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Chapter I - ....and then they came

por Olympus Mons, em 12.03.16

Chapter I

And then they came…


Maybe, just maybe. And for those you don’t really follow these topics.

8,000 year ago there were a people.  That people lived on the margin (right?) margin of the Volga river that flows form the Urals to the Caucasus basins. On the left bank there was another population that looked just like them. But leaving on different margin of the river this guys and girls developed a different mutation (M-73) of the R1b haplogroup. They and the guys from the other side of the river really shared common ancestor and they were like historical cousins and for the next 8,000 year they remained entwined, tangled in spaces and as time went by at watching distance as known partners in geography but never mixing that much. And let me tell you that I am not 100% sure if the “problem” between them will not keep on popping up in the next centuries and/or millennium as something serious. We will see. The reason why those two brother, or cousin, population went in separate ways, and didn’t really blend and just represent one single population is due to a fact that they had a river, the Volga, between them. And a river might seem a little thing but truth is that any obstacle, either physical or even political makes a difference in the Fst index (genetic proximity) of two populations. Amazingly so.

Geography is always misleading and truth is at this point is difficult to pinpoint a very specific spot for the origin of either.  Or maybe some lived instead near the Dnieper River (a bit west) and the others in the Volga basin. Time will tell I suppose.

The two cousin population, the R1a on the left bank and the R1b in the right bank (pick the river) went on to have very different history for the next 5,000 until they actually met again in Europe, now R1a (Aryans) as the Yammna culture, latter Corded ware (battle axe culture) … and the Arbins (R1b) as the bell beakers, coming out of Lisbon, Portugal, the Tagus river estuary and kicked started by the Zambujal and VNSP civilization (or Oestrimni for that matter), the first western European super power.  Just because the R1b, bell beaker didn’t make huge monument for prosperity, I doesn’t mean they were not highly developed as the Hittites discovery story has so decisively shown us. It’s not all about big pyramids that make a civilization noteworthy and remarkable. Just reading the Hittites and how they come from a bible entity to be the intricate and elaborate civilization we now know they were. They were a fable until someone translate the writing. Them it is mind bogging how exceptional they were…. Some say, just another R1b population that stayed behind, but that are not the one I want to talk about, I want to talk about the ones that kept running… the L278  (that is an early Y-Dna mutation of the male R1b). That arrive in a flash to the Iberia peninsula. Half a millennia more or half a millennia less (although I discover later that it was a not so easy ride). The story is a continuum, and when they finally became the bell beaker, it was a race throughout Europe, the R1b occupying the territory as they moved from the west and the R1a as steppe warriors coming from the east. Truth is the R1b stood as de dominant genetic Haplogroup in western world and the R1a as the dominant Haplogroup on the Eastern Europe. One clearly stopped the other.


But going back to the 6th millennium BC, 8 thousand years ago…


Those people, either already later mutations or just with M343 (so very early SNP mutation)   or not, probably due to the 8.3Kiloyear event, or maybe just because the Holocene had already melted too much and uncover too much of the rivers and the plains that those R1b felt compelled to move south. Some just follow the river  Volga while other turn all the way east moving around the east side of the Caspian sea and making a blob of R1b north of Iran and the other following the river or maybe a mix of the two just settle in the southern Caucasus to what is today South Georgia, Armenia and west Azerbaijan. Or maybe some actually came from much closer from the Dnieper basin and just crossed the mountains.

Not crucial to our story and at a point in time and space, they just were. Just themselves. People with a specific frame of mind, specific traits and sense of themselves.

 Maybe whilst all bunch of other were moving from the south to what is today Syria and Iraq, other moving from Anatolia (today Turkey), which I do not have a slightest idea, the people I am talking about just …were with very particular. It would be a misleading to go that avenue of sociologic interpretations, but their demeanors were unique and probable the reason behind so much grievance in the future.  And I mean they were not the most developed, nor the most complex people or even, compared to their cousins from the other side of the river, the most aggressive I figure. I imagine all those  people from the Haplogroup G2a, the men that represent the neolithic farmers, replete with that basal Eurasian DNA didn’t really find those people particular singular or noticeable. If anything it felt like people that stubbornly kept to themselves.  And later when J1/J2 (whichever) came with Ubaid period they were not the more aggressive or organized to be able to fight for the territory.  If I had to pick a parallelism would in a heartbeat choose gypsies.  I’ve known quite a few, saw how they camp, dwell and kept introspectively and interoceptively (which is different) to themselves.  So, what made Shulaveri singular?  -  They seemed to own the terrain for as much usage and extraction of it that they could and they showed a remarkable tendency for individualism (shown by architecture) in a time when collectivism seemed to be about to be the builder of civilizations. If one had to give them a brand it would be masters of domestication.  Of plants and animals.


