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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 568
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  • Book Info
    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language
    Book Description:

    Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagelifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.

    Linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language, David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony also describes his fascinating discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding.

    The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagesolves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3110-4
    Subjects: Archaeology, Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. PART ONE Language and Archaeology

    • Chapter One The Promise and Politics of the Mother Tongue
      (pp. 3-20)

      When you look in the mirror you see not just your face but a museum. Although your face, in one sense, is your own, it is composed of a collage of features you have inherited from your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. The lips and eyes that either bother or please you are not yours alone but are also features of your ancestors, long dead perhaps as individuals but still very much alive as fragments in you. Even complex qualities such as your sense of balance, musical abilities, shyness in crowds, or susceptibility to sickness have been lived before....

    • Chapter Two How to Reconstruct a Dead Language
      (pp. 21-38)

      Proto-Indo-European has been dead as a spoken language for at least forty-five hundred years. The people who spoke it were nonliterate, so there are no inscriptions. Yet, in 1868, August Schleicher was able to tell a story in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, called “The Sheep and the Horses,” orAvis akvasas ka. A rewrite in 1939 by Herman Hirt incorporated new interpretations of Proto-Indo-European phonology, and the title becameOwis ek’woses-kwe. In 1979 Winfred Lehmann and Ladislav Zgusta suggested only minor new changes in their version,Owis ekwoskwe. While linguists debate increasingly minute details of pronunciation in exercises like these, most people...

    • Chapter Three Language and Time 1: The Last Speakers of Proto-Indo-European
      (pp. 39-58)

      Time changes everything. Reading to my young children, I found that in mid-sentence I began to edit and replace words that suddenly looked archaic to me, in stories I had loved when I was young. The language of Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne now seems surprisingly stiff and distant, and as for Shakespeare’s English—we all need the glossary. What is true for modern languages was true for prehistoric languages. Over time, they changed. So what do we mean by Proto-Indo-European? If it changed over time, is it not a moving target? However we define it, for how long...

    • Chapter Four Language and Time 2: Wool, Wheels, and Proto-Indo-European
      (pp. 59-82)

      If Proto-Indo-European was dead as a spoken language by 2500 BCE, when was it born? Is there a dateafter whichProto-Indo-European must have been spoken? This question can be answered with surprising precision. Two sets of vocabulary terms identify the date after which Proto-Indo-European must have been spoken: words related to woven wool textiles, and to wheels and wagons. Neither woven wool textiles nor wheeled vehicles existed before about 4000 BCE. It is possible that neither existed before about 3500 BCE. Yet Proto-Indo-European speakers spoke regularly about wheeled vehicles and some sort of wool textile. This vocabulary suggests that...

    • Chapter Five Language and Place: The Location of the Proto-Indo-European Homeland
      (pp. 83-101)

      The Indo-European homeland is like the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, a legend of the American West, discovered almost everywhere but confirmed nowhere. Anyone who claims to know itsreallocation is thought to be just a little odd—or worse. Indo-European homelands have been identified in India, Pakistan, the Himalayas, the Altai Mountains, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, the Balkans, Turkey, Armenia, the North Caucasus, Syria/Lebanon, Germany, Scandinavia, the North Pole, and (of course) Atlantis. Some homelands seem to have been advanced just to provide a historical precedent for nationalist or racist claims to privileges and territory. Others are enthusiastically zany. The debate,...

    • Chapter Six The Archaeology of Language
      (pp. 102-120)

      A language homeland implies a bounded space of some kind. How can we define those boundaries? Can ancient linguistic frontiers be identified through archaeology?

      Let us first define our terms. It would be helpful if anthropologists used the same vocabulary used in geography. According to geographers, the wordborderis neutral—it has no special or restricted meaning. Afrontieris a specific kind of border—a transitional zone with some depth, porous to cross-border movement, and very possibly dynamic and moving. A frontier can be cultural, like the Western frontier of European settlement in North America, or ecological. An...

  2. PART TWO The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes

    • Chapter Seven How to Reconstruct a Dead Culture
      (pp. 123-133)

      The archaeology of Indo-European origins usually is described in terms that seem arcane to most people, and that even archaeologists define differently. So I offer a short explanation of how I approach the archaeological evidence. To begin at the beginning, surprisingly enough, we must start out in Denmark.

      In 1807 the kingdom of Denmark was unsure of its prospects for survival. Defeated by Britain, threatened by Sweden, and soon to be abandoned by Norway, it looked to its glorious past to reassure its citizens of their greatness. Plans for a National Museum of Antiquities, the first of its type in...

    • Chapter Eight First Farmers and Herders: The Pontic-Caspian Neolithic
      (pp. 134-159)

      At the beginning of time there were two brothers, twins, one named Man (*Manu, in Proto-Indo-European) and the other Twin (*Yemo). They traveled through the cosmos accompanied by a great cow. Eventually Man and Twin decided to create the world we now inhabit. To do this, Man had to sacrifice Twin (or, in some versions, the cow). From the parts of this sacrificed body, with the help of the sky gods (Sky Father, Storm God of War, Divine Twins), Man made the wind, the sun, the moon, the sea, earth, fire, and finally all the various kinds of people. Man...

