In recent years, the controversy around the origin of the North Pontic Scythianshas become rather acute among physical anthropologists (Yablonsky, 2000;Kozintsev, 2000; Kruts, 2004). One of the key issues concerns the biologicalhomogeneity of this group. S.G. Yefimova (2000), who, like L.T. Yablonsky (2000),advocates the idea that Scythians were autochthonous and biologically homogeneous,has nevertheless convincingly revealed marked cranial differences between Scythiansof the steppe and those of the forest-steppe. In her view, these differences do notdisprove the local origin of the Scythians and are due to the biological diversity of theTimber-grave (Srubnaya) people, who, according to Yefimova and Yablonsky, wereancestral to all Scythians, as well as to microevolutionary processes that affected primarily the steppe populations. According to an alternative view, the differences aremostly explained by the affinities of the steppe Scythians with nomadic populationsliving in more eastern areas of Eurasia – Sacae, Sauromatians, early Sarmatians(Kruts, 2004) or with the inhabitants of Tuva (Kozintsev, 2000). Both principalgeographic groups of the Scythians – those of the steppe and those of the forest-steppe – appear to be heterogeneous as well.
Apparently, then, the use of the pooled Scythian cranial series is no longer justified. It is even not enough to use the two pooled geographical samples (from thesteppe and from the forest-steppe), as I did in my previous article (Ibid.). Theimmediate task is to examine the internal and external affinities of each localScythian population. The work in this direction has already been started by S.G.Yefimova (2000) and S.I. Kruts (2004).The present article is based on a huge new sample of cranial material from the North Pontic region, dating from both the Scythian period (Early Iron Age) and theBronze Age. Most specimens were studied by S.I. Kruts, whose tireless efforts overseveral decades have greatly augmented our understanding of the population historyof Eastern Europe, and who has generously allowed me to use her unpublished data.It can be hoped that the analysis of local Scythian populations will help us tounderstand both the origins of this people and the factors behind their biologicaldifferentiation. If the principal factor of the observed diversity was microevolution,one can hardly expect that separate Scythian populations would be especially close tonon-Scythian ones by chance, since, theoretically, microevolutionary processes suchas brachycephalization and gracilization cannot result in incidental similarities between unrelated groups over an entire set of traits. This is self-evident with regardto random processes. Therefore, if such similarities are observed, it is more probablethat they reflect true affinities.An additional reason for undertaking the present study was the recentappearance of important archaeological and biological facts which concern theancient Indo-Europeans of Eastern Central Asia and prompt us to revise certainscholarly assumptions.
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