Saturday, September 27, 2014

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

Book Review: The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

This may be the best book that integrates the linguistics and archaeology of those people who spoke Proto-Indo-European languages. It covers the vast and variable cultures and horizons that occupied the Eurasian steppes and adjacent forests and river valley areas over a period of about 5000 years.

The author first notes that archaeology is a way to connect to our far distant ancestors, as most of us have lost connection even with our near ancestors. Our languages derive from the languages of ancestors and their essence lives on in our words in a sense. Archaeology explores the daily life of peoples of the past. Due to scant evidence, there is often much speculation about the past but the speculation here is plausible and supported by evidence. The author thinks it is now basically resolved: 1) who spoke Proto-Indo-European, 2) where it was spoken, and 3) when it was spoken. He is in agreement with several others that the so-called Indo-European homeland was in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas in modern-day Ukraine and Russia.

He begins with a short history of IE studies including the politics and search for an idealized ancient ethnicity among some biased researchers and nationalists. Indo-European is not an ethnicity but rather a series of related languages and cultural traditions. The various IE languages branched off of PIE at different times and places and the author gives some great cultural clues as to why, when, and where these splits may have occurred. Many PIE root-words have been reconstructed based on linguistic principles. Some of these have been more or less confirmed by archaeological evidence through discovered inscriptions of early IE branches such as Hittite. Linguistics in addition to archaeology has uncovered much about PIE speakers. The author notes that the PIE lexicon suggests that they:

“… inherited their rights and duties through the father’s bloodline only (patrilineal descent); probably lived with the husband’s family after marriage (patrilocal residence); recognized the authority of chiefs who acted as patrons and givers of hospitality for their clients; likely had formally instituted warrior bands; practiced ritual sacrifices of horses and cattle; drove wagons; recognized a male sky deity; probably avoided speaking the name of the bear for ritual reasons; and recognized two senses of the sacred (“that which is imbued with holiness” and “that which is forbidden”).

The big sky in the flat steppe lands may have inspired the veneration of a sky god.

The evidence suggests that IE languages replaced non-IE languages rather than mixing with them – likely for cultural necessity reasons, including conquest. It also suggests that IE languages came from PIE as a “mother tongue.” In order to solve these issues it has been necessary to integrate linguistics and archaeology. Although it has been recognized that it is difficult and often impossible to tie cultures to languages, according to the author there are situations where they can be correlated, namely where a material-cultural frontier overlaps a linguistic frontier over a long period of time. These situations are probably rare but at the border areas to the steppes, he argues, there was a long overlap. The people who spoke PIE, he says, lived in a critical time in a strategic place.

The author also explores important technological and cultural issues such as the domestication of the horse, the development of spoked wheels, and of chariots used for warring.

Interestingly, he suggests that the loss of linguistic diversity – and the success of IE languages – may have “narrowed and channeled habits of perception in the modern world,” by making us pay attention to tense and singular or plural with our words. That is how we frame our events when speaking about them. Other languages frame events in different ways and such framing becomes habitual.

The big question is how language changes through time. The author refers to the work of James Mallory, trained in both linguistics and archaeology, as one who has bridged the gap somewhat between the two disciplines. Linguistics has revealed that there is order to language change and how languages change can be predicted successfully. Syntax, morphology, phonology, and lexicon (vocabulary) all influence the rules of language. Which IE languages are older and which developed from which can be reasonably determined through linguistics. The author goes into some detail about how PIE, a long dead language, was reconstructed. Sounds need to be reconstructed as well as meanings. Meanings of roots of a word can help verify the reconstruction. He gives an interesting example of the etymology of the word “wheel” in IE languages and shows how it developed from previous IE root words. Though he does not think the PIE people invented the wheel, he thinks it likely that their discovery of it involved only a brief encounter with another culture so that they made their own word for it instead of adopting the word from others. IE grammars have been found to be undoubtably related to a shared previous model so there is little doubt about IE languages coming from one main PIE language, although some certainly branched off at different times and so from different time versions of PIE.

In order to find who were the last speakers of PIE the author delves more into linguistics and glottochronology – the speed at which language changes. There is much debate about this. Research from rate of change of what is thought to be core PIE vocabulary suggests that PIE first split around 3000 BC. However, the author notes that the Anatolian branch consisting of Hittite, Luwian, and Pallaic probably branched off earlier – 3500-4500 BC, although some favor the Indo-Hittite hypothesis. This suggests that the Anatolian branch split even earlier from a pre-PIE language. The evidence is mainly linguistic and grammar peculiarities. Inscriptions of Mycenaean Greek and Old Indic in the late 1400s BC show that those languages were well aged by then. Indo-Iranian is thought to be older than Old Indic, harkening back to a point when the two cultures were one and the same before the Zoroastrian split between 1200 and 1000 BC when Avestan language branched off. If Old Indic was extant by 1500 BC then Indo-Iranian must be older. Proto Indo-Iranian is dated 2000 BC or earlier. Pre-Indo-Iranian is thought to have been an eastern dialect of PIE and probably existed by 2400 BC. The terminal date of PIE is thought to be about 2500 BC. Interestingly, heroic poetry of the Indo-Iranians and Greeks shows some near-identical features such as the notion of the sacrifice of a hundred cattle and the archetypal warrior with a club (Indra, Herakles), the sacred twins, the horse goddess, the hell hound, and the god of flocks – all of which shared cognates in their names. The language tree given suggests that Anatolian branched, then Tocharian, then Italo-Celtic, then Germanic/Baltic/Slavic, then Greek, then Indo-Iranian.

IE and reconstructed PIE words for wool and wheel are examined in order to determine when the wheel was invented, when woven wool came about (likely from the Caucasus area), and the earliest date for PIE. He shows that the words for wheel are probably better at dating than those for wool. He suggests that wheeled vehicles were not around before 4000 BC and likely came about around 3500 BC. The cultural significance of the wheeled vehicle is that it allowed hauling of grain, manure, hay, firewood, lumber, clay, hides, leather, and people. Wagons allowed much to be moved and likely helped in making megaliths and earthworks which also show community cohesion. On the steppes, wagons allowed animal herders to move the camps easier and so tend larger herds. The invention of wheeled vehicles has been classified as part of the Andrew Sherratt’s Secondary Products Revolution (SPR) that is given for 3500-3000 BC. The plow, wool sheep, dairying, and the beginning of horse transport are also part of the SPR. Sherratt thought that all these innovations began and spread from the Near East but that is not the case. Horse domestication, as the author later demonstrates, was a local innovation in the steppes. Much older plows have been found. By 3000 BC, wheel and axle technology was all over Europe.