Let’s focus on the task.


From the beginning. Prior to the appearance of the Shulaveri the land was of the chokh cultures and those were divergent. People who lived mostly of the best utilization they could of the fauna and flora resources available to them. Basically smallish settlements of primitive ensemble were people lived mostly in one or two impressively over 60 meters big adobe houses, with a single fireplace in the center where extended clan lived together under de same roof. They were the “people of one house”. Not at all like the Shulaveri-Shomu


I am 100% sure if someone really digs into it (which I won’t) will find the origin of the SSC around the Dnieper-Donets basin but I still bet on mid Volga (either left or right) and probably as the climate change of the around 8 thousand years ago (8.2 Kiloyear) made these sort of transhumance people to move south (landscape changes came from the south) and get around the midsection of the Caucasus. Wherever you read about their appearance in the 6 millennium BC the words mysterious or unresolved is used. Anyway, not the object of my interest. Suddenly they just got there and they were different from the substrate or milieu of the times they landed on. There is no denying some relationship with cultures of Northern Mesopotamia, meaning probably they came around the eastern part of the Caspian and ended up a bit north inside the Caucasus. The all SSC is so new that new classifications are being build. Some of the latest field work is defining even better the SSC by contrast even with contemporary settlements not that far way, further south, on the Mil plain next to the Araxes River that extends into Iran. Those there, lack most if not all the hallmarks of the Shulaveri. As Lyonnet puts it:


“…contrast with the rectangular architecture constructed  at the Mil Plain sites. Even the concept of the building material differs, as in Aruchlo hand-shaped and  straw-tempered mudbricks were the standard, while  the bricks used in Kamiltepe were dug fresh from the ground and were used untampered and without previous kneading” in  Ancient Kura 2010–2011: The first two seasons  of joint field work in the Southern Caucasus.



Other examples exist. For instance Shulaveri where full obsidian industry while guys at south were also heavy on flint.


That is how singular those houses and settlements represent in the area. Actually the disappearance of the shulaveri in Mentesh tepe, the longest occupied settlement for almost 2,000 years sees the replacement of the circular SSC huts with the rectangular houses coming from people of the south.

the Shulaveri-Shomu, upon emerging  suddenly in the area, choose the foothill (never that high) near a river (essentially the Kura river) to settle from anew (no previous inhabitants) and make those small 5 meters (actually more around 4.6m) mudbrick singular (or family) half sunken huts or houses, so demarked by a not too deep negative structure (made a diameter hole in the ground), about 30 cm mudbrick base foundations and the generally adobe , wattle and daub, tholoi like house did the rest with mud to which was added straw or other organic material to give consistency (usually called pisé). Next to those they built smaller similar houses of around 1,5m to 2m tops in diameter silos for storage. And they built lots of silos. It was clearly the first signs of the cultura de silos and round houses castros of Iberia which I think endure until the round keltoi and villages of the celts.


Since the offset they built bent walls connecting the round houses and silos.  Noticeable with several Pits and ditches in the living surroundings, and some with inhumations in it or just next to it. Those settlements had a central area, most time with a “courtyard” (formed by those bent walls), sometimes with a heath or fireplace to artisan work. Contrary to others they tend to bury their love ones in “house” or nearby the house of the settlement in round pits and the children were already buried in individually in a crouch position like latter we would see the bell beaker do (and many others).  Some others were buried in ditches.  Remarkably those were permanent settlements (structured like that from the beginning) and they lasted for mostly millennia.

Their trade mark was agriculture. But were also intense Sheppard and herdsmen, most likely not transhumance (changing sites with the cattle) but really pastoral and had already domesticated horses, those famous original wild horses the Tarpans that you will see are pivot to this story, to help them out. This is important, having the knowledge of how to successfully capture, tame and breed horses is one of the tell tales of this all chapters that will follow and never to forget the first horse to show “bit wear” was a 5 year old stallion from Armenia 4000 BC (at Mokhrablur, Armenia 100km from Shulaveri site itself) . And to get to horse bit wear… probably riding a horse was something they would be doing for a while until figuring out that a rope or stick trough the mouth was a better way to control a horse.


Then, also seemed to be extensively farmers shown by the staggering amount of cereals cultivated and virtuous hunters as well. Fauna, domestic and wild, was abundant ranging from Bos Taurus, pigs, to sheep and deer (antlers), and naturally dogs where already part of their daily live. Of course, they are now famous for grape farming and the first wine production culture as well as for long prismatic blades and awls. On a lateral note those beads that I still think have a story of its own to tell.

At time of ending of their era is common to find copper residues.


