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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World Hardcover – December 9, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691058873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691058870
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this study of language, archeology and culture, Hartwick College anthropology professor Anthony hypothesizes that a proto-Indo-European culture emerged in the Ponto-Caspian steppes 4,000 years ago, speaking an ur-language ancestor to the Romance, German and Slavic family of languages, Sanskrit and modern English. Citing discoveries in the Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan made possible only after the fall of the Iron Curtain brought together Soviet and western scientists, Anthony combines evidence from radioactive dating, demographic analysis of migration patterns, linguistic analysis and the study of epics such as the Iliad and the Rig Veda to substantiate his contention. Central to his thesis is the role of the horse, originally domesticated for food and first ridden to manage herds; only later, with the development of the chariot, were they ridden during combat. Anthony provides a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of his subject, complete with a history of relevant research over the past two centuries (including evidence and opinion that counter his own, such as the now-discredited Aryan race hypothesis). A thorough look at the cutting edge of anthropology, Anthony's book is a fascinating look into the origins of modern man.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Winner of the 2010 Book Award, Society for American Archaeology

"David W. Anthony argues that we speak English not just because our parents taught it to us but because wild horses used to roam the steppes of central Eurasia, because steppedwellers invented the spoked wheel and because poetry once had real power. . . . Anthony is not the first scholar to make the case that Proto-Indo-European came from this region [Ukraine/Russia], but given the immense array of evidence he presents, he may be the last one who has to.... The Horse, the Wheel, and Language brings together the work of historical linguists and archaeologists, researchers who have traditionally been suspicious of each other's methods. [The book] lays out in intricate detail the complicated genealogy of history's most successful language."--Christine Kenneally, The New York Times Book Review

"[A]uthoritative . . . "--John Noble Wilford, New York Times

"A thorough look at the cutting edge of anthropology, Anthony's book is a fascinating look into the origins of modern man."--Publishers Weekly (Online Reviews Annex)

"In the age of Borat it may come as a surprise to learn that the grasslands between Ukraine and Kazakhstan were once regarded as an early crucible of civilisation. This idea is revisited in a major new study by David Anthony."--Times Higher Education

"Starting with a history of research on Proto-Indo-Europeans and exploring how this field for obvious reasons assumed an ethno-political dimension early on, leading PIE scholar Anthony moves on to established facts . . . then shifts his focus to the interrelation of the three essential elements of horse, chariot, and language and how the first and second provided the means for the spread of Indo-European languages from India to Ireland. The bulk of the book contains the factual evidence, mainly archaeological, to support this argument. But a strength of the book is its rich historical linguistic approach. The combination of the two provides a remarkable work that should appeal to everyone with an interest not just in Indo-Europeans, but in the history of humanity in general."--K. Abdi, Dartmouth College, for CHOICE

"David Anthony's book is a masterpiece. A professor of anthropology, Anthony brings together archaeology, linguistics, and rare knowledge of Russian scholarship and the history of climate change to recast our understanding of the formation of early human society."--Martin Walker, Wilson Quarterly

"The Horse, the Wheel, and Language brings together the work of historical linguists and archaeologists, researchers who have traditionally been suspicious of each other's methods. Though parts of the book will be penetrable only by scholars, it lays out in intricate detail the complicated genealogy of history's most successful language."--Christine Kenneally, International Herald Tribune

"The Horse, the Wheel and Language maps the early geography of the Russian steppes to re-create the lost world of Indo-European culture that is as fascinating as any mystery novel."--Arthur Krim, Geographical Reviews

"In its integration of language and archaeology, this book represents an outstanding synthesis of what today can be known with some certainty about the origin and early history of the Indo-European languages. In my view, it supersedes all previous attempts on the subject."--Kristian Kristiansen, Antiquity

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Customer Reviews

In many respects the book can be considered as reflecting the state of IEST at present.
Charles Hehenberger
The book is well-written and a very interesting read (I read it fairly quickly), and better (and more up-to-date) than other works I have read on this subject.
christian lange
Linguistic analysis of a language is also illustrated for where and when did the Indo-European language develop.
Searcher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

329 of 347 people found the following review helpful By Chris Crawford on June 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll play the Bad Guy here, offering a more critical review than the others. Not that I disagree with the favorable reviews -- but I think that readers should realize that the book is not quite as advertised.