It was Colin Renfrew who proposed that Indo-Hittite was spoken by the first wave of agriculturalists that came to Greece and lands north from Anatolia beginning around 6500 BC. While this would explain some of the archaic conventions of the Anatolian branch of IE it is not generally accepted seriously. The author criticizes Renfrew’s farmer language dispersal hypothesis as did many others including James Mallory. Anthony here shows through accepted linguistic principles that the terminology for wagons indicates that these words had to come about before the splitting of PIE. He picks apart Renfrew’s hypothesis and shows why the bulk of it is not plausible. One key debunker of Renfrew’s hypothesis is the wagon vocabulary of PIE which had to have occurred millennia later than Renfrew’s ideas suggest. Anthony gives the window of 4500 BC to 2500 BC for when PIE was spoken. He suggests an Archaic PIE was spoken before 4000 BC that is partly preserved in the Anatolian branch. Early PIE was spoken between 4000 and 3500 BC and is partly preserved in Tocharian. Late PIE was spoken between 3500 and 3000 BC and is responsible for the Italic and Celtic wagon wheel vocabularies. Pre-Germanic split around 3300 BC, pre-Greek split about 2500 BC, pre-Baltic split from pre-Slavic about 2500 BC, and pre-Indo-Iranian developed between 2500 and 2200 BC from northern dialects.

He notes that the idea of a PIE “homeland” is a bit deceiving as it may change through time. Most research suggests a “homeland” across the Pontic-Caspian steppes and adjacent areas of modern day Ukraine and Southern Russia between 3500 and 3000 BC for late-PIE. Pontic refers to the area north of the Black Sea. He goes through PIE words relating to biology and geography to define the area. Loan words into Uralic languages help to define one of the boundaries – the Ural Mountains to the east. PIE and Uralic languages are linked in several ways which suggests long periods of commingling and possibly a distant past shared mother tongue.

Techniques, features, strengths, and weaknesses of both archaeology and linguistics are explored. An ecotone, an ecological boundary is compared to what the author calls a – persistent frontier, which is thought to be rare, but in the case of PIE the borders of the steps may have been a robust, persistent material-culture and ethno-linguistic frontier. He explores migrations, both ancient and more recent and their relationship to persistent frontiers and languages. Elite recruitment, where small elite groups migrate to new areas, keep their language and culture fairly intact in the new area, and go through language shift – is another topic he explores. The first frontier on the southern steppe margins came about when the first farmers (and herders) came from the south around 5800 BC and interacted with foraging peoples to the north on the steppes. By 5200-5000 BC the foragers (around the Dneiper River) adopted herding which then moved eastward across the steppes.

Delving into archaeology, the author notes that the Bronze Age began much earlier near the steppes than in central and western Europe since copper was mined nearby and alloyed with arsenic in the earliest bronze. He gives three ages in the Pontic-Caspian steppes: Bronze metallurgy first appeared in Eastern Europe near the Caucasus around 3700 BC. Before this was an age in the region called the Eneolithic, which was the first metal age, an age of unalloyed copper. Before that was the Neolithic. He also goes through archaeological techniques and notes that the radiocarbon revolution that made dating much more precise has led to much discovery. He defines the archaeological horizon as artifact type(s) that spread over a wide geographical area. A horizon is not equivalent to a culture but he notes that horizons were very significant in the prehistoric Eurasian steppes.

The influence of the first farmers from the south who introduced animal herding to Eurasian foragers may be what is recounted in the widespread IE myth of man and twin (Yama/Yima, etc), the cow of abundance, and the “third man,” the warrior who provides. Cattle provided generosity to man and sons were valued in this male-centered sky god culture. Ancient farmer-herders came from Anatolia, arrived in Greece and Macedonia by 6500 BC and came to lands bordering the steppes from the Danube Valley by around 5700 BC. The domesticated cattle breeded with wild cattle there but only males were kept, possibly to increase disease resistance, as DNA studies reveal. These northward migrating farmer-herders are likely what makes up the Cris culture between the Eastern Carpathian Mountains and the western end of the Black Sea. Here was a narrow passage to the steppes to the north. Here begins in the book a series of several dating charts and maps of archaeological sites. The foragers of the Bug-Dneister culture were neighbors to the north of the Cris and there is much distinction of the two cultures. Although some have speculated that the Cris may have been locals that were taught farming but the author demonstrates the likelihood that they were the farming migrants who taught the steppe foragers to the north. The Cris who ultimately came from Anatolia less than a thousand years earlier likely spoke an Afro-Asiatic language. Some consider that the PIE term for bull, *tawro-s, was borrowed from that Afro-Asiatic language. The Elshanka culture along the middle Volga River Valley of the Pontic-Caspian region made the oldest clay fired pottery in all of Europe. This early Neolithic pottery was widespread among foragers before the arrival of the farming cultures from the south. The Bug-Dniester culture adopted pottery making around 6200 BC and the Cris culture appeared as their neighbors around 5800 BC. This was the beginning of a frontier that would exist for millennia. Foragers adjacent to the Cris culture partially adopted farming and herding but remained separate from them. By 5200 BC as population increased the farming cultures moved northeast into the Bug and Dniester valleys.

PIE words for chief/king and IE myth suggest that chiefs and/or priest-kings were very powerful and socially venerated and sponsored feasts where gifts and food were distributed. These feasts also likely reified the concepts of social hierarchy and later pan-tribal affiliation and military protection. In the archaeological record chiefs first appeared with the adoption of animal domestication. This is logical since agricultural and herding communities support larger populations and trade surpluses so division of labor and social hierarchy occurs where it does not among hunter-gatherers. In the Pontic-Caspian steppe region the foragers only partially adopted herding and small-scale agriculture – keeping most of their diet to fish and hunting, particularly of wild horses. They did, apparently, adopt the social hierarchy of the agriculturalists, and expanded on it.

Copper mining and trading began in the Balkans around 5200-5000 BC in Bulgaria, the heart of Old Europe. By 4600 BC copper was traded in the steppe-regions. Balkan smiths began to make copper tools and weapons around 4800-4600 BC. Metallurgy developed from pottery kilning. Larger communities and expanded kilning and smelting reduced the forest cover of southeastern Europe, as pollen cores indicate. The Cucuteni-Tripolye culture occupied the frontier area between Old Europe and the steppes from about 5200 BC to later than 3000 BC. About 2700 sites have been identified. These are the Danubian peoples of Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, and the goddess-oriented Old Europe studied by Marija Gimbutas. No burials have been found of Cris or Cucuteni-Tripolye peoples which suggests they practiced a form of “sky burial” where corpses were offered to birds, perhaps vultures, to carry away their souls. This may have been a practice of far older Anatolian cultures such as those at Gobleki Tepe. It was/is also a practice of some Siberian cultures and also persists among Zoroastrians and Tibetans. Another early culture on the forest-steppe frontier was the Dneiper-Donets II culture. These people were thought to descend from foragers but adopted some herding and agriculture. They are the first known in the area to make cemeteries for the dead. The dead were buried in communal pits, some in the flesh and some in bone form after exposure. There is some evidence for cremation as well. Their communal grave model with grave goods including pottery and red ochre, spread across the steppe regions. Tripolye pottery was found in a few graves. DD II burials were different than DD I burials and strongly suggest adoption of social hierarchy. Body ornamentation likely symbolized social status. The Khvalynsk culture (4700-3800 BC) further east along the Volga river was a little different than DD II, having smaller burials rather than communal pits but their burials contained more animal sacrifices. Sheep/goats, cattle, and horses were predominant. It is interesting that the horse, presumably not yet domesticated, was lumped with domesticated animals as sacrifice to the gods. The horse became symbolic much as domesticated animals were symbolic of economic and ceremonial prestige. Domesticated animals served as a kind of currency tied to rituals, says the author. He goes through other regional cultures examining their burials and artifacts as well to support his ideas. The cultures that did not adopt animal domestication and agriculture tended to diverge from those that did.