Back to business, there is a statement by K. Kh. Kushnareva in his book that sums it up real good:

“Like in so many places around the Neolithic prior to the appearance of the Shulaveri Shomu, people seemed to live in small communal of agriculturalist and when one looks at the architecture for houses it really comprised of a largish tholoi like house where everybody lived, with a centered fired in the middle where everybody gather around and it really was the family or the fire people as we can learn from the Chokh sites. Not more than 30 people living together.

Not the Shulaveri, they were different. Contrary to what one would finds earlier, the overall structure formed an interconnected complex, with housing for livestock, storage pits, clay fireplaces inside the house and outdoor ovens. Those small single houses interconnect to form a larges structure and living complex, sometimes joined by a curved wall.  At a point those settlements formed a Hierarchy of settlements, most with around 400 people and it seemed to have some sort of Hierarchy.”


It’s this last point that most intrigued me in this passage. While researching this was at the time very important to start defining my Shulaveri.

So, especially in papers published in the last 5 years, it’s becoming visible some social structured that encompass the Shulaveri culture.

One noteworthy thing, as it will also be ostensive as we go to the later chapters, when we jump in time and space to Portugal, to the lowlands of Xerez valley in Alentejo, prior to the occurrence of the Bell beakers, and concerning the interconnectivity of settlements, it all makes more sense if we talk a bit about 3 settlements here in the Kura valley.

If one looks at the Shulaveri-Shomu region map in the Caucasus and you will notice clustered together the settlements Shulaveri gora, khrimis gora e irimis gora.  As Carolina Hamon describes it in her conclusions, or K. Kh. Kushnareva in the book  “The Southern Caucasus in Prehistory (…)” will tell you, those 3 settlements formed an interdependent and sort of artisan specialized system by settlement and already hierarchical dependent to larger sites.  Just as the bigger ARUCHLO I forms the “big city” for those 3 settlements and other cluster further east (Shomutepe, Gargalartepesi, Toiretepe) is hierarchical dependent on the much bigger Goytepe. What it means is that one finds reported the same specialization and site Hierarchy, with generically the same descriptions, in the Portuguese Alentejo settlements next to the Guadiana River. All seem to have some visual contact between them and lithic tools are not proportionally abundant in the different places. Some have abundant grinders, other adzes others are more specialized in hunting, others more pastoral, and so forth.


There is also the “off place”, let’s called it that way, in both valleys.  At Kamiltepe, further southeast from these clusters, towards Iran, we have a site with a system of several concentric ditches witch Lyonnet describes a  …

The MPS, 4 concentric ditch system is a type of monument so far not known anywhere in the Southern Caucasus, and its function remains entirely enigmatic at the moment


… well, when we move to the Xerez lowlands and Alamo valley in Alentejo, Portugal, the exact same description will occur with a 12 concentric ditch system which is the now famous Portuguese late Neolithic/chalcolithic Perdigoes Site. Exactly the same description.



Let’s pause… 

Now, before moving on. And as a take way point:

Around 5 meter in diameter houses, 1.5 meter silos, rounded walls connecting and forming inner courtyard with pits and side Heaths, external ovens near the walls. Where have we seen these? – You’ve figure it out by now. Just say it.  Build a defense wall extending those inner round wall and you have a CASTRO. Yeah, I‘ve said. What are the differences between these sites and the fortified sites built by the bell beaker all over Europe starting just after a thousand years?  These are Proto-bell beaker castros built thousands of years earlier in the Caucasus. Yeah, I said it! (my Chris Rock impersonation)





And this leads to another, of many “coincidences” we will see next.  Just an example. It has been several times described as a note the profusion of Ochre grinding in some SSC sites that do not have a correspondence in wall or floor paintings or even in pottery decoration. So… what was that Ochre used for? To me it’s was obvious as soon as I read it - Body painting. It became obvious when at Alentejo sites (actually inhumations) it’s reported in a Nature paper that “Chronic mercury exposure in Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic populations in Portugal from the cultural use of cinnabar” … to body paint.  Yes, the Shulaveri-Shomu used Ochre to paint the body (hence so much Ochre grinding at khrimis gora)  as some pastoralists in Africa do today, and for what here is concerned the Iberian chalcolithic (or the descends of the Shulaveri-Shomu) did with Cinnabar in Iberia.

If one lets its mind wander, for instance those reported in some SSC sites of “Undetermined perforated cobbles” are also later found in cluster of settlements near the Guadiana River…. And they also don’t know what they were for! My guess is as good as any other… but I also have kids and if there is something kids like is to imitate adults with adult tools and make stuff only they find real interesting. 

