The horse, the wheel, and language : how Bronze-Age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world

by David W. Anthony

Book, 2007



Call number

P572 .A54



Publisher Unknown


Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization. Linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language, David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony also describes his fascinating discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language solves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.… (more)

Media reviews

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language” brings together the work of historical linguists and archaeologists, researchers who have traditionally been suspicious of one another’s methods. Though parts of the book will be penetrable only by scholars, it lays out in intricate detail the complicated
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genealogy of history’s most successful language.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member vpfluke
The intent of this book is to show that the orignal Indo-European culture and speakers originatd in the Eurasian steppes (southern Ukraine), and not in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). The language evidence is fairly well demonstrated, and it is backed up with exhaustive archaeological evidence, now
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that Soviet research is nvw available to western scholars. How the proto-Greek speaking people fit into this scheme is not sharply understood. But this is an important book understood in bringing a great deal of clarity to the origins of the ancestors of the largest language family on earth.
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LibraryThing member Garp83
The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, by David Anthony, is an outstanding work of history, archaeology, linguistics and overall scholarship. Anthony argues that it was indeed Indo-European Bronze Age chariot riders from the steppes who “invaded” (actually he suggests a gradual, transitional
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displacement, amalgamation) and absorbed the territories of the Danubian agriculturalists of Old Europe such as the Cucuteni-Trypillian people, as well as introduced new technologies (i.e. the chariot) to the Near East and (through the Tocharian Mummy segment) to China.

Anthony’s fascinating study begins with the study of bit wear on horses, a scientific examination that he seems to have inaugurated some years back. His studies have provided evidence that clearly demonstrates the demarcation line between those who utilized horses for food like other mega-fauna and those who rode them, thereby establishing that the latter occurred far earlier than previously noted.

Unfortunately, Anthony’s book is heavily bogged down with the minutiae of archaeological evidence – hundreds of pages of it – that would have found better provenance in an appendix. The organization of the book is such that his well-written narrative becomes pregnant with details of each site and culture to the degree that even scholars in the field would grow weary of it. It took me months of perseverance – while reading other books, of course – to make to the end of this volume, which is in fact well worth the read. Anthony should re-edit the book, however, and re-issue a version that is more accessible to, if not a popular audience, at least for readers who are not schooled in professional archaeology. Still, I highly recommend the book as the best and certainly the most comprehensive study of the early Indo-European peoples.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
Weaving together linguistics, archaeology, and other social sciences, Anthony gives you the state of play in our current understanding of the Indo-European efflorescence that came out of the transition between the tail-end of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age proper. While it's still largely a
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matter of steppe-dwelling pastoral nomads who first effectively tamed the horse, think less in terms of something that looks like the horde of Attila or Genghis Khan and more a group of peoples who turned the steppe from a barrier to a road and who were better able to exploit a landscape entering into something of a little ice age, and to organize other cultures traumatized by climatic change. That we have this new understanding, which puts a final end to the curdled romanticism about the "Aryans," is largely a testament to East-West scientific cooperation in the wake of the end of the Cold War.

If I have one particular gripe it's that this book could have used some more basic editing; I read a library copy that was liberally proof-marked by a previous reader.
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LibraryThing member neurodrew
A hefty and fact-filled review of proto-Indo-European language origins in the steppes of central Asia. The initial chapters on the process of deriving ancient languages from modern languages, using rules of language evolution, were interesting but I was left a little baffled by the reliability of
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the process. The chapters on steppe archeology were more straight-forward, but the endless listing of pottery styles, kurgan graves, copper and bronze artifacts, became numbing after several chapters. I believe the author could have edited much of this or consigned it to footnotes, although I understand he was writing for experts, not popular readers. The prose is serviceable, and the mass of detail eventually painted an interesting picture of pre-historic life in the steppes.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
This is a fairly technical book with many archeological details and discussion of linguistic theory. Not a light read, but interesting for those who care about language and cultural change. One interesting point made is that early horse riding nomads did not rely on trading with or raiding farming
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cultures for grain as what grain they did use was theseeds of wild grasses. Another interesting point is that one of the skeletal markers for a grain based diet is dental caries.
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LibraryThing member br77rino
Describes the various tribe-like groups in and around the Black Sea and southern Russia around 20,000 years ago.
LibraryThing member mah
Very slow going. Worthy and intersting in parts, but definitely for the afficionado
LibraryThing member annbury
This is a terrific book for those interested in just who the original Indo Europeans were, BUT it is also a tough read. Forge ahead, but prepare to skim some sections.