He states that surprisingly little is known about the domestication of the horse and the beginnings of horse riding. The author and his wife did extensive studies on bit wear on the teeth of horses from the earliest type of rope or leather bits. The goal was to find evidence for horse domestication where there were horse remains in burial complexes, since wild and domesticated horses were difficult to distinguish from bones. Genetically, it has been demonstrated that early domesticators of the horse bred wild mares and mostly discarded the males. It is likely that few or even possibly a single wild stallion was domesticated and all modern domesticated horses are a descendent of that few or one. Horses have a dominant stallion which a harem of mares follows and it is thought that mares are thus more disposed to be domesticated by humans. Interestingly, the males that are not leaders of a harem, dwell on the outskirts of the group in “bachelor bands.” Although not mentioned, such groups are oddly similar to Indo-European war bands, usually groups of young male bachelors off on their own to learn cattle raiding. The Eurasian steppes contained the largest groups of ancestors to the modern horse compared to other areas. There were other wild horses and wild asses in areas like Anatolia, Iran, and Western Europe. These horses were hunted for millennia on the steppes which made the hunters familiar with their habits, which suggests that these people might be the ones to domesticate them. Another method to date horse domestication is by size as domesticated horses became larger. By this method horse domestication is dated to about 2500 BC. The author reasons that the size-variability method is not a good indicator of early domestication but may indicate later developments. Studies of horses at sites in the Ukraine (4200-3700 BC) and Botai in northern Kazakhstan (3700-3000 BC) concluded that the horses were wild. The author disputes these findings. He notes that the killing mainly of prime stallions in these places suggests that domestication may have begun. Bit wear indicates horse riding of course and the author goes into some detail of their bit wear studies. Studies of the Botai and Tersek cutures of northern Kazakhstan dated 3700-3000 BC show bit wear consistent with horse riding. They give other evidence of horse domestication in this area between 3700 and 3500 BC. This is much earlier than the previous direct evidence dating to about 2500 BC. The author thinks that horses were actually domesticated centuries earlier by herding peoples of the steppes west of the foraging Botai-Tersek people.

It is fairly certain that adoption of horseback riding allowed herders to manage larger herds over greater distances. Horse-pulled wagons permitted people to travel with their herds with their belongings and so have large and healthy herds. Riding also led to greater ease of stealing cattle and this may have led to more skirmishes over cattle stealing. Raiding and quick retreating were easy via horseback. Anthony suggests that increased boundary conflicts of this sort led to the development of gift-exchanging feasts where pacts of cooperation were made. This may also have led to increased long-distance trade. Mounted archery probably did not occur until around 1000 BC in the Iron Age when shorter bows began to be used. It is likely too that horses were ridden to hunt horses and other game.

By 4200-4100 BC when Old Europe was at its height there began a climate change called the Piora Oscillation, where temperatures decreased and alpine glaciers grew. A bitter cold period came a few centuries later and by about 3760 the climate returned to a milder state. The time of the cold period coincided with the abandoning and burning of many of the villages of Old Europe. Female figurines likely associated with domestic rituals were no longer found after this. Mediterranean-derived ornaments disappeared. The period that began around 6200 BC with the Starcevo-Cris farmers was now at an end. This mostly occurred in the lower Danube valley. It is not known what caused the warfare, possibly made by horse-raiders from the steppes. The Cucuteni-Tripolye culture to the north that bordered the steppes did not suffer so much and the author speculates that they merged somewhat with the steppe cultures who likely spoke an archaic type of IE language. He suggests that raids were small and mostly done for “glory” as hero’s tales seem to recount. They were not mounted cavalry of nomads like the Huns or Mongols of much later times, he notes. The Sredni-Stog culture from the Dniepper valley were given by Marija Gimbutas as the pastoral IE kurgan raiders who overran Old Europe. Skull types suggest that people emmigrated from the Volga region (Khvalynsk) to join or become the Sredni-Stog people. It is still speculative whether they rode horses but they did have new kinds of burial. They did have polished stone horse-headed maces which would become a prominent status symbol of steppe peoples. The marshes to the south near the Danube valley and places near the Black Sea were excellent places for winter forage for horses and as the winters got colder he speculates that the steppe herders utilized them. There was probably some migration to the copper producing towns too. The Suvorovo culture of herders moved south into the Danube and the Balkans around 4200-4000 BC. The author speculates that they brought pre-Anatolian IE languages, eventually migrating further south into Anatolia around 3000 BC and being the ancestors of the Hittites. Interestingly he notes a Hittite sun god, Sius, being cognate with the Greek Zeus, said to rise from the sea – which suggests that the Hittite ancestors once lives to the west of a great sea (Black Sea?).

First contact between people of the steppe margins and the southern cities of Mesopotamia is thought to have occurred from 3700-3500 BC when Maikop chiefs of the Caucasus mountains area developed a taste for bronze weapons and tools and ostentatious funerals. They were traders. The Maikop also had kurgans and new funerary customs compared to the previous farming peoples there. They stayed in the Caucuses area but likely traded with steppe peoples from the north, perhaps introducing them to wagons and wheeled carts. They may have gotten cannabis from them to trade, and possibly even horses. Maikop chiefs were buried with metal lions and bulls, symbols of power among Mesopotamians and their accumulation of these exotic objects perhaps gave them a sense of awe. Around 3600-3400 BC the Tripolye C1 towns around the South Bug River north of the Black Sea grew in size to become briefly the largest towns in the known world. By 3300 BC these towns of Tripolye farmers were gone. From 3800-3300 BC there was much change – the Tripolye farmers reduced, migrants to the east to the Altai mountains formed the Afanasievo culture, and the Botai-Tersek culture of Kazakhstan rode horses- though the author thinks horse riding occurred several centuries previous across the steppes. It is likely that Tripolye farmers intermarried much over centuries with steppe herders.

