; Mord. uzere) and retained its ancient meaning of "hammer." This explication finds support in the fact that Thor—also a thunder-god and the German counterpart to Indra—was also armed with a hammer; and it is to another Indo-European thunder-god, Russian Perun, that the perforated battle-axes of stone found by chance in Russia are ascribed by peasants. ("Perun’s hammer" is the folk term.)

Indeed, the stone battle hammer-axe is the typical weapon of the dead buried in the North-Pontic catacombs, and this weapon spread from there northwards into the forest strip. In addition to the hammer-axe whose butt served as the frontal side, a spherical mace of stone with four semi-spherical projections (suggestive of four hammer butts) was used for the same purpose and was probably denoted by the same term. This could explain why in the kirataparva ritual in which Arjuna receives vajra (Mahabharata, 3.39-45) and in the Tantric abhiseka of vajraiana (Shellgrove 1957: 71-73) the vajra is associated with the four-sided model of the world and also why the ancient Indian military array (order) in which "the soldiers faced all the (four) cardinal points" is called "vajra" (Mahabharata, 7, 19.34).

Awl is another object connoting similar meaning. The Aryan ara ("awl") was borrowed by Finno-Ugrians and now kept in many Finno-Ugric languages. It is to this network of relationships dating to the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. that the broad flow of bronze awls from North Caucasus and Fore Caucasian steppes (awls being abundant in cataconib graves) into the forest strip belongs.

The Indo-Aryans were very fond of playing knuckle-bones and dice. Both these games, frequently referred to in the Indian religious texts (IRgveda and others) and in the epics, are commonly represented in the North-Pontic catacombs The knuckle-hones are numerous. Eight sets of dice have been found; and the form of the dice is the same as those of the Painted Gray Ware culture and of the texts (Mahabharata 4, 50,24), i.e., elongated and four sided (caturasma, caturamsa) but unlike the cubic dice known from Europe and the Near East (including the Harappan civilization).

Two of the artefact types of the North Pontic catacombs may be identified with the gravan (pressing stones for soma). These are: (I) the carefully elaborated stone pestles which are polished and sometimes decorated with four semispherical protuberances and (2) the so-called "arrow-straighteners" which are often found in pairs and probably used as such. Another artefact characteristic of the Ponto-Caspian catacomb graves is the clay funnel which can be identified with the Aryan pavitra (the filter for soma); the funnel must, have been filled with wool while being used.

The catacomb graves of Ponto-Caspian steppes have produced hundreds of peculiar censers, from which the sacral hearths of Tulhar and of the Vedic Aryans (the ahavania, garhapatya and daksina) may have been derived via the links provided by the Zaman Baba and Dashly cultures. These three types of sacral hearths were still combined in the outlines of a censer which is round at the top, square at the bottom and with arched partition inside; the outlines got separated subsequently.

It is in the Ukrainian and Fore-Caucasian catacomb cultures that we can find the explanation for the strange shape of the Vedic vedi, which is square with all the four sides sagging inwards. Trefoil-shaped, four-sided clay altars were used in the Tripolye culture of the Ukraine during the fourth millennium. In the Novosvobodnaya culture (formerly known as Maykop II or Tsarskaya) of the second half of the third millennium, graves often had the same outlines with walls sagging inside and the angles rounded. This form, albeit with only two walls sagging inwards (Sinicyn and [65] Erdniev 1971: 6, fig. 18) is also repeated in some of the catacombs of the Fore-Caucasian steppes. Since the Aryans considered the funeral as a sacrifice (Atharva Veda, 12.3; Aiteriya Brahmana, 6, 3.9), the grave could be regarded as an altar. The small portable altars (the catacomb censers) had a similar shape. The bottom part of the censer was formed of four legs joined into one, thus giving rise to the trefoil outline. The four-sided altar was associated with the sacral figure four (Toporov 1974; cf. Buckland 1884; Semeka 1968); and hence the designation of "four" on the dice (the Aryan krita the winning "four") found in the catacomb graves of the Pontic steppes has precisely the same shape (square with sagged sides and sharp angles) as the Vedic vedi.

The censers have a partition inside—a feature very much associated with quadruple vessels of the Zaman-Baba and Dashly cultures and similar ones still found in contemporary Central Asia and India where they are used for feeding and watering birds regarded as souls of the dead (Gulyamov et. al. 1966: 143, 18 1-182). What is remarkable, one can see plastic representations of birds on the rim portions of the Mediterranean Kernoi which were long ago treated as the prototypes of the catacomb censers (Klejn 1966).

Verification of the Hypothesis

Unlike the Andronovo hypothesis, the one suggested here can be tested and verified against the evidence of original texts. This job is undertaken here on account of the support provided by the appearance of the catacomb graves in the wake of nomadic immigrants (as distinct from local population) in Palestine and Phynikia, and in the neighbourhood of Mitanni between the nineteenth and seventeenth centuries B.C. (Jirka 1956; Kenyon 1957; 1960). This precisely answers the questions of where and when posed by the hypothesis. As with the North-Pontic grave, one of the graves at Gaza (Schaeffer 1948: fig. 127) contained the frontal half of a horse skeleton placed in the entrance pit of the catacomb grave.

