Amorites and Yamnaya: parallels


When I finished my previous post on Funnelbeaker hunter-gatherers, I became inspired to write more. So, here are my thoughts.

To me, the situation regarding the hunter-gatherers from Europe, their cultural absorption of skill set and technology from Anatolian farmers, mirrors the situation in the Middle East, with what happened with regards to the Amorite invasions of late 3rd to early 2nd millennia BC.

First thing first: It seems likely that, what gave rise to the “circum-Arabian nomadic pastoral complex” (CANPC) happened very similarly: it was the Afro-Asiatic hunter-gatherers’ interaction with first Anatolian farmers that allowed them to develop into herders post-6000 BC.

I will now advance an even bolder theory of mine (inspired by my father’s book): akin to the Yamnaya, sans the horse, the late Bronze Age Canaanites were, in fact, a merger (albeit a very violent one) between two cultures: Anatolian-derived farmers who came into the area of Transjordan around 3300 BC and the first Semitic tribes who invaded around 2100 BC, to found “House of Joseph,” or what came to be known later as the Northern Israelites. Well ok, the farmers, technically, returned, because their Natufian ancestors lived there well before that, leaving due to climactic changes. The Semitic invaders were a northern branch of the CANPC, a branch that before 2100 BC was thriving in the area around Harran (this locale is most likely the Israelites’ origin, according to Igor Lipovsky’s book: “Israel and Judah: How Two People Became One”).

The farmers who came into Canaan around 3300 BC, were most likely related to either Hurrians or Hattians or even a combination of the two (as I’ve promised earlier, I still intend to post on these two, plus proto-Hurrian connection with Yamnaya via Maykop). Along, these settlers were bringing their gods (the famous Anatolian-derived, Hatti/Minoan weather-god symbolized by bull; what was later Semitized into “Baal”), metallurgy and, yes, sedentary farming. Most intriguingly, in addition to the above two, they were bringing with them fortified-wall building tech, as is attested by archaeological evidence of first Canaan towns. This fact makes me suspect that at least a non-trivial component of these farmers was actually Hurrian/Urkeshian, and that they have had experience with proto-Indo-European Yamnaya, either directly or via interaction via their brethren in Maykop. Possibly, some of them were either pushed out of Urkesh or were from even more northerly locations, all the way in the steppe areas bordering North Caucusus, as after 3400 BC these areas were undergoing aridization and increased military pressures from Yamnaya culture people.

The Amorite tribes who invaded Canaan a bit after 2200 BC (coinciding with the 4.2 kiloyear event) where, essentially warring, nomadic shepherds from Northwest Mesopotamia and even further west, . Interestingly, their invasions of Canaan, Akkad and Babylon are concurrent with the establishment of the Early Helladic III period in the Mycenae, a time of arrival of Indo-Europeans into latter and the beginning of takeover of what was then Minoan-like civilization in the Peloponnese.  This  suggests that major changes were afoot, and peoples, especially nomadic ones, were experiencing unique circumstances that pushed them into forming large scale alliances, to make migration into less-arid zones possible. These Northwest-Mesopotamian herders were bringing with them their gods: mainly, what is known as El/Adad/Amurru. What else were they bringing: warrior spirit and a uniquely nomadic-pastoralist group cohesion.

Contrary to some literature, the Canaanites suffered most of the destruction not from the climactic change, but from the violent invasion of Semitic barbarians (at the time they were).

Nonetheless, it’s highly possible that pockets of farmers in Canaan remained and intermarried with the herders, who started ruling them. We know that the latter situation took place in Sumer/Akkad.

This brings to mind Maykop: Greg Cochran links the myth of Æsir–Vanir War to the steppe, Samara-derived people conquering North Caucasian farmers to form Maykop culture (which gave rise to and culturally influenced Yamnaya). Well, similar happened circa 2150 BC in Canaan and Akkad, more than a millennium after the Maykop collision: just like the Yamnaya went on to become proto-Indo-Europeans, the southwestern branch of the expansion of Amorites came to form the kernel of proto-Israelites: culturally and genetically.

I don’t claim that these processes were identical, but this post’s goal is about underscoring the fact that a parallel between the two is real, nonetheless.

