The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, by David W Anthony


horse-wheel-languageThis is a fascinating study into the origins of Indo-European languages and how they are related to the domestication of the horse, and the invention of the wheel.

About half the world’s population speak such languages.

There have been many words written about humanity’s journey over the ages, but in this book David Anthony brings together linguistic, archaeological, scientific and anthropological research to pinpoint the origins of our language, from its ancient Proto-Indo-European (PIE) source.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language – How Bronze-age riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World
by David W Anthony
Princeton University Press
ISBN 978-0-691-14818-2 softcover, 545pp incl references
RRP $25.95 available from Amazon.

Linguists have tracked the archeological clues to learn the origin and evolution of these languages, and the people who spoke it. There are so many words with common sounds and meanings, spoken by diverse populations around the globe.

How did this happen? How did their traditions spread? Where did our customs from today originate>

Central to this is the horse, originally a food animal but later ridden, then driven and pivotal to war and migration.

Of most interest to equine buffs is will be the chapter on horse domestication.

In the mid-1980s Anthony talked to veterinarians about the use of bits, asking if bit wear would show on teeth – thinking this would be a good way to identify early bitted horses.

He found there had been little research done in the area, but did find that Hilary Clayton had made X-ray fluoroscopic videos of horses chewing bits. As a result, he surmised that wear from bit chewing should be concentrated on one small part of two teeth (the lower second premolars, or P2s).

This caused somewhat of a stir among zoologists and some veterinarians, who thought it was impossible for horses to get a bit that far back into their mouth.

As a result, Anthony found that bit wear is important, as there is little other evidence of early horse domestication.

The collection of many P2s teeth followed, and also the taking of molds of living horse teeth for comparison purposes.

The winner of the Society for American Archaeology’s 2010  Book Award, The Horse, The Wheel and Language is a masterwork of research on the topic.

» Book preview 

» Chapter One – The Mother Tongue (PDF)


David W. Anthony is professor of anthropology at Hartwick College. He is the editor of The Lost World of Old Europe (Princeton). He has conducted extensive archaeological fieldwork in Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan.


PART ONE: Language and Archaeology 1

Chapter One: The Promise and Politics of the Mother Tongue 3
Ancestors 3
Linguists and Chauvinists 6
The Lure of the Mother Tongue 11
A New Solution for an Old Problem 15
Language Extinction and Thought 19

Chapter Two: How to Reconstruct a Dead Language 21
Language Change and Time 22
Phonology: How to Reconstruct a Dead Sound 24
The Lexicon: How to Reconstruct Dead Meanings 32
Syntax and Morphology: The Shape of a Dead Language 36
Conclusion: Raising a Language from the Dead 38

Chapter Three: Language and Time 1: The Last Speakers of Proto-Indo-European 39
The Size of the Chronological Window: How Long Do Languages Last? 39
The Terminal Date for Proto-Indo-European: The Mother Becomes Her Daughters 42
The Oldest and Strangest Daughter (or Cousin?): Anatolian 43
The Next Oldest Inscriptions: Greek and Old Indic 48
Counting the Relatives: How Many in 1500 BCE? 50

Chapter Four: Language and Time 2: Wool, Wheels, and Proto-Indo-European 59
The Wool Vocabulary 59
The Wheel Vocabulary 63
When Was the Wheel Invented 65
The Signifi cance of the Wheel 72
Wagons and the Anatolian Homeland Hypothesis 75
The Birth and Death of Proto-Indo-European 81

Chapter Five: Language and Place: The Location of the Proto-Indo-Europe an Homeland 83
Problems with the Concept of “the Homeland” 83
Finding the Homeland: Ecology and Environment 89
Finding the Homeland: The Economic and Social Setting 91
Finding the Homeland: Uralic and Caucasian Connections 93
The Location of the Proto-Indo-European Homeland 98

Chapter Six: The Archaeology of Language 102
Persistent Frontiers 104
Migration as a Cause of Persistent Material-Culture Frontiers 108
Ecological Frontiers: Different Ways of Making a Living 114
Small-scale Migrations, Elite Recruitment, and Language Shift 117

PART TWO: The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes 121

Chapter Seven: How to Reconstruct a Dead Culture 123
The Three Ages in the Pontic-Caspian Steppes 125
Dating and the Radiocarbon Revolution 126
What Did They Eat? 128
Archaeological Cultures and Living Cultures 130
The Big Questions Ahead 132