The thriving Mesopotamina cities wanted gold, silver, copper, metals, and precious stones and traded far. Uruk expanded outward and toward sources of copper in the Caucusus from 3700-3100 BC. Around 3100 BC the trade between Mesopotamians and Maikop (and through them some steppe people to the north) had stopped for unknown reasons. Uruk expansion had stopped. Maikop culture changed. Maikops traded with steppe peoples and spoke a Caucasian language. During these times it is thought that loan words between this language and PIE were exchanged. People were likely distinct and there were likely many languages but changes would soon make culture more uniform:

“The Yamnaya horizon, the material expression of the late {PIE} community, grew from an eastern origin in the Don-Volga steppes and spread across the Pontic-Caspian steppes after about 3300 BC.”

Pollen studies indicate that the steppes were drier from 3500-3000 BC. Migrant herding made possible by the wagon was likely a new way of life on the steppes and allowed people to keep larger herds and travel over wide areas. The author believes this new way of life of mobile pastoralism basically created the Yamnaya horizon which is dated  3300-2500 BC. Fast transport was likely via horse and slow movement with the herds via wagon. One interesting feature from the new steppe-mobility nobility, according to the author, is the guest-host relationship:

“The two social roles opposed in English guest and host were originally two reciprocal aspects of the same relationship. The late {PIE} guest-host relationship required that “hospitality,” … and “friendship” should be extended by hosts to guests in the knowledge that the receiver and giver of “hospitality” could later reverse roles. The social meaning of these words was then more demanding than modern customs would suggest. The guest-host relationship was bounded by oaths and sacrifices so serious that Homer’s warriors, Glaukos and Diomedes, stopped fighting and presented gifts to each other when they learned that their grandfathers had shared a guest-host relationship. This mutual obligation to provide “hospitality” functioned as a bridge between social units (tribes, clans) that had originally restricted these obligations to their kin or co-residents. Guest-host relationship would have been very useful in a mobile herding economy, as a way of separating people who were moving through your territory with your assent from those who were unwelcome, unregulated, and therefore unprotected. The guest-host institution might have been among the critical identity-defining innovations that spread with the Yamnaya horizon.”

The eastern Yamnaya people (from the Don river to the Ural river were likely more mobile as no settlements have been found but many kurgans. The western Yamnaya lived in settlements, farmed, likely shared words from the presumed Afro-Asiatic language of the Tripolye peoples, and favored female deities more than the eastern Yamnaya.

“In western Indo-European branches the spirit of the domestic hearth was female (Hestia, the Vestal Virgins), and in Indo-Iranian it was male (Agni). Western Indo-European mythologies included strong female deities such as Queen Magb and the Valkyries, whereas in Indo-Iranian the furies of war were male Maruts.”

The Yamnaya horizon or “cultural-historical community” as Slavic archaeologists refer to it seems to be a good fit with late PIE.

Between 3700 and 3400 BC the Afanasievo culture migrated far eastward from the Don-Volga steppes to the Altai mountains. This, suggests the author, is the source of the Tocharian branch of IE. They also brought Yamnaya customs.

Kinship was patri-centered among the Yamnaya. Mostly males were buried in kurgans but some prominent females as well. It is thought that kurgans were visible tribal claims to territory. Yamnaya chiefs were buried in kurgans and likely venerated with praise poetry. Metal smithing improved under the Yamnaya chiefs.

The Kemi-Oba culture of the Crimean peninsula and the Novosvobodnaya culture used stone stelae, painted and carved with geometric designs and artwork, in their kurgans. Similar stelae of similar age were found at Troy I and in Tuscany – which suggests maritime trade across the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean.

Anthony lists five factors that likely enhanced the status of IE languages relative to other ones that became stigmatized: 1) they got wealthy from trading horses, 2) horseback riding gave them war advantages, 3) PIE societies emphasized oaths and contracts (even with the gods) which may have led them to develop patron-client relationships and protect their clients for fealty, 4) the new mobile economy developed the guest-host ritualism and obligations. The author suggests this was a Yamnyaya development since the root words are not found in the Anatolian and Tocharian branches, 5) elaborate funerals and ceremonies of gift exchange and displays of wealth. He mentions Calvert Watkins’s observation of an IE poetic trend called “praise of the gift.” Anthony sees the IE success in subjugating others as more of a franchise rather than military conquest though some military actions certainly occurred.

He suggests that pre-Italic, pre-Celtic, and pre-Germanic separated from PIE in the same time period (3300-2500 BC). Each of these separations was likely associated with migrations of Yamnaya peoples from the steppe borderlands.

The steppe Usatovo peoples were likely patrons of upper Tripolye farm townspeople. Usatovo chiefs also traded long-distance by sea. He speculates that Tripolye clients may have wanted to get their own clients eventually (as apparently is common among patron-client systems) so they migrated northwestward and took pre-Germanic with them. Eventually they reached the later Corded-Ware horizon where pre-Germanic spread out much more. Other Yamnaya people likely migrated south into the Danube valley and west to Hungary as archaeology suggests. The Corded Ware horizon (2900-2600 BC) had some similarities in grave style and lack of settlements to the Yamnaya horizon. The Corded Ware horizon was a prime opportunity for language spread:

“Indo-European speech probably was emulated because the chiefs who spoke it had larger herds of cattle and sheep and more horses than could be raised in northern Europe, and they had a politico-religious culture already adapted to territorial expansion.”

He speculates that Yamnaya immigrants to Bulgaria spoke pre-Greek, pre-Phrygian, and pre-Armenian languages. These likely descended from a previous IE, rather than straight from PIE language along with Indo-Iranian to the east. He suggests the Catacomb culture as pre-Greek (2500-2000 BC).

