Geographical sites:

  • Samara (click here to focus in map) (see also GeoNames #499096)
    Geonames_icon Samara stream Geocontext: Europe/Samara
  • Dnieper River (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #226544)
    Pleiades_icon Borysthenes fl. river Geocontext: Dnieper
    Description: The Dnieper River.


Text #9397

"Samara Culture", in Wikipedia.

The Samara culture was a Neolithic culture of the late 6th and early 5th millennium BC at the Samara bend region of the middle Volga, discovered during archaeological excavations in 1973 near the village of Syezzheye (Съезжее) in Russia. The valley of the Samara river contains sites from subsequent cultures as well, which are descriptively termed “Samara cultures” or “Samara valley cultures”. Some of these sites are currently under excavation. “The Samara culture” as a proper name, however, is reserved for the early Eneolithic of the region.

“Eneolithic” has a similar equivocal meaning. It might be considered a western derivative of Scythians. The Samara culture is considered the eneolithic culture of the region, along with the subsequent Khvalynsk culture and the still later early Yamna culture. These are termed the early, middle (or developed), and late Eneolithic, respectively, with the substitution of period for culture; e.g., the Samara period. “Eneolithic” as a common name refers to any culture in the eneolithic stage of tool development. It does not refer to a timeframe.

These three cultures (the Samara, and successors the Khvalynsk and early Yamna) have roughly the same range. Marija Gimbutas was the first to regard it as the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language and to hypothesize that the Eneolithic culture of the region was in fact Proto-Indo-European. If this model is true, then the Samara culture becomes overwhelmingly important for Indo-European studies.

Most Indo-europeanists before Gimbutas had hypothesized these stages of development:

  • formation in a homeland on the steppes.
  • diaspora into Europe, the middle east, and the central Asian subcontinent.
  • formation of daughter languages over the now far-flung range.

Gimbutas applied the term kurgan (“mound”) to the cultures of the diaspora phase. Developed kurgans do not appear in the Eneolithic culture, but there are signs of their development occurring.

The Samara period is not as well excavated or as well known as the other two. Gimbutas dated it to 5000 BC. The archaeological findings seem related to those of the Dnieper-Donets culture, with the noteworthy exception of horse burials, the earliest in the Old World. Grave offerings included ornaments depicting horses. The graves also had an overburden of horse remains; it cannot yet be determined decisively if these horses were ridden or not, but they were certainly used as a meat-animal.

The range of the Samara culture is the forest-steppe terrain of the middle Volga, but the North Caspian culture of the lower Volga is early Eneolithic as well. In the context of the Kurgan hypothesis, this range is regarded as a convenient place for speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language to have exchanged some lexical items with Uralic-language-speakers. As a cross-roads between east and west, north and south, it must have received influences and stimulation from many peoples. Moreover, such a location would require a value orientation toward war and defense, which we know the Indo-Europeans had. They were a warrior culture. They invaded cultures that Gimbutas claims were not bellicose in nature, despite non-hunting weapons found in graves.

Pottery consists mainly of egg-shaped beakers with pronounced rims. They were not able to stand on a flat surface, suggesting that some method of supporting or carrying must have been in use, perhaps basketry or slings, for which the rims would have been a useful point of support. The carrier slung the pots over the shoulder or onto an animal. Decoration consists of circumferential motifs: lines, bands, zig-zags or wavy lines, incised, stabbed or impressed with a comb. These patterns are best understood when seen from the top. They appear then to be a solar motif, with the mouth of the pot as the sun. Later developments of this theme show that in fact the sun is being represented. The religion even from the outset worshipped the light. Graves

Graves are shallow pits for single individuals, but two or three individuals might be placed there. Some of the graves are covered with a stone cairn or a low earthen mound, the very first predecessor of the kurgan. The later, fully developed kurgan was a hill on which the deceased chief might ascend to the sky god, but whether these early mounds had that significance is doubtful. Sacrificial objects

The culture is characterized by the remains of animal sacrifice, which occur over most of the sites. Typically the head and hooves of cattle, sheep and horses are placed in shallow bowls over the human grave, smothered with ochre. Some have seen the beginning of the horse sacrifice in these remains, but this view has not been more definitely substantiated. We know that the Indo-Europeans sacrificed both animals and people, but so did many other cultures.

The graves yield well-made daggers of flint and bone, placed at the arm or head of the deceased, one in the grave of a small boy. Weapons in the graves of children are common later.

Other weapons are bone spearheads and flint arrowheads.

Other carved bone figurines and pendants were found in the graves. Most controversial are bone plaques of horses or double oxen heads. They are pierced. There is no indisputable evidence of riding. However, the large numbers of horse bones from later in the Eneolithic resemble a kill site, but the sites are settlement sites.


J. P. Mallory, “Samara Culture”, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

Marija Gimbutas, “The Civilization of the Goddess”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991,

Text #9415

"Dnieper–Donets culture", in Wikipedia.

The Dnieper–Donets culture (ca. 5th—4th millennium BC) was a Mesolithic culture in the area north of the Black Sea/Sea of Azov between the Dnieper and Donets River, and bordering the European Neolithic area.

There are parallels with the contemporaneous Samara culture. The Dnieper–Donets culture was succeeded by the Yamna culture.

It was a hunter-gatherer culture that made the transition to early agriculture. The economic evidence from the earliest stages is almost exclusively from hunting and fishing.

Inhumation was in grave pits, with the deceased being covered in ochre. Burial was sometimes individual, but larger groupings are more common, with burials being carried out sequentially in the same grave.

There are parallels with the contemporaneous Samara culture, and a larger horizon from the lower half of Dnieper to the mid-to-lower Volga has been drawn, particularly by the advocates of the Kurgan hypothesis as expounded by Marija Gimbutas. Dmitry Telegin (ru) assigns them to a broad cultural region that spanned the Vistula in Poland southeast to the Dnieper. Mallory includes this area within the limits of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. The precise role of this culture and its language to the derivation of the Pontic-Caspian cultures such as Sredny Stog and Yamna culture, is open to debate, though the display of recurrent traits points either to long-standing mutual contacts or underlying genetic relations.

The physical remains recovered from graves have been described as typically Europoid. They are predominantly characterized as late Cro-Magnons with more massive and robust features than the gracile Mediterranean peoples of the Balkan Neolithic.

The early use of typical point base pottery interrelates with other Mesolithic cultures that are peripheral to the expanse of the Neolithic farmer cultures. The special shape of this pottery has been related to transport by logboat in wetland areas. Especially related are Swifterbant in the Netherlands, Ellerbek and Ertebølle in Northern Germany and Scandinavia, “Ceramic Mesolithic” pottery of Belgium and Northern France (including non-Linear pottery such as La Hoguette, Bliquy, Villeneuve-Saint-Germain), the Roucedour culture in Southwest France and the river and lake areas of Northern Poland and Russia.

Besides a western extension to the middle Dniester down to the mouth of the Danube, it occupied the western third of the area of the later Yamna culture.


J. P. Mallory (1989), In Search of the Indo-Europeans

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.