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Elena E. Kuzmina (edited by J.P. Mallory). The Origins of the Indo-Iranians.

ELENA E. KUZMINA (edited by J.P. MALLORY). The Origins of the Indo-Iranians. xviii+762 pages, 132 figures. 2007. Leiden: Brill; 978-90-04-16054-5 hardback 139 [euro] & US$195.

The book under review summarises the results of many years' work by Elena Kuzmina, the eminent Russian archaeologist who has devoted her life to the study of Eurasian cultures and the origins of the Indo-Iranians. The historiography of this topic is vast, involving a range of disciplines--archaeology, linguistics, anthropology, mythology, ethnography, history--producing a number of alternative hypotheses. They can be reduced to two major groups: the Near Eastern hypothesis, most systematically articulated by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1984), and the European or Eurasian hypothesis, supported by many Russian and some Western scholars, including Mallory (1989). A crucial element of the latter is the interpretation of the Andronovo archaeological culture (family of cultures, or cultural intercommunity), whose sites lie within a huge territory behind the Urals.


The book gives a clear introduction into this topic, and outlines its basic task: 'a thorough comparison of the linguistic and archaeological data and the assessment of the ethnic attribution of the Andronovo Culture' (pp. xv-xvi). It should be stressed that the idea of a connection between this culture and the ancient Indo-Iranians is the thread that runs through the whole book. In order to ground this idea and explode the Near Eastern hypothesis, Kuzmina has collected, classified, compared, and summarised a huge amount of archaeological data, including that obtained from her own fieldwork; this is then examined against written records, linguistic and ethnographic data relating to the material culture of the Indo-Iranians, as well as anthropological (craniological) data. Her argumentation is based on a retrospective method, which involves 'establishing the genetic connections of a culture with a subsequent one, whose ethnic identity is known from written sources" (p. 15). In this case it proposes a genetic connection between the Iron Age nomads (Scythians, Sakas, Sarmatians, who presumably spoke eastern Iranian languages) and the cultures of Bronze Age Eurasia (mainly the Timber-Grave and Andronovo cultures). My impression is that this connection is not as strongly established in the book as other aspects.

Overall, the book can be regarded as a classic example of the culture-historical approach. Professor Kuzmina, well aware of the complications and weak points in ethnic reconstructions based on archaeological material, thus devotes her chapter 2 to the methodological aspects of ethnocultural reconstructions and focuses on the synthetic concept of 'archaeological cultures'. Theoretical aspects of migration are also explored in chapter 16 when considering the stages and types of migrations of pastoral groups within Eurasia.

The first part of the book is entirely devoted to the presentation and analysis of the Andronovo culture, introducing the reader to the complicated vocabulary of interrelated cultures and cultural types covered by the Andronovo umbrella. The impressive results achieved by Kuzmina in this part relate to her comparative analysis of settlement patterns within the Andronovo area, which contrasts with Near Eastern settlement and house types. The same can be said for pottery production. She proposes that the direction of an Aryan southward movement can be traced from the diffusion of central Eurasian house-types (pp. 55-8) and hand-made ceramics of Andronovo (Fyedorovo) type. Great attention is paid to Bronze Age transport, specifically to the origins of light chariots (a characteristic attribute of the culture of the ancient Indo-Iranians according to ancient texts), rightly regarded as a revolutionary technological invention. Although this question is ' highly debatable, the author, synthesising various data, favours the Eurasian steppe as the most appropriate zone where this event might have taken place. She concludes: ' The process of ethnogenesis in the steppes in the 2nd millennium BC was of autochthonous character, involving integration and migration, which was strengthened in the 17th-16th centuries BC, probably because of the appearance of chariot and bronze casting' (p. 206).

Had they been supported by a stronger chronology the results presented in the book might have been more convincing. The author's reasoning still relies on traditional dates, though she is well aware of the importance of new [sup.14]C dates, which recent research is producing in increasing numbers (see Appendices 1 and 2).

Professor Kuzmina devotes several chapters to the cultures of Central Asia, which are of key importance for understanding possible 'scenarii' of interrelations between indigenous populations and migrating groups from the Andronovo area. Neither does she neglect the origins of Turbino-Seyma metallurgy, which is, in her opinion, 'a result of the interaction between the population of Eastern Europe (above all, Abashevo and, partially, Catacomb tribes) and early Andronovo tribes of the Fedorovo type in eastern Kazakhstan' (p. 253). The latter, together with the Afanas'evo groups, were also responsible for the appearance of tin and new metal tools in China.

A substantial part of the book (chapters 23-26) is devoted to the author's model for the genesis of different branches of the Indo-Iranians, supported by further detail and polemic argumentation, leading Professor Kuzmina to present a panorama of cultural processes which might have taken place within the vast Eurasian space over several millennia.

In conclusion I should say that this book is not easy to read, but persistent and interested readers will be rewarded by a deep knowledge of the numerous phenomena which Indo-European studies seek to understand.


GAMKRELIDZE, N.V. & V.V. IVANOV. 1984. Indoyevropeyskiy yazyk i indoyevropeytsy (Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans). 2 volumes. Tbilisi: Izd-vo Tbilisskogo universiteta.

MALLORY, J.P. 1989. In search of the Indo-Europeans: language, archaeology and myth. London: Thames & Hudson.


Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural State University, Ekaterinburg, Russia

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Author:Koryakova, Ludmila
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Date:Jun 1, 2008
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