21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2011
Since the 1980s David Anthony has been an expert on Balkan and Steppe Archaeology, as well as working on the origins of horse riding. This is his Magnum Opus. I doubt that you'll see its like (certainly from him) again.
And what a work! By covering almost every angle he manages to get, as far as anyone can, to the root of Indo-European origins with his discussion of horses, wheels, wool and chariots. The first half of the book is a gripping roller coaster, fascinating to anybody who has an interest in Proto-Indo-European, its age(s) and place(s). The argument presented essentially backs up the "Ukrainian steppe pastoralist" origin story of Marija Gimbutas, while doing its best to demolish (quite effectively) the current alternative , Colin Renfrew's "Turkish original farmer" origin story.
However, after an interesting chapter on the origins of horse-riding, the second half of the book is a painstaking blow by blow account of the archaeology of steppe cultures between 5000 and 2000 BC. Even for an obsessive like me I struggle not to fall asleep while reading it. Ultimately it is aimed at academics who argue against the steppe origins of Indo-Iranian and Tocharian. Unless you're up with those arguments it will bore you to tears. To be fair Prof Anthony never professed to making a block-buster, just to making his case. All the same, the book's title should really have been subtitled "how bronze age riders from the Eurasian steppe shaped Western and Central Asia".
However, my major issue with the book is that Prof Anthony (like Jim Mallory) does not seem to be able to see the world from outside his own argument. He believes, almost religiously, that Andronovo culture = Indo-Iranian language. Sure it's a reasonable case but it's a long long way from being proved. This leaves him constantly flitting between using culture or using language to describe the same thing, even within one sentence - pretty much an archaeological (and scientific) no-no. I just wish that he could have separated the two. This would have better helped him both to make his case and to see the flaws in it. More than anything else this will cause the book to date as new evidence becomes available.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2008
A very detailed and convincing book that almost certainly explains the origins of proto-Indo-European people and languages in the Pontic Ukraine. All links to surrounding cultures and languages and their links to PIE are discussed in minute detail. This is a very thick book which needs to be read twice to really understand fully. The only critisism is that Anthony does not summarise or give enough maps to help the quick reader, but there are enough maps and illustrations to provide detail to the dedicated reader with an interest in PIE.
Essentially the Northern Black Sea was the source of a steppe people who had first mastery of horses wagons and later chariots and copper smelting all of which gave them advantages over neighbouring peoples. PIE slowly spread over time through a combination of assimilation domination and conquests, using PIE as a type of networking language. The steppes initially provided a fast means to transmit that culture with the aid of the horse, and the Steppes had a unique advantage of having access to the 4 origins of civilisation in the Balkans the Middle East, Eurasia and China. More detail is given to the Eastern PIE peoples like the Tocharians and Indo-Iranians, than to the origins of European languages.
67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2010
I bought this book because I had long been interested in the spread of Indo-European languages, and wanted to know more about the lifestyle in the Indo-European homeland of the Eurasian steppe, and confront it with other contemporary cultures in Europe and the Middle East. David Anthony does a good job at reviewing the archaeological evidence for the steppe culture, the North Caucasus, Central Asia, the Carpathians and East Balkans, but does not explain how people lived in other regions where IE languages spread, not even nearby Anatolia.
I would have liked to see a review of the archaeological sites of the Unetice, Tumulus and Urnfield cultures of Central Europe (the forerunners of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures), so as to determine how Proto-Celtic cultures related to the steppe cultures. Unfortunately there isn't a single mention of any of them, even though the author spends two whole chapters to discuss the Central Asian cultures of the same period (Andronovo, Sintashta, Bactria-Margiana). I don't suppose I am the only European reader more interested in the Italo-Celtic and Germanic branches of Indo-European civilization than in the Indo-Iranian one.