Anyway, at least in Neolithic Caucasus and chalcolithic southern Iberia. Which, by the way, should have a name of their own, to be identified by -  Maybe I prior to the Caucasus Iberia (Western Georgia) and prior to the back to same place Iberia of today? Confusing. Chalcolithic Iberia is too vague, let’s just called it… Oestrimni.


Back to IV millennium BC in the Caucasus theme.

 As they came so the Shulaveri-Shomu disappeared.  Sort of Abruptly. At least as a culture highly sedentary. Some defend, and actually might even still be considered the official version being that for some reason those population became naturally increasingly nomad and abandoned their millenary sites. As a natural phenomenon. So the sites were abandoned. Some to never have again have any resettlement by anyone in the upcoming centuries and millennia. Others taken by the SIoni culture, viewed as a transaction between the SSC and the Kura Araxes cultures… but not that much. Different everything: Different pottery, different houses (rectangular)… the Shulaveri-Shomu were gone.

At this point is important to define something. When I say  Shulaveri-Shomu naturally we’re not just talking about the SS sites whose final definition is in its infancy, but the region that shared roughly the same characteristics, notwithstanding the purity of culture of the Shulaveri we must include the people of the Mil steppe(at least part), Mughan Plain (Alikemek-Tepesi) and Ararat Plain. Especially here, farther south at the Nakhichevan region that shared the same traits -  But most imperative that lair really central caucasus, like a column in the middle of the Caucasus is who I think were the source, or the bulk of, the migrating nomads that we are addressing and will travel with. Especially, and above all, the Shulaveri (the last to be overtaken), but also the guys in the Ararat Plain (Kmlo, Aratashen and Aknashen-Khatunarkh). Regionalists and nationalism apart, these are whom we should be calling Shulaveri-Shomu.  True, most of the populations at the fringe were more permeable to “convert” but this guys in the middle didn’t seem to have had that luck.  And one should always remember, a fact not so often reported, that soon after the disappearance of the agro-pastoral Shulaveri is immediately follow by the popup of settlements with defense walls in the region (*99), burials far from the settlement (unlike the Shulaveri), in big artificial mounds (Kurgans), and so forth. Those defense walls surely implies a not so natural fading for those people. Actually, during the 3rd millennium the region was marked by established tribes that attacked each other’s constantly for land grabbing (*99) and obviously some were R1b, Former Shulaveri-Shomu tribes fighting their way (although there is likewise a strong possibility they all left). But the people of the Family nucleus round Dwellings, the Silos Culture (1.5 meters round silos), the domestication experts of plants and animals, beads lovers, they were just gone.


Gone transformed into what? Maybe a Berber type of culture?  Is it even possible that the fate of the Shulaveri-Shomu was actually a similar fate of the Berbers by the hand of the Islamic invasion?  Like in North Africa, all that genetic and cultural structure is pretty much gone, today being part of the general genetic makeshift of the region. 

Anyway moving to where? Most likely trough Africa and them also suddenly to Europe in a flash (as a flood... of people).  

One thing is for sure. Pressured by some sort of revolution or evolution that led to Mesopotamia, the Uruk, then slurred and embroiled in the “Khirbet Kerak problem” more to the west (the early Transcaucasia ware in Syria and Israel “problem”), or at same points intertwined with the characterization of the later Neolithic or chalcolithic in Israel or Palestinian archeological sites, whatever happened - they could have been there for a while. Maybe not more than one or two generation and something made them move forth leaving behind smallish sites of round houses in Israel (which I found with tell Tsaf!) .  Sure, some, if not lots of them, may have stayed behind and probably show up in history at specific points. But they, at least as a patrilineage of Y-Dna R1b, didn’t prevalence.


But a story is a story. In real live lets never forget that there are 3 survival strategies. Fight, Flee and stand still.  So let’s not forget that some, if not a lot, just stayed or remained either on the Dagestan mountains, just a few miles north and next to the shores of the Caspian and there still stand being easily recognized, as per paper Journal of Human Genetics paper from Caciagli et al (2009) being today all those Bagvalins (70% R1b!!!) of the mountains of Dagestan, the so called Dagestan auls or south running or pretending to be invisible.

Others even assumedly remained and mixed with the invading cultures to become part of the Kura-araxes and today exist as the Armenians of the Ararat valley in Armenia, the Tabassarans and even further south Ossetes .

So no mystery. Like normal people in other events in time and places they stayed, made due with the situation and survived.

It was just at the end of the investigation that I figure how clear is has always been and rushed to investigate and write the rest of this part (read later Suppl I – Chapter- those who fled the S…)


The once vast land of the R1b Shulaveri, north of the Halaf culture and Hussuna-Samarra people, were no more.





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