The Sintashta culture just east of the Ural mountains appeared around 2900 BC and lasted till around 1700 BC. Here were strongly walled and fortified settlements with much metal working and weaponry. These were the chariot warriors of the northern steppes and likely the precursor to the Vedic Aryans and the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European. The Ural foothills were a new source of copper. Concurrent with the Sintashta culture was the Abashevo culture adjacent to them on the west from about 2500 BC. This was a forest-northern-steppe border culture who may have been Indo-Iranian speakers. The author thinks the late Abashevo period was one of intense warfare – actual planned warfare rather than tribal conflicts. He also thinks that Abashevo contact with Volosovo forest foragers to the north resulted in loan words shared among Indo-Iranian and Finno-Ugric languages. Sintashta people practiced horse sacrifice. By 2200-2100 BC the Sintashta would influence forest foraging cultures to the north. The Sintashta chose ideal winter foraging grounds – marshy lands near rivers – for their fortifications. The steppes may have been colder and drier during this time period. They invented new and more powerful weapons. The author thinks they developed chariot warfare as well. He notes that new information suggests that chariots may not have been invented in the Near East circa 1900-1800 BC but a bit earlier in the eastern steppes. Much of the information and excavations of the Sintashta is brand knew – from the 1990’s. Sintashta and Petrovka (a contemporary culture to the south in Kazakhstan) have many chariot graves with weapons. The author speculates that they may have used javelins instead of archers which were developed later. Mycenaean chariot warfare was well-developed by 1650 BC but may have post dated Sintashta-Petrovka chariot warfare. He thinks chariots were developed here before 2000 BC while the earliest eveidence in the Near East are depictions on Syrian seals dated to 1800 BC. There were battle carts/battle wagons used by Akkadian warriors form about 2900 BC but these were not very maneuverable – but they did utilize javelin-throwing warriors. The Mitanni of northern Syria (1500-1350 BC) were definitely Indo-Aryan speakers who excelled at chariot warfare. Warring from these wheeled vehicles required much skill and specially trained horses so that the occupation of warrior became more specialized. Sintashta funerals seem to parallel funeral hymns in the Rig Veda. There is good evidence that the Sintashta later became the Indo-Aryans. Excavation of a Srubnaya site (related to Sintashta) revealed a midwinter dog sacrifice. Such is depicted in the Rig Veda associated with the Vratya (war band) young male initiations. The Vratya were also called “dog-priests.” Dogs were associated with death. The new warriors would feed the “dogs of death.” Guardians of the underworld like Cerberus or Saranyu. Oddly, there is also a midwinter dog sacrifice among some Eastern Native American tribes.

Horseback warfare was depicted on Akkadian seals from around 2300 BC. They likely traded for horses from steppe peoples. Sargon of Akkad united the cities into an empire and traded much with the Elamites from Iran. It was after this period around 2100-2000 BC that horses began to appear more in cemeteries in the Near East. Elamite-Shaimaski alliance defeated the Ur kings and were the most powerful culture from 2000-1700 BC. They may have gotten horses from the Sintashta and traded them. The author even speculates that Sintashta mercenaries could have aided the Elamites in defeating the king of Ur.

Tin to make copper-tin alloys for the metalsmith (easier to cast) was in high demand in the Near East and sources were in the East, likely the Indus Valley areas and traded through Elamite traders. The Bactrian-Margiana Archaeological complex (BMAC) may have been a source of the tin. These people between Elam and the Indus Valley had highly developed metal and casting artistry. Sintashta and Shrubnaya steppe-dwellers likely migrated south with their descendents entering into Iran and eventually India. Some people began to be more settled in the steppes which suggests more adoption of agriculture but not in all areas. Climate change may have been a factor in some deciding to migrate and settle. Akkadian and Harappan/Indus Valley cultures were also affected by the same climate change factors – coolness and aridity. Another source of tin and possibly the first of the tin alloy bronzes was the foothills of the Altai mountains where the Petrovka culture dwelled. They had similar habits to the Sintashta and are considered an eastern offshoot of the Sintashta, dated 1900-1750 BC. Like the Sintashta they were great metalworkers.

The Andronovo horizon developed across the eastern steppes and south into Central Asia (1800-1200 BC). This is the time period, he says, when proto-Vedic cultures were establishing south into Central Asia. The trading cities in Bactria-Margiana were abandoned around 1600 BC. Some Andronovo-and steppe migrant hybrid cultures were likely the closest ancestors to the Vedic culture of the Rig Veda. Mitanni rulers that migrated to Syria circa 1500 BC were clearly Vedic and migration occurred into the Punjab where the Rig Veda was compiled likely between 1500-1300 BC. The author states that Indra and Soma, two of the chief deities of the Rig Veda, were not Indo-Iranian names so were likely derived from others in the contact zone. He thinks that Iranian dialects developed northward along the steppes in the Andronovo/Shrubnaya times while Indic dialects developed further south along the contact zone with Central Asia. Studies of loan words and linguistics suggest that Indo-Iranian and Old Indic both had contact with the same different language with which they got loan words. This was likely from people of the BMAC.

The author notes that modern advances in linguistics and archaeology as well as recent discoveries and excavations have aided deciphering of Indo-European origins. He also notes differences between Western archaeologists who discount migration and Eastern ones who overemphasize it. He suggests that a middle ground is closer to reality. Regarding the horse and the wheel he notes that advances in transportation technology are “among the most powerful causes of change in human social and political life.” 

“The reconstructed {PIE} vocabulary and comparative IE mythology reveal what two of those important integrative institutions were: the oath-bound relationship between patrons and clients, which regulated the reciprocal obligations between the strong and the weak, between gods and humans; and the guest-host relationship, which extended these and other protections to people outside the ordinary social circle. The first institution, legalizing inequality, probably was very old, going back to the initial acceptance of the herding economy, about 5200-5000 BCE, and the first appearance of pronounced differences in wealth. The second might have developed to regulate migrations into unregulated geographic and social space at the beginning of the Yamnaya horizon.”

This big book really is a fantastic, thorough, and insightful one that integrates linguistics and archaeology in myriad ways.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Shamanism in Siberia: Excerpts from - Aboriginal Shamanism: A Study in Social Anthropology (1914)

Book Review: Shamanism in Siberia: Excerpts from - Aboriginal Shamanism: A Study in Social Anthropology by M.A. Czaplicka (originally 1914 – Kindle Edition 2009)

This is an old study and includes the work of many Russian and European anthropologists and ethnologists who studied the different ethnic groups in Siberia and their ways of life with respect to shamanism. About a dozen or more tribes are studied over the vast region of Siberia. It is remarked that even though details differ, that the whole range of northern Asian mythology seems fairly similar and likely connected. These were foraging peoples in the past. This book collects many interesting accounts of shamanism of the various tribes by the scientific observers. 

Here the author distinguishes Paleo-Siberian beliefs and practices from those of Neo-Siberians. Paleo-shamans were more like family shamans while neo-shamans are more like professional shamans. Later beliefs like Christianity, and to a lesser extent Buddhism in a few areas, influenced the development of Neo-shamanism. He notes that while many shamanists were registered at the time as Catholics or Buddhists, that they were actually much more dedicated to shamanist beliefs.

Some tribes favored female shamans. Others favored male ones. Shamans were often said to be chosen by the spirits themselves. Psychic experiences, mental instability, and illness are also typical features of those called to be shamans. If a calling has been identified the strange gift can be developed through training in ascetic disciplines like fasting, ecstatic behavior, fatigue, physical pain, or other induced hypersensitivity. Long periods of slumber or unconsciousness have been associated with a shamanic state in Siberian and other Asian cultures. For some of these cultures to be called to be a shaman is both blessing and curse. The call may come unexpectedly after a long illness or a traumatic event, even for older people, though some say the older people do not hear the shamanic call. A shaman engages with the unseen world and interprets such engagement for others, particularly to heal their afflictions.