One of my main interest was to compare the anthropological features of steppe people with those of territories supposedly invaded by the Indo-Europeans. I chose this book because its author is a professor of anthropology (and not archaeology or linguistics). I was very disappointed as Pr. Anthony does not give any anthropometric measurement of the skeletons in the sites studied, apart from a brief and very basic distinction between wide-faced and low-skulled steppe people and the narrow-faced high-skulled people of Old Europe. Instead of comparing pottery styles, that are obviously not related to ethnicity and language as he explains many times in the first part of the book, I wish he could have compared body height and built, head shape, facial and cranial morphology, hair colour, and so on. He doesn't do it because he thinks that Indo-European languages spread almost exclusively through cultural contact and elite dominance, rather than through substantial migrations (this is stated in the last pages chapter 6 and in chapter 14). I am surprised that he would still hold such a position in 2007, when Y-DNA haplogroups had already clearly established a undeniable genetic connection (namely the dominance of haplogroups R1a and R1b) between all the Indo-European speakers from Western Europe to South Asia. Anthony does not mention genetic studies once, except to say in chapter 6 that the flow of Y chromosome was very low at English/Welsh border so that the two regions contrasted in gene pools. This is not even correct; there is a clinal east-west gradation from Wales to East Anglia, and Y-DNA is western England is about as much Celtic as Germanic.
I do not want to sound too negative. The book is interesting, especially for those with little prior knowledge about Indo-European studies. It can however be long-winded, both in the archaeological descriptions (use more data tables and less prose, please) and the tedious way in which he is defending things that hardly controversial any more, like the value of historical linguistics or the geographic location of the Indo-European homeland. I already agreed with all that before opening the book, so I found it was pointless and irrelevant for me.
The author makes some interesting analogies between Neolithic Europe and Native Americans and Africans. But he is obviously not a linguist and makes basic mistakes in his European examples. The French pronunciation of "cent" is not "sohnt" (p. 25). The final "t" is silent and it sounds more like "san" than "sohn" ("sohn" is how Saône, the river, is pronounced). It may sound trifle, but it is not when the example is used to compare the evolution of the pronunciation of the Indo-European word for "hundred". Similarly, but about history this time, Anthony writes (p. 106) : "After the fall of Rome German speakers moved into the northern cantons of Switzerland, and the Gallic kingdom of Burgundy occupied what had been Gallo-Roman western Switzerland. The frontier between them still separates ecologically similar regions within the modern state that differ in language (German-French), religion (Protestant-Catholic), architecture, the size and organization of landholdings, and the nature of the agricultural economy." This is wrong on many levels. Burgundy was a Germanic kingdom, not a Gallic one. Protestantism doesn't date from the 6th century, but the 16th century ! The Catholic-Protestant border is not between French and German speakers. French-speaking Swiss are Protestant, while their neighbours in France are Catholic. German-speaking Swiss are both Protestant and Catholic, depending on the canton, and most South Germans and Austrians are Catholic, like the French. The cultural differences are sometimes stronger between France and French-speaking Switzerland than between French- and German-speaking Swiss. The architecture looks Swiss everywhere in Switzerland. This is the kind of little details that I noted all along the first part of the book which tend to discredit a bit Anthony. Apart from that this book is still worth reading if you want to learn the basics about the Indo-European homeland and its archaeology. But keep in mind that you won't learn anything on the topic related to genetics or anthropology.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Though this is a book that advances a highly complex set of academic arguments - that the spread of proto-indo-european languages was not accomplished by violence, that linguistic methods can supplement the physical evidence to pinpoint its origins and fundamental splits - it is also highly readable for interested laymen. I myself cannot judge his ideas against the evidence, but I learned an immense amount about the transition from the late neolithic to the bronze ages, where a single population divided and moved into both Europe and S Asia, disseminating a root language, technologies, a new economic and agricultural system, and finally an innovative socio-political system. The essence of Anthony's argument, in my reading, is that all these interacted to produce a relatively peaceful expansion.
