The Catacomb culture (c. 2800-2200 BC) is a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day eastern Ukraine and southern Russia.
The culture applied cord-imprinted decorations to its pottery and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East. It was preceded by the Yamnaya culture. The Catacomb culture in the Pontic steppe was succeeded in the west by the Multi-cordoned ware culture from c. 22nd century BC, and the Srubna culture from c. the 17th century BC.
The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamnaya culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the "catacomb". Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.
In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased's face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon (see also Tashtyk culture).
The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.
The origin of the Catacomb culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus gives three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamnaya Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin. The culture is first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East.
Excavations in 2012 of 26 mounds near Storozhove village in Chutove Region of Poltava Oblast revealed three layers of Catacomb culture archaeology. The earliest were the burials of the 'Donetsk' phase of Catacomb culture (also known as Dnieper-Donets culture); the dates were 3050-2190 cal BC [: dates do not match D-D culture]. Then came the burials of 'Inhul' phase (named after Inhul river). Later material belonged to Berezhnivsko-Maivska type of Srubna culture (Timber-grave) (1880-1530 cal BC).
The Catacomb culture was replaced by the Srubna culture from c. 17th century BC.
The language of the Catacomb culture must naturally remain unknown. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is speculated about, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Albanian and Armenian (perhaps Paleo-Balkan) dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.
More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamnaya cultures of c. 3200-2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Balkan-Indo-European-"Iranian" ancestors, and the Catacomb culture (to c. 2500 BC) that of the then still unified Indo-Iranians. However, according to recent glottochronological computations, these splits occurred much earlier.
Grigoryev's (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.