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It became known from excavations in the Minusinsk area of the Krasnoyarsk Krai, southern Siberia, but the culture was also widespread in western Mongolia, northern Xinjiang, and eastern and central Kazakhstan, with connections or extensions in Tajikistan and the Aral area.
The economy seems to have been semi-nomadic pastoralism, with cattle, ovicaprids and horse remains being documented, along with those of wild game.
The culture is mainly known from its inhumations, with the deceased buried in conic or rectangular enclosures, often in a supine position, reminiscent of the Yamna burials, but there are a number of settlements as well. Metal objects and the presence of wheeled vehicles are documented.
The burials bear a remarkable resemblance to those much further west in the Yamna culture, the Sredny Stog culture, the Catacomb culture and the Poltavka culture, all of which are believed to be Indo-European in nature, particularly within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis as put forward by Marija Gimbutas and her followers. Kozshin (1970) has identified perforated horn pieces as riding bits, but this claim has been disputed.
Its relationship to the later, more westerly Andronovo culture is difficult to characterize.
- H. P. Francfort, The Archeology of Protohistoric Central Asia and the Problems of Identifying Indo-European and Uralic-Speaking populations (review)
- Kozshin, P, "O psaliach is afanasievskih mogil", Sovetskaya Archeologiya 4, 189–93 (1970)
- Einführung in die Ethnologie Zentralasiens Marion Linska, Andrea Handl, Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek (2003) (.doc version)
- Mallory, J. P. (1997), "Afanasevo Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn .
- Mallory, J. P.; Mair, Victor H. (2000), The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, London: Thames & Hudson .