First, in 5500 BC, the proto-indo-europeans (PIE) were small bands of foragers based in the Pontic-Caspian riverrain and seaside regions. While neolithic agricultural techniques were spreading, PIE adopted herding techniques of grass-eating species, enabling them to convert previously useless steppe grasses into animal protein. This vastly increased their range of potential living spaces. Horses, in particular, represented a good food source: they could paw through snow to grass, rather than depend on their noses like sheep, which preferred to starve than scrape their tender snozes as winter wore on. This hugely increased their wealth and nutritional options, expanding their population, prestige, and power. In this way, they became a significant cultural force. (Interestingly, it appears that 2 offshoots - the Hittite language groups and the Tocharians - split off prior to this, around 4500-4000 BC.)
Second, a series of stunning technological inventions increased their mobility and speed over unprecedented ranges. Not only did the wheel make its appearance, but so did the wagon and eventually the chariot. This reinforced PIE economic power and, particularly with the chariot and the newly acquired ability to ride horses instead of just eating them, made them a formidable military power as well. They were able to protect themselves as well as raid others and then beat a hasty escape. The need to protect herds also enhanced the status of male warriors. Finally, as their herds grew to enormous proportions, PIE sought new grazing areas, spurring further spreading west, northwest, and southeast.
Third, according to Kennedy, PIE developed a political system based on 2 customs that enabled them to incorporate local peoples relatively peacefully, with the adoption of PIE dialects and intermarriage eventually mixing the populations. On the one hand, with their wealth and economic system, PIE developed client-master relations with locals, in effect incorporating them into a lower rank of their hierarchy. This was accomplished to their mutual advantage, trading prosperity for peace and stability. On the other hand, there was a system of guest-host relations, also to promote peace and sharing, in particular in feasts given by PIE to prove the superiority of their economic-agricultural system. In this way, over thousands of years, PIE dialects spread to autochtons as they were absorbed into a quasi-political order. Though Anthony did not quite prove to my satisfaction that this was accomplished without depending on a great deal on warfare, I admit it is possible it happened non-violently.
By 3200 BC or so, the PIE had created a gigantic diaspora of related but independent regions. With the perfection of bronze smelting, the relative uniformity of the many groups facilitated trade, initiating an unprecedented era of prosperity that lasted through 2000 years, to the iron age. It was during this time that PIE split into Celtic, Italic, Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic groupings (to name a few!), eventually leading to the modern languages that a full 70% of the world speaks today. This is absolutely wonderful stuff for the brain, a rare intellectual adventure. You can also gain a deep understanding of the Bronze Age, though little of the culture can be known with any specificity. It is also a primer on historical linguistics, lucidly written, that examines the structure of PIE languages; for example, its grammar is elaborately structured to reflect time and action, which is not the case with other basic root languages (Hopi, for example, incorporates one's assessment of the accuracy of a source of information into its grammar, shaping thought in an entirely different way).
That being said, this is a very academic book. THere are long passages where seemingly obscure points are proven. They can be tedious to the uninitiated and easily skipped. For myself, I dislike long descriptions of graves and pottery shards, of which there are very many; the same goes for the linguistic reconstruction of PIE, which necessitates long discussions of word roots and their evolution into modern usages. Of course, to be scientific, these arguments must be made. To his credit, Anthony always brings the reader back to remind us of where he is going and what it means, which make the book a consistent pleasure.
I recommend this book with the greatest enthusiasm. It is also beautifully written and has plenty of personal observations, such as his efforts with his wife to prove that horses were ridden by gauging wear on horse's teeth, that are funny and instructive.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2010
The basic question ought to be settled by this book : The earliest Indo-european language, ancestral to languages that are to day mother tongues for billions of people of all sorts all over the world, was a language spoken by hunter-gatherers on the steppe north of the Black Sea, who hunted horses,
fished and gathered local herbs.
The book gives solid overviews of linguistic facts as well as archaeological, not the least because the author has gone deeply into original Soviet and Russian excavation reports,inclduing a discussion of C14 dates. Based on this Anthony achieves a sometimes surprisingly close fit between the two sorts of facts. In doing so he draws on the most recent archaological and anthropological theories of culture change, migration and language change.
In addition there are up to date discussions of nomadism, domestication of the horse (Anthony has done primary research here), and the beginning of horse riding and the use of chariots.