The book begins with an explanation of how linguistic scholars have re-created (or at least imagined) the Indo European language
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from which most of the languages of Europe, including English, ultimately developed. He then moves to archaelogy, gathering and presenting the physical evidence on where -- and when -- the people who spoke that ancestral Indo-European actually emerged.

This is important in terms of understanding history, but it may be even more important in terms of avoiding a misunderstanding of history. For the past two centuries, there has been a lot done by linguists on the Indo-European language, but much less on the archaeological side about the actual Indo-European people. . This allowed the development of nationalistic and racist myths with little or no historical basis, myths that have had terrible consequences. The myth of the "Aryan race" is best disproved by actual archaeological research

And the writer presents and evaluates a massive amount of archaeological evidence, much of it work carried out by Soviet scientists which has only recently become available in the west. He also includes discussions of his own work, including a very interesting discussion of how he estimated times and place for the emergence of horse-riding. From this evidence, he does draw conclusions which seem born out by what is known, and which I found absolutely fascinating.

The problem is the sheer weight of the evidence. Several reviewers have suggested that much of the technical archaeological discussion -- and there is SO much of it, site after site, tomb after tomb, pot after pot -- could better be put in footnotes and/or appendices. For a non-professional reader like myself, this would have avoided the sensation of plodding through a whole lot of minutiae to get to the points.

For professionals, I am sure the detail is valuable and interesting. (I didn't find the sections on linguistics at all dull, which may be because I know a bit about it.) But for popular readers, less would definitely be more.

I learned a lot from this book, and -- in the expository sections -- the writing is a pleasure to read. Because of the massive detail, however, I am giving it four stars instead of five.
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LibraryThing member fist
In short, this is the prequel to Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (to which the author refers in the text and in the title trifecta). Maybe this book is a bit more technical in its archeological descriptions, and less forceful in formulating a central thesis, but I found it just as
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Why did the Indo-Europeans come to dominate the larger part of the Eurasian land mass (thereby extinguishing at least three pre-existing language groups, of which no trace remains, except in river names and a few other language fossils)? How and where did they originate, and how did they split up to form the various main language groups, from Celtic, Germanic and Italic over Greek, Armenian, Iranian to Sanskrit and faraway Tocharian?
The descriptions of what was found exactly in which tomb are a bit tedious, but they are compensated for by the author's research into language evolution and horse domestication as proofs alongside the physical evidence. And there you have it: Troy and the Iliad don't suddenly appear out of nowhere, as our classical education had us believe until recently, but fit firmly in this narrative, as do the Assyrians and their urban civilisations. Suddenly our earliest history gains a new sense by the identification of this Indo-European tribe in their steppes above the Black and Caspian seas, linking old civilisations in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Iran to the earliest Chinese states, and finally dominating many of them with their horses, their chariots and indeed their languages.
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LibraryThing member pbjwelch
Educated in an era when the Tigris-Euphrates "Fertile Crescent") region was credited with the invention of the chariot, this work's most fascinating contribution to our understanding of world history to me was the identification of the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the origin of horse-riding about
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4200-4000 BCE, and the invention of wheeled vehicles around 3300 BCE. Chariots used in warfare utterly changed world history, so dating their appearance is important because it helps us understand so many other bits and pieces we have of ancient history in the region (including Indian and Chinese history). Author David Anthony reminds us that the oldest images in Near Eastern art of spoked wheels (which identifies chariots used in warfare from carts used for other more domestic purposes) appear about 1900 BCE, which leads us to the realization that chariots were developed first in the steppes, and "introduced to the Near East through Central Asia". The appearance of chariot-riding warriors can explain the sudden appearance (and disappearance) of armed settlements, large-scale migrations, technologies that focus on instruments of war, the replacement of the heroic warrior with the strategizing general of armies, etc. Even if you're not interested in language, this detail-rich volume has many threads for historians to follow; it is a monumental work for anyone.
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LibraryThing member wickenden
Finally a reasonable and thorough exposition of the story of Indo-European mysteries presented with authority and vision. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member Paul_S
Despite not having any interest in archeology I found this fascinating and am deeply impressed by the ingenuity of research that allows us to learn something about cultures we have so little tangible evidence of.
LibraryThing member dsransom
A magnum opus: an important but accessible work of academic history clearly establishing the roots of the Proto-Indo European language with an approach that marries linguistics with archeology.
LibraryThing member adastra
I stopped reading this book at 30% because it was super boring to read about archaeological stuff in minute detail. Might be interesting for archaeologists, but not for me.

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