Midway between the Ponto-Caspian steppes and Palestine catacomb graves are found at Tureng-Tepe (Iran) and some fragments of a bone or antler hammer-headed pin typical of the Ponto-Caspian steppes and with a very specific incised design are found at Shah-Tepe, Iran, in layers marking the end of the so-called "Asterabad Bronze Age" (Deshayes 1969: 14, Arne 1945: 141, 294, fig. 622, p. 300, fig. 642). These cultural remains representing an alien physical type similar to that of the Corded Ware people and the Steppe population, may be dated to the eighteenth to seventeenth centuries B.C (Kurochkin 1979). Not far away from this region, the catacomb graves of same age and appearance have also been discovered at Sumbar (Southern Turkmenia) (Khlopin 1983). These remains may be regarded as the traces of the first wave of the Aryan migration groin the Ponto-Caspian Steppes into Asia via the Near East. Two other sites of the Bronze Age catacomb graves in the southern part of the Caspian area are respectively located at Norabac dating to the early part of the second millennium B.C. (Areshian 1980) and Artik (Armenia), but these graves belong to the fourteenth to thirteenth centuries B.C. and hence are much younger (Hachatrian 1980).

An opposite method of testing the present hypothesis is to proceed from the archaeologically established presence of catacomb cultures to a search for their linguistically observable correspondence. At first glance this method appears to disprove the hypothesis because the Indo-Aryans were unknown in historical periods, not to speak about the present times, in large areas of Central Asia and Iran covered with the Bronze Age catacomb cultures. But this contradiction does not stand close scrutiny. Some decades ago linguists (Gray 1927; Burrow 1973) detected an Indo-Aryan substratum in [66]many Iranian languages of this region—just the area where the Indo-Aryans should have appeared according to our hypothesis. So the bearers of the Asian catacomb cultures such as the Bishkent, Sapalli and Dashly appear to have been none other than Burrow’s "Proto-Indo-Aryans".

Discussion of the Results

The identification of catacomb people with the pre-Rgvedic Indo-Aryans has implications outstretching the hounds of Indian history. For example, this inference permits us to make a closer search for Slavic ancestors. Obviously, their plausible existence in the neighbourhood of the catacomb cultural community should be testable in terms of the intensity of occurrence of the vestiges of their cultural and linguistic contacts with the Indo-Aryans. In so far as these contacts, apart from the common Indo-European heritage, seem very sparse, the Slays must have lived elsewhere and not in the area of Dnieper. It is true that, in terms of archaeological links, the catacomb cultures of Ukraine are closer to remote cultures (Crakow culture in Poland, Hatvan in Hungary) than to the nearest western neighbours. We might expect these contacts to be reflected in language even assuming that their mutual relations were hostile. It is highly improbable that they ignored each other.

Following upon the author’s reconstructions of considerable influences received from the west into the catacomb grave cultural circle of the Ponto-Caspian area (the catacomb structure of the grave, the censer, the hammer-axe and some ceramic traditions (see Klejn 1962b; 1963; 1964; 1966; l967),it is now possible to offer new explanations for the Aryan (German and Aryan)—Celtic connections in languages, folklore and religion (excluding the genetic connections); and the whole study of Indo-European origins may receive a new turn. In general the genealogical tree-model of development should be replaced by a river-delta model which often provides for interconnected flows. For example, the kinnaras (the half-men and half-horses) of the Vedic mythology are undoubtedly closely connected with the Greek centaurs. This is only one indication that the pre-Greeks must have sometime ago lived not far away from the Indo-Aryans who were already separated from the Iranians (Lelekov 1978: 222; Kuzmina 1981: 117-118).

Thus a fascinating review of the adjacent archaeological cultures situated in the region of the North Caucasus and South Russia is in prospect. It raises the hope of finding out clues about the Greeks, the Hittites and the Armenians, who were also in contact with Indo-Aryans. We may perhaps be able to identify some of the demonic peoples of the Vedic mythology with inhabitants of the neighbouring areas of the original home-land of the Aryans. Thus the pisach who lived in the South and interfered with the dead of the Aryans may be identified with the Caucasian psessoi of the Greek authors (i.e., the Abyzh-Abhaz of our times). The first dasa must also have lived in Russia, as the term was borrowed by the Ugric tribes (las means "alien" in Mansi): it was-evidently borrowed from the Indo-Aryans, not from the Iranians (Abaeu 1972: 29) and certainly not from Dasas (Daha), who apparently formed part of the Iranians.

Finally, a special sequence concerning the cultural connections between India and Russia follows from this review. The principal episode of Indra’s activities, the main God of the Early Vedic period, was his victory over the evil force Vritra whom Indra killed with his vajra, thereby paving the way to the great mythical river Danu. Vritra turned into stones, while the river ran through them (Rgveda, 1. 32: 2. 12.3; 11; 4, 18.6-7). The name Vritra means "dam", but the question arises: where was the river Danu? The names of all the great rivers of the Pontic steppes [67] contain the stem dan: Don (ancient Tanais), Donets (-ets is a Russian suffix), Dnieper (ancient Danapr), Dniester (ancient Danastr) and Danube, but it is only the Dnieper which flowed through big cataracts. By its origin, the Indra story appears to be the explanatory myth (aetiological or topological) of these well-known rapids. So it is the Dnieper that was the real body of Danu-the great mythical river of the Vedic Aryans.

Kleijn 1984, fig. 4 Fig. 4 - Prototypes for Indra's Vajra - stone polished battle-axes and maces from the Ponto-Caspian steppes; 1) Lysyi barrow, grave 10; 2) Lugansk, barrow, grave 3; 3) Starcia, barrow 30, grave 5; 4) Lugansk 1929, barrow 1, grave 20; 5) Stepan Raziz, barrow 4, grave 6. All except No. 5 are from catacomb graves. Source: Bratchenko, 1976, Figs. 72, 74, 75.
Kleijn 1984, fig. 5 Fig. 5 - Dice from Govorukha (Donets Catacom Culture)


The author is grateful to Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar for taking interest in publishing this article in India. Prof. Dhavalikar has been helped by Dr. K. Paddayya and Mr. S. B. Ota in improving upon the English translation prepared by’ the author himself.

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