The book is well documented science, and any serious student of the subject, as well as any interested and motivated amateur should be able to read it. For those neither lingusts nor archaeologists the book gives a good insight in the methods.
It is not the final book on the spread and development of Indo-European, it only goes to a point; it discusses the spread from the 'Urheim', but not the further spread into Europe, India and the Middle East, but it does tell other workers, where to start. We may hope to see morer works on this, as
well written and researched as this, e.g. on how the Italic, Celtic, Germanic and Balto-Slavish branches moved to the areas and cultures, where we find them at the dawn of written history and how to explain the complicated relationship between them.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2009
This is really two books in one. The first part sets out the author's theories on the development of the Indo-European family of languages and the strands of evidence which come from the domestication of the horse and the invention of the wheel and the wagon. He deals fully with the rival theories of other archaeologists and the different linguistic methods of establishing the dates and places when and where the "daughter" languages evolved. The second part deals in detail with the archaeological investigations of the cultures of the Pontic-Caspian region and the eastern Steppes which form the basis of his theories and this is fairly demanding reading, a foundation course in near-eastern archaeology! Fortunately he writes so well that the reader is encouraged to persevere, so much so that I found myself re-reading the earlier chapters after I had reached the conclusion. His own researches into the domestication of the horse are particularly interesting and enjoyable to an ex-farmer like myself.
on 24 May 2015
This is certainly an interesting book for those who are interested in the Proto Indo-European question. It is well-written and lucid. At the end however, I was left feeling that there was,more assertion than argument in it, and that the copious evidence on offer was largely irrelevant to the main issues at hand.
A range of scientific and linguistic evidence in recent years has pointed to Anatolia as the most obvious homeland of the Proto Indo-European language. Rather than engage directly with this evidence, Anthony tends to side step it, very subtly, at points in his analysis and then simply deluge the reader with detail on topics that do not directly bear on the controversy surrounding the Proto Indo-European homeland.
Certain key points in the argument look very weak indeed, and these all relate to the three key pillars of Anthony's argument. On the wheel, I read nothing in this book that can dispute the Mesopotamian origins of the wheel and carts, and therefore the domestication of the horse. It is disingenuous to use the Bronocice pot as an image of a cart without any mention of its pictoral poverty. Even if it were a wagon, which seems unlikely, why would it have been drawn in aerial view when every other ancient drawing, including the others on the same pot, are drawn from the side?
On language there is a completely inadequate engagement with the views of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov who, more than any other scholars, have shown the merit in the Anatolian hypothesis by meticulous analysis of Proto Indo-European words. Anthony has nothing significant to say about the presence of words for panther and lion in Proto Indo-European which effectively rule out a Steppes origin. Yet, he places very great emphasis on a claim that the existence of a word for the honey bee rule out a Southern homeland.
Certainly a well written book that is worth a read.
on 7 March 2015
Giving four stars is not a reflection of the quality of the book which is first class but on the number of people likely to enjoy it. It is for university students at least.
The question it deals with is not new; it is at least 2 hundred years old, namely the origin of the Indo-European languages. As the book says, about half the people of the world speak an Indo-European language. Nor are the conclusions of the book different from the commonly-held view that they originated in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas. The author combines linguistic and archaeological studies. He does so with great thoroughness, drawing on Russian and Ukrainian studies now available to those able to read Russian and there are many of these. The problem for the non-expert is that there a too many of these. What is suitable for a university student is less suitable for the general reader, and I found myself skipping.
As is common nowadays, the author dismisses the theory from Rassenkampf (racial wars) of Social Darwinism. Rather, Indo-European became regarded as a prestige language, the language of high status families. Greek, Latin, and Arabic spread in a similar manner, as indeed did English, French and Spanish. Prestige no doubt followed success in battle, but did not involve wiping out populations. The use of the horse for riding and the composite bow, also helped.
