Pit-Graves, Yamnaya and Kurgans along the Lower Danube: Disentangling IVth and IIIrd Millennium BC Burial Customs, Equipment and Chronology

Alin Frinculeasa, Bianca Preda, Volker M Heyd

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The Pit-Graves under burial mounds (Kurgans) of the Lower Danube region are being assessed in terms of their burial customs, funeral equipment, stratigraphy and radiocarbon dates. The latter comprise 17 recently performed AMS dates from Northern Muntenia, most of them yet unpublished. Two distinct burial groups can be separated: A first consists of graves with more oval than rectangular grave-pits, predominantly side-crouched body positions of the deceased, few ochre, and rare but seemingly local pots. Graves of this group are mostly the primary graves in their mounds. By using some already published and the newly obtained 14C dates from the graves 3B and 5B of Aricești IV (and partly grave 2/3 of Păuleşti II), all jud. Prahova, we demonstrate this group to date to before c. 3050/3000 cal BC, probably covering the whole last third of the IVth millennium BC. The second group presents all characteristics of the classical ’Yamnaya’, i.e. primary and secondary graves, predominantly rectangular grave-pits covered by wooden beams, and supine body positions with flexed legs, ochre patches and/or lumps, and sparse equipment of those occasional precious-metal hair rings stand out. Pottery is again rare; but when vessels are given they often represent cord-decorated beakers, resembling very much the typical Corded Ware beakers of Central and Northern Europe. Graves of this group have normally 14C dates after c. 3050/3000 cal BC with a tentative possibility to further divide them along the flat and steep parts of the calibration curve, i.e. firstly from c. 3050/3000 to 2880 cal BC and then from c. 2880 to 2580 cal BC. This perhaps opens the possibility to eventually define an earlier and later ’Yamnaya’. Overall, and after examining more than 500 radiocarbon and/or dendrochronological dates from the Ural to the Tisza river, the pit-grave cultural phenomenon ranges from c. 3500 to 2400 cal BC. By including the preceding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka graves (Vth mill. BC) and some Kurgan/steppe burials attributed to Cernavoda I and its relatives (1st half of IVth mill. BC), a 2,000 years lasting continuum of exchange between the northeast, north and west-Pontic regions becomes evident. While we assume the ‘Yamnaya’ being mostly covered by an intense wave of migrant people from the east, in a novel socio-economic-ideological athmosphere, it remains to be seen whether the first Pit-Graves under Kurgans at the Lower Danube from c. 3300 cal BC are also carried by steppe people related to those using the north-Pontic Nizhne-Mikhailovka and Kvityana burial traditions, or by local populations integrating new ‘eastern’ burial customs into their own rituals. Perhaps a combination of both is the most likely scenario.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-113
JournalPraehistorische Zeitschrift
Issue number1-2
Early online date1 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • tumuli
  • graves
  • inhumations
  • grave-goods
  • stratigraphies
  • radiocarbon
  • Pit-Grave
  • Yamnaya


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