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Conventional archaeological understanding tended to date at around 2000-2500 BC. However radiocarbon gave dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains. The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.
Mass graves were not usual for this culture. Afanasevo cemeteries include both single and small collective burials with the deceased usually flexed on their back in a pit. The burial pits are arranged in rectangular, sometimes circular, enclosures marked by stone walls. It has been argued that the burials represent family burial plots with four or five enclosures constituting the local social group.
The Afanasevo economy included cattle, sheep, and goat. Horse remains, either wild or domestic, have also been found. The Afanasevo people became the first food-producers in the area. Tools were manufactured from stone (axes, arrowheads), bone (fish-hooks, points) and antler. Among the antler pieces are objects that have been identified as possible cheek-pieces for horses. Artistic representations of wheeled vehicles found in the area has been attributed to the Afanasevo culture. Ornaments of copper, silver and gold have also been found.
At Afanasevo Gora, two strains of Yersinia pestis have been extracted from human teeth. One is dated 2909-2679 BCE; the other, 2887-2677 BCE. Both are from the same (mass) grave of seven people, and are presumed near-contemporary. This strain's genes express flagellin, which triggers the human immune response; so it was not a bubonic plague.
Allentoft et al. (2015) published a genetic study including four females from the Afanasievo culture. Two individuals carried mtDNA haplogroup J2a2a, one carried T2c1a2, and one carried U5a1a1. The authors found that the Afanasievo were "genetically indistinguishable" from the Yamnaya culture. The results indicated that the expansion of the ancestors of the Afanasievo people into the Altai was carried out through "large-scale migrations and population displacements", without admixture with local populations. The Afanasievo people were also found to be closely related to the Poltavka culture. The authors conclude that the Afanasievo people were Indo-Europeans, perhaps ancestors of the Tocharians.
Narasimhan et al. (2019) analyzed the remains of 24 individuals ascribed to the Afanasievo culture. Of the 14 samples of Y-DNA extracted, 10 belonged to R1b1a1a2a2, 1 to R1b1a1a2a, and 3 belonged to Q1a2. The mtDNA samples belonged to subclades of U (particularly of U5), along with T, J, H and K. The authors interpreted these results as evidence for a migration from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.
Avoiding some double countings, as of 2021 there have been 18 finds of R1b, 3x Q1(b), 1x J1, and a late of C2.
Possible links to other cultures
Because of its numerous traits attributed to the early Indo-Europeans, like metal-use, horses and wheeled vehicles, and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, the Afanasevans are believed to have been Indo-European-speaking. Genetic studies have demonstrated a discontinuity between Afanasievo and the succeeding Siberian-originating Okunevo culture, as well as genetic differences between Afanasievo and the Tarim mummies.
Numerous scholars have suggested that the Afanasevo culture was responsible for the introduction of metallurgy to China.
The Afanasevo culture was succeeded by the Okunev culture, which is considered as an extension of the local non-Indo-European forest culture into the region. The Okunev culture nevertheless displays influences from the earlier Afanasievo culture. The region was subsequently occupied by the Andronovo, Karasuk, Tagar and Tashtyk cultures, respectively.
Allentoft and coauthors (2015) study also confirms that the Afanasevo culture was replaced by the second wave of Indo-European migrations from the Andronovo culture during late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.[note 2]Tarim mummies were also found to be genetically closer to the Andronovo culture than to the Yamnaya culture or Afanasevo culture.
^According to Allentoft and coauthors (2015): "Afanasievo culture persisted in central Asia and, perhaps, Mongolia and China until they themselves were replaced by fierce warriors in chariots called the Sintashta (also known as the Andronovo culture)".
^Hollard, Clémence; et al. (2018). "New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations". Am J Phys Anthropol. 167 (1): 97-107. doi:10.1002/ajpa.23607. PMID29900529.