This exhaustive work sums up recent scholarship on the subject. It does not explain the origin of the local dialect of the steppes which was to prove so influential.
on 12 March 2014
Archeology meets linguistic assisted by recent studies in ancient Climate and Ecology and they all seem to converge. The Nazi's would have spent fortunes and probably not shied away from violence to obtain this information and then perhaps burnt this book! And all this accomplished in less than a century! Of course one can notice a kind of lingering admiration for these lucky people who were predominantly responsible for incessantly creating these increasingly successful (nothing succeeds like success!), incredibly fertile, politically shrewd and rather aggressive linguistic and cultural horizons and later in their histories empires and even distinct civilizations. It remains to be seen how this tallies with genetically reconstructed migrations of the peoples of the world, that are currently being rigorously pursued on an international scale. Moreover there are some other models of population expansion being presently put forward (demographic expansion analogous to Huygens-Fesnel priciple in wave optics) that may lead to some amendment and in my opinion a more or less fine tuning of Anthony's big Indo-European Odyssey. Written in English _ just like the Odyssey an Indo-European father-tongue _ it reads like a Saga but unlike a Saga it s based on a solid empirical material foundation. There may be also other reasons for the success of the Indo-Europeans, besides the ones Anthony has put forward. Possible also that there might have been more creative impulse, than Anthony seems to be willing to acknowledge, given to that success by other people, who were not Indo-Europeans but had assimilated the language, just like in USA today, if you would consider Anglo-Saxons as the primary linguistic group that imposed its language and consequently its thinking framework on the other linguistic and ethnic groups. Also the declaration that technology (metallurgy) of the Sintashta Horizon was wholly or predominantly indigenous does not seem to me to be all that clear or proven. They might theoretically have had some well paid immigrants or prisoners or locally married blacksmiths from Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex at this industrial town! Or other sedentary people from the North of Iran, prospectors, traders, locally married men from as far off as Elam! I can even imagine a particularly adventurous rider chief traveling with traders to Elam or even Ur! There are also evidences of potters and Metallurgists crossing cultural or ethnic boundaries for better prestigious jobs already before the dawn of urban centers! The fame of Ur must have been wide at that time. Unfortunately textiles do not always leave so good traces as other materials. Around 1900 BCE Assyrians traders had trade settlements far off in the East (Kanesh), why not also in the East, before Assyria embarked on Empire building and thereby created rigid borders in East (Elam & regions of North-Western Iran). Both the products of Ur and traders dealing with them and the imports for a ravenous consumption there and in other urban centers in fertile crescent probably traveled to far of places _ to the corners of the known world at the time. The Indus-Valley was already tied up in sea-trade with Uruk. They probably also traded to the North. We will probably never ever get to know the whole picture. But this book sums up more than anything till now, that is known about this language spread across the globe. In my opinion however it is not the last word on the subject but whoever does have the final say, must have dealt with Anthony's work thoroughly. A must read for anyone dealing with Indo-Europeans, especially for the white-Supremacists, since their conceptions are probably more the medieval conceptions of the Indo-European clans of Alans, Parthians, Scythians, Smartians or what have you Vandals & Visigoths. Ferocious people, but they too feared the Huns and Mongols and got defeated! Nomads Warriors did not till the ground, but they did not mind eating the cultural goods, especially things like Alphabet, Mathematics, Medicine and of course the prestige Objects of their conquered subjects. They still do! Paradox of history. It was a farmer, yes a pity son of small exploited poor farmers, who chased the greatest Warriors in History (the Mongols), chased them to their capital city and burnt it down. He a non-Indo-European was the founder of the Ming Dynasty in China! History always has its surprises and evolution too! No one is born a ruler _ no one a slave. Just twists of climate, geography etc. and quite often some luck! BTW a born Kashmiri my father-tongue is an Indo-European. Yes this book can help remove some of these prejudices.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 October 2013
The first half of the book which explores the reconstruction of an ancestral Indo-European language was fascinating as were the sections on the practical development of the wheel and the genetics of horse ancestry. However, the latter part seemed to drift into a endless list of archaeological sites - how many graves, how many beads - with small nuggets of interest in between. I have not managed to finish the book and probably won't but I did enjoy the first half hence the 3 stars.