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.


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