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19 January 2019
New excavation season at a prehistoric settlement in the Urals

Archaeologists from Goethe University will be returning to the Urals for further research work. In collaboration with researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Russian colleagues, they want to find out what could have led to major transformations in the way of life there in the second millennium BCE.
     The aim of the project is to reconstruct demographic processes and settlement structures in the late Bronze Age up to the transition to the Iron Age - what is known as the post-Sintashta-Petrovka period. Artefacts discovered so far have shown that the southern Trans-Ural region at the dividing line between Europe and Asia on the northern edge of the Eurasian Steppe constitutes a unique cultural landscape.
     Superb Bronze and Iron Age monuments, such as burial mounds ('kurgans') and settlements, show that this was a centre of economic development and sociocultural processes that already began in the third millennium BCE. After the decline of fortified settlements, the housing structure changed and 'open' settlements with terraced houses without fortifications emerged. Russian research dates these settlements to the middle of the second millennium BCE, i.e. the Late Bronze Age.
     During the research phase that lasted from 2008 to 2014, Professor RĂ¼diger Krause devoted himself above all to the fortified settlements of the Sintashta-Petrovka period (around 2000 BCE). Characteristic for this culture were early chariots, intensive copper mining and substantial bronze production.
     Attention has now shifted to various other archaeological sites of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the microregion at the confluence of the Yandyrka and Akmulla rivers and the upper end of the Karagaily-Ayat valley. How have settlement structures evolved? How was the landscape used as the economic foundation for livestock farming? And how have funeral customs changed? The intention is to study the demographic processes underlying all this in the course of the project, using not only palaeogenetic techniques but also archaeological excavations, geophysical surveys, interpretation of the material culture and archaeobotany.
     In the framework of this project, the palaeogenetics experts from Mainz will examine the question of to what extent genetic influences from Europe or the central Asian steppe coincide with the cultural transformation to be observed in the Trans-Ural region. Was it foreigners who introduced the change? Or did regional cultural developments take place here? How have demography and population structure changed over the millennia? To find answers to these questions, the researchers from Mainz will use high-resolution sequencing to study the genomes from the project's archaeological sites and analyse them with statistical methods they have developed themselves.

Edited from Goethe University (17 January 2019)

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