Chapter Eight: First Farmers and Herders: The Pontic-Caspian Neolithic 134
Domesticated Animals and Pontic-Caspian Ecol ogy 135
The First Farmer-Forager Frontier in the Pontic- Caspian Region 138
Farmer Meets Forager: The Bug-Dniester Culture 147
Beyond the Frontier: Pontic-Caspian Foragers before Cattle Arrived 154
The Gods Give Cattle 158

Chapter Nine: Cows, Copper, and Chiefs 160
The Early Copper Age in Old Europe 162
The Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture 164
The Dnieper-Donets II Culture 174
The Khvalynsk Culture on the Volga 182
Nalchik and North Caucasian Cultures 186
The Lower Don and North Caspian Steppes 188
The Forest Frontier: The Samara Culture 189
Cows, Social Power, and the Emergence of Tribes 190

Chapter Ten: The Domestication of the Horse and the Origins of Riding: The Tale of the Teeth 193
Where Were Horses First Domesticated? 196
Why Were Horses Domesticated? 200
What Is a Domesticated Horse? 201
Bit Wear and Horse back Riding 206
Indo-European Migrations and Bit Wear at Dereivka 213
Botai and Eneolithic Horseback Riding 216
The Origin of Horse back Riding 221
The Economic and Military Effects of Horseback Riding 222

Chapter Eleven: The End of Old Europe and the Rise of the Steppe 225
Warfare and Alliance: The Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture and the Steppes 230
The Sredni Stog Culture: Horses and Rituals from the East 239
Migrations into the Danube Valley: The Suvorovo-Novodanilovka Complex 249
Warfare, Climate Change, and Language Shift in the Lower Danube Valley 258
After the Collapse 260

Chapter Twelve: Seeds of Change on the Steppe Borders: Maikop Chiefs and Tripolye Towns 263
The Five Cultures of the Final Eneolithic in the Steppes 265
Crisis and Change on the Tripolye Frontier: Towns Bigger Than Cities 277
The First Cities and Their Connection to the Steppes 282
The North Caucasus Piedmont: Eneolithic Farmers before Maikop 285
The Maikop Culture 287
Maikop-Novosvobodnaya in the Steppes: Contacts with the North 295
Proto-Indo-European as a Regional Language in a Changing World 299

Chapter Thirteen: Wagon Dwellers of the Steppe: The Speakers of Proto-Indo-European 300
Why Not a Kurgan Culture? 306
Beyond the Eastern Frontier: The Afanasievo Migration to the Altai 307
Wagon Graves in the Steppes 311
Where Did the Yamnaya Horizon Begin? 317
When Did the Yamnaya Horizon Begin? 321
Were the Yamnaya People Nomads? 321
Yamnaya Social Organization 328
The Stone Stelae of the North Pontic Steppes 336

Chapter Fourteen: The Western Indo-European Languages 340
The End of the Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture and the Roots of the Western Branches 343
Steppe Overlords and Tripolye Clients: The Usatovo Culture 349
The Yamnaya Migration up the Danube Valley 361
Yamnaya Contacts with the Corded Ware Horizon 367
The Origins of Greek 368
Conclusion: The Early Western Indo-European Languages Disperse 369

Chapter Fifteen: Chariot Warriors of the Northern Steppes 371
The End of the Forest Frontier: Corded Ware Herders in the Forest 375
Pre-Sintashta Cultures of the Eastern Steppes 385
The Origin of the Sintashta Culture 389
Warfare in the Sintashta Culture: Fortifications and Weapons 393
Tournaments of Value 405
Sintashta and the Origins of the Aryans 408

Chapter Sixteen: The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes 412
Bronze Age Empires and the Horse Trade 412
The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex 421
The Opening of the Eurasian Steppes 435
The Srubnaya Culture: Herding and Gathering in the Western Steppes 437
East of the Urals, Phase I: The Petrovka Culture 441
The Seima-Turbino Horizon in the Forest-Steppe Zone 443
East of the Urals, Phase II: The Andronovo Horizon 448
Proto-Vedic Cultures in the Central Asian Contact Zone 452
The Steppes Become a Bridge across Eurasia 456

Chapter Seventeen: Words and Deeds 458
The Horse and the Wheel 459
Archaeology and Language 463

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