Remark: I mentioned only Northern “House of Joseph.” The Southerners, what came to be known as “House of Jacob” (per Igor Lipovsky), arrived a couple of centuries later, circa 19th century. They were close Amorite relatives of northern tribes, and occupied the lands in Southern Canaan. Their escape and invasion is most likely due to Indo-European proto-Hittite groups beginning to establish themselves in Anatolia, including pastures around Harran.

A bit more on Funnelbeaker



This post is a correction on what I posted earlier.

After further reading, it appears that my information on Funnelbeaker/TRB is subject to debate.  Although Lengyel is still mostly LBK-affine, I was wrong, in the same vein, on it being a Maykop-farmer-like, proto-Indoeuropeanized culture (though Baden culture that replaced it is indeed a PIE-derived culture).

Let me list first what I did state correctly:

  • Funnelbeaker does appear to be a rather different culture from LBK.
  • Funnelbeaker, where evidence exists of farming, does appear to be less sophisticated than LBK’s, with constant moving even when sedentary (due to soil exhaustion).
  • Funnelbeaker did, in effect, destroy LBK: culturally, and at least partly genetically (possibly fully, too; see below).

Now, for where I was incorrect:

  • Funnelbeaker is probably not Samara-derived and, if it is, not directly. It looks like it is a derivation Ertebølle culture, from North Europe.
  • It is unlikely to be a pastoralist culture, as no evidence is yet found of horse-oriented economy.

Now, for the main question: did the almost complete genetic destruction of LBK in the North European Plain happen via Funnelbeaker or via Corded Ware/Yamnaya, after 3000 BC?

The answer is: I don’t really know, but it’s possible that I was correct in my previous post, despite being wrong about pastoralist nature underpinning the story. Albeit the megalith-building Funnelbeaker’s mtDNA appears to have a high LBK component, something like  > 40%, it is plausible that this component is a backflow from Lengyel culture, from the Danubian world, which was LBK-based. (Coincidentally, I stand by what I observed about Lengyel in the last post, regarding its connection to LBK).

Either way, we can say with a lot of certainty that a culture does not suddenly go from more sophisticated to more primitive non-violently. It looks like Funnelbeaker, being hunter-gatherer derived, is a major reversion from LBK lifestyle, that Funnelbeaker is a successful resurgence of hunter-gatherers in the North European Plain.

The resurgent hunter-gatherers are no longer as primitive as the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer Europeans. They, by 4500 BC, have absorbed enough husbandry tech and skill sets to become herders on their own right.

Still the mystery remains: the LBK were superior to the hunter-gatherers in smarts and tech. Obviously, what happened to them means that they were either less capable militarily or, possibly, were simply overwhelmed.

Again, I should reiterate here that a sedentary lifestyle requires great ability to protect settlements, as they are vulnerable to mobile groups using nasty tactics like fire or just purposeful destruction of agrarian plots (say, via trampling).

I still can’t say exactly what happened. Internal cultural decline? Just unlucky?

My best guess right now is that when the hunter-gatherers were mostly hunters, gatherers and fishers, it was relatively easy for LBK farmers to “squeeze in,” founding discrete settlements around rivers, on periglacial loess. The surrounding hunter-gatherers fought with them, but they were not as developed technologically, plus they most likely did not critically need those lands, or, at least, as much as the farmers did. Moreover, the former instead could engage in some form of trade, seeing that these two groups’ lifestyles differed so significantly. Over subsequent centuries of interaction, hunter-gatherers absorbed some technology and cultural ideas from farmers (possibly genes, too) and, most importantly, became herders (non-horse kind), and the situation changed. Now access to flat land and to rivers became critically important to these upgraded hunter-gatherers-cum-herders. Plus, as technologically hunter-gatherers became less primitive, they did not need as much from farmers, item-wise. Hence, whatever trade existed between those two groups became less important in the calculus of expansion. The stage was set for destruction of LBK on the North European Plain.

If I was right in my previous post about almost-complete annihilation of northern LBK, the ultimate irony of Yamnaya horse-driven invasion cannot be missed: one set of ex-hunter-gatherers-cum-herders replacing another.