Some shamans also employed tricks like ventriloquism and stage magic phenomena to tell their tales and work their healing mojo. One might see this as placebo, a real psycho-somatic effect of incorporating the “sham” in shamanism. Methods like blowing and sucking out harmful spirits might also been seen as symbolic placebo-enhancing gestures.

Most shamans of the varying tribes have guardian spirits, often multiple ones of different types, corresponding to soul components. Among the Yakut, animal guardian spirits of wolf, bear, or dog are considered unfortunate for these are insatiable. Bull, stallion, elk, or black boar are considered better. These Yakut animal guardians are called yekyua, or “mother-animal” and are considered hard to detect by others. As in much of totemism, there is a taboo against killing a member of the species that is one’s mother-animal. The amagyat is one’s spirit protector from the celestial world. Also among the Yakut there are said to be mischievous spirits called kaliany that may cause the shaman to imitate indecent gestures. The Yakut distinguish white shamans and black shamans with each having their sur (a type of soul) educated in different ways. A shaman’s initiation among the Yakut may involve a vow of renunciation of normal life to a life in service to the spirits as well as an animal sacrifice where the shaman is sprinkled with blood. Among the Buryat the west Tengeris train a white shaman and the east Tengeris train a black shaman. The candidate is chosen on the basis of tendencies to meditate, to prefer solitude, and to experience long periods of unconsciousness. Training takes several years. The Buryat also have sacrificial ceremonies for shamanic initiation. One involves cutting a birch tree and planting it in the yurta, extending through the smoke hole. This represents the path to the celestial world. The candidate climbs the tree, goes through the hole and onto the roof and summons the spirits in a loud voice. Among the Samoyed and Ostyak one description of initiation involved the candidate being first instructed about the inhabitants of the Samoyed spirit world then being blindfolded and beaten on the back of the head by one elder shaman and on the shoulders by another, until “his eyes were dazzled as with too much light, and he saw demons dancing on his arms and feet.” The author notes that Russian Lapland was in ancient times known as a great school of shamanism (nyoda) as it was among the Scandinavians where the Saami shamans were held in high regard.

Paleo-shamans in these tribes have multiple functions such as priest, medicine-man, and prophet. In some tribes they tend to specialize but in others to generalize. Often lesser shamans, sometimes called sorcerers, and/or the master of the house would take on some of these duties such as making offerings and so forth. Among the Koryak, family shamanism revolves around the hearth and the shaman sticks to one group of people. Professional shamans work with different groups of people and communal shamans are a transition between family and professional shamans. Among the Chukchee there are said to be three classes of professional shamans: ecstatic shamans, shaman-prophets, and incantation shamans. Their duties overlap but these are the specializations.

The author notes that among the neo-shamans the dualism likely introduced by Asiatic religions like Buddhism, and especially Christianity, is more of a feature so that there are more white than black shamans. Black and white have been subtly associated with evil and good. In the past and still then among the Yakut, there were as many or more black shamans, those who work more with the lower world than the bright world. They are given a higher respect. Although not mentioned some of the ancient western Siberians could also have been influenced by Indo-Aryan or Indo-Iranian peoples from the steppes and the Altai regions and north and eastward. There may have been some influence of Zoroastrian or even proto-Vedic peoples.

According to Troschanski, the white shamans probably derived from the heads of families who mainly performed family priestly functions but did not work much with the evil spirits. The Gilyak and other paleo-Siberians do not distinguish between white and black shamans. Troschanski also suggests that the black shamans were originally women. His main evidence to suggest this is that women are more given to emotion than men (which may not at all be true) and that Yakut women were said to be affected by a nervous disease, a form of the so-called “Arctic hysteria.” Some women became white shamans as well, sometimes due to the husband being away so that the woman became the family shaman. His other evidence equating women to black shamanism is that among the most primitive Kamchadal there were only women shamans and they practiced black shamanism which included summoning evil spirits. Another interesting observation is that the terms for female shaman are very similar in several Mongolian, central Asian, and Siberian tribes while those for male shamans are different. This suggests that female shamans came first though this is not proven. Male shamans even exhibit female dress at times and are bound by a few similar taboos as women. Troschanski thought that male black shamans came about gradually by being the smiths for female black shamans and through their contact with the magical iron eventually became shamans. Smiths were hereditary and always strongly associated with shamans and magical power. Spirits are thought to fear the smiths’ iron and bellows. Among the Buryat, Tengerists like the Mongol Genghis Khan, white and black shamans seem to be more associated with good and evil, each serving different Tengeri. Lapps and Samoyed do not distinguish white and black shamans. The Votyak have classes of permanent and temporary shamans, mostly white. Yakut shamans are said to be mostly black.

Shaman’s accessories include the drum, the large coat with noisy metal pieces sown on, a mask or other form of face veil, the hat, a girdle with clanking metal pieces, and a copper or metal breastplate. The Tungus shamans wear an apron adorned with iron. Much of this costumery is used by the neo-shamans but less so by paleo-shamans, says the author. The Buryat use horse-staves and say it is a bad omen if the tree is killed when cutting them so care is taken. Shaman’s instruments are consecrated and subjected to strict ceremonial rules and taboos. The Chukchee, considered paleo-shamans, do not use special clothing. They often shamanize in the dark indoors in a stifling hot environment. The authors distinguish a southern-style drum, oval in shape. The Asiatic Eskimo, Koryak, and Chukchee have wooden handles attached to drums and the drum is struck from below by a stick. The Koryak shamans do not have drums but use those of their constituent families. The metal pieces, fringework, and other accessories utilized by paleo-shamans such as the Koryaks and Gilyaks are thought to be in imitation of Tungus shamans. Some shamans even have special embroidered stockings.

“The Yukaghir word for drum is yalgil, which means “lake,” that is, the lake into which the shaman dives in order to descend into the shadow-world.”

Linguistics suggest that the ceremonial drum is older than the ceremonial coat. The copper plate on the Yakut or Tungus shaman’s coat represents the amagyat – a strong personal protective power – and can only be made by a 9th generation (or more) smith. The amagyat may also be regarded as a family spirit of shaman families that re-incarnates within the clan. Often it dwells in symbolic form somewhere on the shaman’s coat. Some shamans use stringed instruments and jaw harps as well but these are likely newer additions. The Turkic, Kyrgis, and Finnish bards also used stringed instruments to help sing their tales. The author notes that some Altai drums have animals drawn on them and resemble drums of North American Indians. Southern Siberian drums often have a line through the middle separating drawings representing the upper and lower worlds. Among the Lapps, women are forbidden to touch or use the drums. Such taboos seem to vary quite a bit among the different tribes.