    • Chapter Nine Cows, Copper, and Chiefs
      (pp. 160-192)

      The Proto-Indo-European vocabulary contained a compound word (*weikpotis) that referred to a village chief, an individual who held power within a residential group; another root (*reģ-) referred to another kind of powerful officer. This second root was later used forkingin Italic (rēx), Celtic (rīx), and Old Indic (raj-), but it might originally have referred to an official more like a priest, literally a “regulator” (from the same root) or “one who makes thingsright” (again the same root), possibly connected with drawing “correct” (same root) boundaries. The speakers of Proto-Indo-European had institutionalized offices of power and social ranks,...

    • Chapter Ten The Domestication of the Horse and the Origins of Riding: The Tale of the Teeth
      (pp. 193-224)

      In the summer of 1985 I went with my wife Dorcas Brown, a fellow archaeologist, to the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania to ask a veterinary surgeon a few questions. Do bits create pathologies on horse teeth? If they do, then shouldn’t we be able to see the signs of bitting—scratches or small patches of wear—on ancient horse teeth? Wouldn’t that be a good way to identify early bitted horses? Could he point us toward the medical literature on the dental pathologies associated with horse bits? He replied that there really was no literature on the...

    • Chapter Eleven The End of Old Europe and the Rise of the Steppe
      (pp. 225-262)

      By 4300–4200 BCE Old Europe was at its peak. The Varna cemetery in eastern Bulgaria had the most ostentatious funerals in the world, richer than anything of the same age in the Near East. Among the 281 graves at Varna, 61 (22%) contained more than three thousand golden objects together weighing 6 kg (13.2 lb). Two thousand of these were found in just four graves (1, 4, 36, and 43). Grave 43, an adult male, had golden beads, armrings, and rings totaling 1,516 grams (3.37 lb), including a copper axeadze with a gold-sheathed handle.¹ Golden ornaments have also been...

    • Chapter Twelve Seeds of Change on the Steppe Borders: Maikop Chiefs and Tripolye Towns
      (pp. 263-299)

      After Old Europe collapsed, the dedication of copper objects in North Pontic graves declined by almost 80%.¹ Beginning in about 3800 BCE and until about 3300 BCE the varied tribes and regional cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppes seem to have turned their attention away from the Danube valley and toward their other borders, where significant social and economic changes were now occurring.

      On the southeast, in the North Caucasus Mountains, spectacularly ostentatious chiefs suddenly appeared among what had been very ordinary small-scale farmers. They displayed gold-covered clothing, gold and silver staffs, and great quantities of bronze weapons obtained from what...

    • Chapter Thirteen Wagon Dwellers of the Steppe: The Speakers of Proto-Indo-European
      (pp. 300-339)

      The sight of wagons creaking and swaying across the grasslands amid herds of wooly sheep changed from a weirdly fascinating vision to a normal part of steppe life between about 3300 and 3100 BCE. At about the same time the climate in the steppes became significantly drier and generally cooler than it had been during the Eneolithic. The shift to drier conditions is dated between 3500 and 3000 BCE in pollen cores in the lower Don, the middle Volga, and across the northern Kazakh steppes (table 13.1). As the steppes dried and expanded, people tried to keep their animal herds...

    • Chapter Fourteen The Western Indo-European Languages
      (pp. 340-370)

      We will not understand the early expansion of the Proto-Indo-European dialects by trying to equate language simply with artifact types. Material culture often has little relationship to language. I have proposed an exception to that rule in the case of robust and persistent frontiers, but that does seem to be an exception. The essence of language expansion is psychological. The initial expansion of the Indo-European languages was the result of widespread cultural shifts in group self-perception. Language replacement always is accompanied by revised self-perceptions, a restructuring of the cultural classifications within which the self is defined and reproduced. Negative evaluations associated...

    • Chapter Fifteen Chariot Warriors of the Northern Steppes
      (pp. 371-411)

      The publication of the bookSintashtain 1992 (in Russian) opened a new era in steppe archaeology.¹ Sintashta was a settlement east of the Ural Mountains in the northern steppes. The settlement and the cemeteries around it had been excavated by various archaeologists between 1972 and 1987. But only after 1992 did the significance of the site begin to become clear. Sintashta was a fortified circular town 140 m in diameter, surrounded by a timber-reinforced earthen wall with timber gate towers (figure 15.1). Outside the wall was a V-shaped ditch as deep as a man’s shoulders. The Sintashta River, a...

    • Chapter Sixteen The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes
      (pp. 412-457)

      Between about 2300 and 2000 BCE the sinews of trade and conquest began to pull the far-flung pieces of the ancient world together into a single interacting system. The mainspring that drove inter-regional trade was the voracious demand of the Asiatic cities for metal, gems, ornamental stones, exotic woods, leather goods, animals, slaves, and power. Participants gained access to and control over knowledge of the urban centers and their power-attracting abilities—a source of social prestige in most societies.¹ Ultimately, whether through cultural means of emulation and resistance or political means of treaty and alliance, a variety of regional centers...

    • Chapter Seventeen Words and Deeds
      (pp. 458-466)

      The Indo-European problem can be solved today because archaeological discoveries and advances in linguistics have eaten away at problems that remained insoluble as recently as fifteen years ago. The lifting of the Iron Curtain after 1991 made the results of steppe research more easily available to Western scholars and created new cooperative archaeological projects and radiocarbon dating programs. Linguists like Johanna Nichols, Sarah Thomason, and Terrence Kaufman came up with new ways of understanding language spread and convergence. The publication of the Khvalynsk cemetery and the Sintashta chariot burials revealed unsuspected richness in steppe prehistory. Linguistic and archaeological discoveries now...

  3. Appendix Author’s Note on Radiocarbon Dates
    (pp. 467-470)