The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished ca. 2000–900 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon.
The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.
Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe.
According to genetic study conducted by Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo culture and the preceding Sintashta culture are partially derived from the Corded Ware culture, given the higher proportion of ancestry matching the earlier farmers of Europe, similar to the admixture found in the genomes of the Corded Ware population.
The name derives from the village of Andronovo, Krasnoyarsk Krai (55°53′N 55°42′E), where the Russian archaeologist Arkadi Tugarinov discovered its first remains in 1914. Several graves were discovered, with skeletons in crouched positions, buried with richly decorated pottery. The Andronovo culture was first identified by the Russian archaeologist Sergei Teploukhov in the 1920s.
At least four sub-cultures of the Andronovo horizon have been distinguished, during which the culture expands towards the south and the east:Sintashta-Petrovka-Arkaim (Southern Urals, northern Kazakhstan, 2200–1600 BCE)
the Sintashta fortification of ca. 1800 BCE in Chelyabinsk Oblast
the Petrovka settlement fortified settlement in Kazakhstan
the nearby Arkaim settlement dated to the 17th century
Alakul (2100–1400 BCE) between Oxus and Jaxartes, Kyzylkum desert
Alekseyevka (1300–1100 BCE "final Bronze") in eastern Kazakhstan, contacts with Namazga VI in Turkmenia
Ingala Valley in the south of the Tyumen Oblast
Fedorovo (1500–1300 BCE) in southern Siberia (earliest evidence of cremation and fire cult)
Beshkent-Vakhsh (1000–800 BCE)
The geographical extent of the culture is vast and difficult to delineate exactly. On its western fringes, it overlaps with the approximately contemporaneous, but distinct, Srubna culture in the Volga-Ural interfluvial. To the east, it reaches into the Minusinsk depression, with some sites as far west as the southern Ural Mountains, overlapping with the area of the earlier Afanasevo culture. Additional sites are scattered as far south as the Koppet Dag (Turkmenistan), the Pamir (Tajikistan) and the Tian Shan (Kyrgyzstan). The northern boundary vaguely corresponds to the beginning of the Taiga. In the Volga basin, interaction with the Srubna culture was the most intense and prolonged, and Federovo style pottery is found as far west as Volgograd. Mallory notes that the Tazabagyab culture south of Andronovo could be an offshoot of the former (or Srubna), alternatively the result of an amalgamation of steppe cultures and the Central Asian oasis cultures (Bishkent culture and Vaksh culture).
In the initial Sintastha-Petrovka phase, the Andronovo culture is limited to the northern and western steppes in the southern Urals-Kazakhstan. Towards the middle of the 2nd millennium in the Alakul Phase (2100–1400 BC), the Fedorovo Phase (1400–1200) and the final Alekseyevka Phase (1400–1000), the Andronovo cultures begin to move intensively eastwards, expanding as far east as the Upper Yenisei in the Altai Mountains, succeeding the non-Indo-European Okunev culture.
In southern Siberia and Kazakhstan, the Andronovo culture was succeeded by the Karasuk culture (1500–800 BCE). On its western border, it is succeeded by the Srubna culture, which partly derives from the Abashevo culture. The earliest historical peoples associated with the area are the Cimmerians and Saka/Scythians, appearing in Assyrian records after the decline of the Alekseyevka culture, migrating into Ukraine from ca. the 9th century BCE (see also Ukrainian stone stela), and across the Caucasus into Anatolia and Assyria in the late 8th century BCE, and possibly also west into Europe as the Thracians (see Thraco-Cimmerian), and the Sigynnae, located by Herodotus beyond the Danube, north of the Thracians, and by Strabo near the Caspian Sea. Both Herodotus and Strabo identify them as Iranian.
The Andronovo culture consisted of both communities that were largely mobile as well as those settled in small villages. Settlements are especially pronounced in its Central Asian parts. Fortifications include ditches, earthen banks as well as timber palisades, of which an estimated twenty have been discovered. Andronovo villages typically contain around two to twenty houses, but settlements containing as much as a hundred houses have been discovered. Andronovo houses were generally constructed from pine, cedar, or birch, and were usually aligned overlooking the banks of rivers. Larger homes range in the size from 80 to 300 sqm, and probably belonged to extended families, a typical feature among early Indo-Iranians.
Andronovo livestock included cattle, horses, sheep, goats and camels. The domestic pig is notably absent, which is typical of a mobile economy. The percentage of cattle among Andronovo remains are significantly higher than among their western Srubna neighbours. The horse was represented on Andronovo sites and was used for both riding and traction. Agriculture also played an important role in the Andronovo economy. The Andronovo culture is notable for regional advances in metallurgy. They mined deposits of copper ore in the Altai Mountains from around the 14th century BC. Bronze objects were numerous, and workshops existed for working copper.
The Andronovo dead were buried in timber or stone chambers under both round and rectangular kurgans (tumuli). Burials were accompanied by livestock, wheeled vehicles, cheek-pieces for horses, and weapons, ceramics and ornaments. Among the most notable remains are the burials of chariots, dating from around 2,000 BC and possibly earlier. The chariots are found with paired horse-teams, and the ritual burial of the horse in a "head and hooves" cult has also been found.