Jochelson described meeting travelling Koryak shamans and asking one to show proof of his knowledge. Shamans, he noted, seem not to be specially respected among the Koryak. He noted the shaman drumming and chanting softly in the dark of the dwelling and imitating the sounds of the wild animals, moving around flawlessly and quietly in the dark, and being an expert in ventriloquism so that it was hard to tell where he was. After the performance he appeared lying flat and exhausted on his mat and declared that the sickness of the village had departed. Curiously, he also noted the shaman saying that the spirits had called on him to cut himself with a knife so he borrowed a knife from Jochelson and appeared to thrust it in his chest to the hilt but Jochelson noticed that he turned it down just before – a stage magic-type trick. He also had blood spots, likely pre-made. Apparently this is a common shaman’s trick in several tribes. This shows the power of the shaman to dazzle and charm with his personality and faux magical ability. Thus shamans can be skilled actors. This may aid the placebo effect for the viewers who tend to believe in his magical powers.

The Chukchee inhale a narcotic tobacco that they apparently learned to do from Tungus shamans. They utilize random non-sensical chanting and the use of a chorus form others as encouragement – probably not too dissimilar from the glossolalia of evangelical ‘holy-ghosters.’ The chorus is often the shaman’s assistants. When spirits appear the voice of the shaman often changes. He or she may also imitate the sounds of nature, wind, insects, and animals. Spirits may speak in different dialects or even their own language. Yakut ceremonies may include invocations of sacred animals (ie. the horse of the steppes), the sun and the moon, fire and such, in the form of a liturgy. After this the shaman may be possessed by spirits and become very active while participants check his wild and ecstatic behavior by holding him with leather thongs or he may give up his drum and dance madly. Later a sacrifice is offered to the spirits. This may be a blood sacrifice or bloodless or symbolic. There are several accounts given. In one Samoyed ceremony there is a rhythmic tangling of bells followed by dancing and strange body movements and a presumed continuous dialogue with the spirits. Stories of Altai shamans describe them whirling madly around in circles, collecting spirits in their drum by beating it while holding it in the air, and making the sound of horse hooves to indicate he was embarking to the lower world ruled by Erlik, the god of darkness. This is a dangerous journey which the shaman mimes as he enters and encounters Erlik.

Shamanism and sex is next explored. Among the Kamchadal, women predominantly have the shaman’s gift. Among the Yukaghir, Koryak, and Chukchee tribes, women and men were shamans in equal numbers. The Samoyed of Turukhan, the Tungus of Baikal, the Ostyak, Buryat, and Yakut also had women and men shamans. Apparently, in several tribes there are myths that teach that shamanism was first bestowed on women. Among many tribes the similar name of a female shaman – utygan  and several variations – calls to mind the hearth goddess, Etegun eke, or mother-earth. The word is also connected to constellations, particularly the bears, and these constellations are also protectors of family hearth and associated with the earth goddess. One might also consider that the seidr mages (volvas) of Norse lore were women and may have been influenced by Saami noadi shamans. Siberian women did not have an exalted position in their societies, but mostly an inferior one. Shamanism was said to be based on abilities. Women involved in childbirth generally were/are said to lose their shamanistic abilities at this time. Male shamans frequently wear female garments when shamanizing. Apparently, there are varying levels of transvestitism in these tribes, from “change of dress” to “change of sex” and rarely to males living fully as a female and being married to another male – sometimes in addition to a female wife. These transgendered “transformed” shamans are said to be chosen by the spirits (particularly female spirits) for this. Such shamans may be feared and so left alone. Harassment of them likely has more to do with modern attitudes influenced by Christianity. There are quite a few Siberian communities where the female shaman is not permitted to touch or play the drum. No explanation is given as to why. There appear to be no androgynous deities among the paleo-Siberians but among the neo-Siberians of Altai there is the Supreme Being as “mother and father of the man.” Shamans are considered a third class, distinguished from male and female, though they share some taboos. Among shamans, the woman acquires certain attributes of the man and vice versa. There is a dark side to feminization of men in Siberia and especially Native America as when captives, the cowardly, and the infirm were dressed as women to show their degraded status. Such may have been rare though.

There is a section on gods, spirits, and the soul. Among the Chukchee there were vairgit, or beings worthy of sacrifice. The midday sun and the polar star were male deities and the dawn and dusk were “wife-companions.” The sun, moon, and stars were vairgit as well. The pole star is the main star vairgit. Observers have compared these mythos to that of the Native American (Algonquian) Manitou. Deities are often local as well. Reindeer are deified were they occur and are herded as are the walrus and other sea creatures among maritime Siberians such as the Asiatic Eskimo. Among the lower world spirits (kelet) the Chukchee have those that cause death and disease, bloodthirsty cannibals that attack warriors, and those spirits the shamans call for aid. There are elemental beings like those of the winds. The prevailing wind is their chief. There are also house and tent spirits. Some spirits have assistants, often a raven or half-raven. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are associated with a whole tribe of spirits. Animal to human, spirit to human, and vice versa – shapeshifting - is a big part of lore. There are also legendary monsters like the killer whale – which it is taboo to kill among Arctic peoples. Giant polar bears are another. The mammoth was considered the reindeer of the kelet, according to the Chukchee. Some mammoth carcasses were found intact frozen in the tundra and the meat was eaten – up to the 18th century. There is taboo against removing the tusks for ivory. Kelet may steal souls but a powerful shaman may also steal souls of kelet. The Chukchee posit multiple worlds one above the other, 5, 7, or 9 with access through a hole under the pole star. There are other worlds as well such as one under the sea.

The Koryak seem to have veered toward monotheism, probably influenced by the Russians. They deified thunder, dawn, and the raven as Big Raven. Some of the Koryak words look similar to Finnish ones to me. Big Raven is sent by the Supreme Being to order human affairs. Big Raven also appears among the American Pacific tribes. Some myths are similar as well which may suggest multiple crossings back and forth by sea or even from the Bering land bridge time. One is the story of the raven (not Big Raven) swallowing the sun. Many of the Koryak tales include Big Raven, even as a dimwit, compared to his wife Miti and others. Some are told for amusement. He is also a hero in stories as he battles the evil spirits. The Koryak depict five worlds: two below and two above. The Supreme Being inhabits the highest then the cloud people. Below our world – the middle one – are the world of the spirits and lowest is the world of the shades of the dead. Now only shamans can traverse the worlds but in the ancient time of Big Raven, ordinary people could. In death accounts one states that the spirits pull the higher soul out of the body and free it to rise to the upper world. Lower spirits may take possession of the lower soul or one of them. Multiple soul components seem to be a feature of most shamanic and ancient peoples.

Kutkhu is the Supreme Being of the Kamchadal. Raven (Kutq) was said to be the creator. The Kamchadal had been Christianized somewhat and refer to the Christian god as Kutkhu also. They venerated the wolf and the bear and would not pronounce their names. They did fire sacrifices over fox and sable holes.

The Gilyak venerate Ytsigy as highest benevolent deity and Kurn as the universe and highest anthropomorphic deity. Animals are considered to be like humans with social clans. Mountains, sea, and fire deities are more important than the sky, sun, and moon gods for they are more accessible. Gilyaks offer sacrifices on the principle of exchange and carry sacrificial items with them. For example, one does not offer fish to the god of the sea but may offer tea leaves. They use certain plant roots also. There are also bloody sacrifices by strangulation, particularly of a dog. Dog sacrifices are fairly common in Siberia and in Native America. Clansmen who have died by fire or drowning or killed by bears become clan-gods and sacrifices are made to them. They say shamans have four main souls, rich men two, and ordinary men one. All also have a lesser soul, residing like an egg in the main soul. At the death of the body, by evil spirits, the soul goes to a specific land in a human-like form where a rich man becomes poor and vice versa. After this the soul goes into successively smaller forms – such as a bird, then a gnat, then a speck of dust. The lesser soul lives on in the favorite dog of the deceased where it is cared for well.

The Ainu tribe from Japan, worship the Supreme Being as Kotan Kara Kamui. Mo acha, “uncle of peace,” is benevolent to humans. His elder brother is an evil deity who brings bad weather and wrecks boats. There ia a goddess of the sun and a god of the moon although a few consider the sun male and the moon female. The Milky Way, as the crooked river of the gods is where the gods like to fish. There is a goddess of fire who judges humans on their deeds. Apparently, they are strong believers in judgment after death and a life review trial attended by the goddess of fire is a feature. The souls of humans are said to live beyond in a way similar to the Ainu tribe. The ghosts of deceased women are especially feared. Souls go first to the underworld where they are judged. Some say women have no souls so are not allowed to pray but one early researcher thinks this is because the men fear that they will petition the gods about how ill the men treat them! Others have disagreed, saying the status of Ainu women is better than in any other Siberian tribe. Chamberlain noted that modern Ainu were influenced by Japanese Buddhist ideas. The Japanese Buddhists were influenced by Indian ideas.

The Turkic tribes given are the Yakut and the Altai. Urun-Aiy-Toyon, the “white lord,” is the chief benevolent deity of the Yakut. He may be a god of light, or the sun. There is a cosmology of worlds based on the Yakut clan system. The word “Urun” suggest to me a possible cognate to “Ur” as Uranus, Varuna, Ahura Mazda among Indo-Iranian and/or Indo-Aryan tribes. Ahura Mazda is a god of light and Uranus/Varuna is a sky god. An-Alay-Khotun is the benevolent earth goddess. These upper world gods are well known but only the shamans know the secrets and names of the lower world gods. The Yakut also employ a secret language and substitute Russian names to protect them from dangerous spirits, particularly during travel. Yakut cosmology sees good spirits in the east and south and evil ones in the north and west. Yakut soul division is tyn, life/breath,  kut, physical soul, and sur, psychic soul. The kut is also divided. Sur is connected to the head and has no shadow. Kut is connected to the abdomen and has three shadows. Kut is devoured by spirits at death or may remain near the body for a few days and then depart for the underworld. The Altains have similar soul divisions. They have a benevolent nupper world god Yulgen and a malevolent lower world god Erlik. There are also gods of each clan and family. A saying among the Altains is that “Yulgen and Erlik have one door,” which means they have an understanding and work in cahoots to influence and correct humans. The universe is part horizontal and part vertical to the Altains. There are five or six soul components with several overlapping those of the Yakut.

The Buryat are a Mongolic tribe. They are Tengerists like the Khans of Mongolia. They are polytheistic. There are 55 benevolent white Tengeri from the west and 44 mischievous black Tengeri from the east. The Tengeri, often associated with natural and atmospheric forces, are thought to have originally been one tribe that split up due to a quarrel so that some say the white Tengeri are older. There are clans of lesser spirits, both helpful and antagonistic as well. There is the old gray-haired man Daban-Sagan-Noyon and his white-haired wife Delent-Sagan-Khatun who are honored after the autumn harvest. Invocation of the good spirits and offerings to them are practiced. Smiths are even divided into white/west and east/black. Bojintoy was the first white smith and he had nine sons (all became smiths) and one daughter. The souls of great shamans are called zayans, and become protectors of men. Sometimes their bodies were burned or put in coffins and placed on a tree in the mountains – thus they became local deities and were called “old people of the mountain.” The author notes that the bear plays no part in Buryat ceremony as it does in every other Siberian tribe. Soul components are three and similar to those of the Turkic tribes. The lower soul is captured by Erlik Khan to bring to the underworld. The souls of women who have died childless are thought to be one-eyed and wicked and no offerings are made to them. They are said to haunt houses, are easy to banish, but can be harmful to small children. Wicked women who died a violent death are thought of in a similar way.

The Finnic tribes of north-western Siberia include the Ugrian-Ostyak, Vogul, and Samoyed. The Vogul benevolent god is Yanykli-Torilin. There is a higher creator god, never revealed to humans, Kors-Torum, and an evil god, Khul. Kors-Torum sends his son Yanykh-Torum, who shines like gold, to check on humans. The son commands his brother Sakhil-Torum, who dwells in the dark clouds, to respond to the wishes of humans. Sakhil-Torum drives reindeer who are endowed with mammoth tusks. The Samoyed chief god is Nini, or Ileumbarte. He rules heaven and earth but never descends to earth. Num rules atmospheric phenomena and is said to be indifferent to humans. Kul is the chief spirit of darkness. Deity representatives and fetishes are made of wood, metal, and bone. Humans are composed of three parts according to the Finnic tribes: body, shadow, and soul. The soul after death passes to an infant of the same clan or to another clan if necessary but never to an animal. The shadow goes to the cold underworld then turns to a black beetle and then to dust.

There is a section with descriptions of ceremonies. The Maritime Chukchee and Asiatic Eskimo have similar ceremonies. The Ainu have a great bear festival, once common to all the Paleo-Siberians. The Turkic tribes have both blood and bloodless sacrificial ceremonies. The Yakut have spring and autumn festivals. The Altains do multi-day ritual that includes a horse sacrifice where the shaman ascends a birch tree through the yurta and chases the soul of the sacrificed horse while riding a goose (in imitation) before the actual sacrifice of the horse. During the rite, the kam (shaman) collects spirits in his tambourine and fumigates with juniper. This is a sacrifice to Bai-Yulgen where the shaman ascends the various levels of heaven according to his ability. The Mongol tribes also sacrificed horses in late summer in a ritual that was observed by Marco Polo and is thought to be very old.

This book was interesting as an account of practices recorded before too modern times. Later, the Soviets restricted the shaman’s practices, persecuting and ridiculing them, which forced them to go underground and take up new forms. The book is mostly a survey of accounts and practices recorded by various anthropologists and friends of the tribes.