At Kytmanovo in Russia between Mongolia and Kazakhstan, dated 1746–1626 BCE, a strain of yersinia pestis was extracted from a dead woman's tooth in a grave common to her and to two children. This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response. However, by contrast with other prehistoric yersinia pestis bacteria, the strain does so weakly; later, historic plague does not express flagellin at all, accounting for its virulence. The Kytmanovo strain was therefore under selection toward becoming a plague (although it was not the plague). The three people in that grave all died at the same time, and the researcher believes that this para-plague is what killed them.
A large group of scholars associate the Andronovo culture with the Indo-Iranians (Aryans); it is often credited with the invention of the spoke-wheeled chariot around 2000 BCE. The association between the Andronovo culture and the Indo-Iranians is corroborated by the distribution of Iranian place-names across the Andronovo horizon and by the historical evidence of dominance by various Iranian peoples, including Saka (Scythians), Sarmatians and Alans, throughout the Andronovo horizon during the 1st millennium BC.
The Sintashta on the upper Ural River, noted for its chariot burials and kurgans containing horse burials, is considered the type site of the Sintashta culture, and it is conjectured that the language spoken was still in the Proto-Indo-Iranian stage.
Comparisons between the archaeological evidence of the Andronovo and textual evidence of Indo-Iranians (Vedas and Avesta) are frequently made to support the Indo-Iranian identity of the Andronovo. The modern explanations for the Indo-Iranianization of Greater Iran and the Indian subcontinent rely heavily on the supposition that the Andronovo expanded southwards into Central Asia or at least achieved linguistic dominance across the Bronze Age urban centres of the region, such as the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex. While the earliest phases of the Andronovo culture are regarded as co-ordinate with the late period of Indo-Iranian linguistic unity, it is likely that in the later period they constituted a branch of the Iranians.
The identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian has been challenged by scholars who point to the absence of the characteristic timber graves of the steppe south of the Oxus River. Sarianidi (as cited in Bryant 2001:207) states that "direct archaeological data from Bactria and Margiana show without any shade of doubt that Andronovo tribes penetrated to a minimum extent into Bactria and Margianian oases".
Based on its use by Indo-Aryans in Mitanni and Vedic India, its prior absence in the Near East and Harappan India, and its 16th–17th century BCE attestation at the Andronovo site of Sintashta, Kuzmina (1994) argues that the chariot corroborates the identification of Andronovo as Indo-Iranian. Klejn (1974) and Brentjes (1981) find the Andronovo culture much too late for an Indo-Iranian identification since chariot-using Aryans appear in Mitanni by the 15th to 16th century BCE. However, Anthony & Vinogradov (1995) dated a chariot burial at Krivoye Lake to around 2000 BCE.
Eugene Helimski has suggested that the Andronovo people spoke a separate branch of the Indo-Iranian group of languages. He claims that borrowings in the Finno-Ugric languages support this view. Vladimir Napolskikh has proposed that borrowings in Finno-Ugric indicate that the language was specifically of the Indo-Aryan type.
Since older forms of Indo-Iranian words have been taken over in Uralic and Proto-Yeniseian, occupation by some other languages (also lost ones) cannot be ruled out altogether, at least for part of the Andronovo area: i. e., Uralic and Yeniseian.
The Andronovo have been described by archaeologists as exhibiting pronounced Europoid features. A 2004 study also established that, during the Bronze/Iron Age period, the majority of the population of Kazakhstan (part of the Andronovo culture during Bronze Age), was of West Eurasian origin (with mtDNA haplogroups such as U, H, HV, T, I and W), and that prior to the thirteenth to seventh century BC, all Kazakh samples belonged to European lineages. Other studies confirm, that during Bronze Age in areas to the north of present-day China, the boundary between Europoid and Mongoloid populations was on the eastern slopes of the Altai, in Western Mongolia. Some Europoid influence extended also into Northeast Mongolia, and the population of present-day Kazakhstan was Europoid during the Bronze/Iron Age period. Archaeological investigations likewise suggest, that in the steppe region of Central Asia and the Altai Mountains, the first food production began towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC and that the peoples who first entered this region were Europoids of the Afanasevo culture who came from the Aral Sea area (Kelteminar culture).
In 2009, a genetic study of ancient Siberian cultures, the Andronovo culture, the Karasuk culture, the Tagar culture and the Tashtyk culture, was published in Human Genetics. Ten individuals of the Andronovo horizon in southern Siberia from 1400 BC to 1000 BC were surveyed. Extractions of mtDNA from nine individuals were determined to represent two samples of haplogroup U4, one sample of Z1, one sample T1, one sample of U2e, one sample of T4, one sample of H, one sample of K2b and one sample of U5a1. Extractions of Y-DNA from one individual was determined to belong to Y-DNA haplogroup C (but not C3), while the other two extractions were determined to belong to haplogroup R1a1a, which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. Of the individuals surveyed only two (or 22%) were determined to be Mongoloid while seven (or 78%) were determined to be Europoid, with the majority being light-eyed and light-haired.
In June 2015, another genetic study surveyed one additional male and three female individuals of Andronovo culture. Extraction of Y-DNA from this individual was determined to belong to R1a1a1b2a2 (Z93- clade: Z2121). Extractions of mtDNA were determined to represent two samples of U4 and two samples of U2e.