It starts off great with Part I, which is an excellent explanation of the linguistic questions associated with Proto-Indo-European. Anthony offers the latest results clearly and thoroughly. Unfortunately, Part I is only 120 pages long. Part II, 340 pages long, is the real meat of the book. And while Part II has lots of merit, it's not at all what the title or the subtitle suggest. Part II is best summarized as "A thorough summation of the archaeological results from the areas thought to be the homeland of the Proto Indo-European peoples". Here the author departs substantially from the subject matter as suggested by the title, subtitle, and Part I. We are subjected to endless detailed descriptions of archaeological digs all over southern Russia and Siberia. We are told (many times) what the percentage of sheep/goat bones, cattle bones, and horse bones were at every site. We are told the direction in which the bodies were placed in burial, how many flint tools of each type were found, and other details that are surely appropriate for a compendium of archaeological results, but not for the larger synthesis promised by the title and subtitle.

I will concede that the author does thread a larger narrative through the endless site reports. There's a section, for example, on "The Economic and Military Effects of Horseback Riding", which explains the impressive idea that the real impact of horseback riding was that it made it possible for nomads to travel further from the river valleys while grazing their animals.
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120 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Elaine O. Chaika on July 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well, I do have a doctorate in linguistics and do have a background in reconstructing Proto-In do-European, the mother language to most European languages as well as Farsi, spoken in Iran, and several languages in India and Pakistan. The author of this book is an archaeologist who is competent as well in historical linguistics. I found the book fascinating, thoughtful, terrifically well researched and well-written, although it rather went on and on about burial sites, and the names for the motley prehistoric cultures got confusing. I suspect that non-scholars would find this daunting. Even scholars who aren't in the thick of archaelogical disputes might find it too technical and nit-picking. I solved the problem once I realized you could skip over the myriad descriptions of kurgans and pottery, and just go to his conclusions at the end of the chapter, occasionally skipping backwards to check on an assertion or two. Since I've just retired from teaching, I'm truly sorry I won't have a class to share some of Anthony's insights with, such as his convincing explanation of why Proto-Indo-Europrean developed gender marking on nouns -- and why it introduced patriarchal gods to replace older goddess religions. In sum, for the intellectually curious and the brave, a very enlightening and (dare I use the cliche) thought-provoking tome.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Aphotog on January 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Contrary to its subtitle, the book does not explain "How bronze-age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world" unless your idea of the modern world is the Late Bronze Age, circa 1200 BC, which is roughly where the book ends.

"Shaping the modern world" is largely limited to asserting that the occupants of the steppes spoke a Proto-Indo-European language and that subsequent speakers of Indo-European languages, like English, Latin, Russian and Hindi, have shaped the modern world. Also, they probably domesticated the horse. The book is definitely not a sweeping analysis of influences from the late Neolithic or Bronze Age to the present day.

What it is, as other reviewers have pointed out, is really two works in one--an introduction to Indo-European historical linguistics and also a review of archaeology in southern Russia from the Neolithic through the Late Bronze Age. Naturally, the link is that the theorized homeland of the Proto-Indo-European speakers is the steppes of southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Pontic-Caspian steppes.

Like most reviewers, I think it does cover its two main topics well, and it makes a plausible case for the location of the homeland. Although trained as an archaeologist, Anthony provides a readable account of the development of early Indo-European languages and their theorized source, Proto-Indo-European. That is the first quarter of the book. The remainder is devoted to a detailed survey of current archaeological knowledge of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages in the Pontic-Caspian steppes and surrounding areas. It's pretty dense reading at times.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Travers on January 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this work, David Anthony seeks to demonstrate that the original homeland of the Indo-European language family was in the Pontic-Caspian Steppes. In the process, he shows how the culture developed. This represents a significant contribution to the field and I would highly recommend it to all interested in the topic.

Anthony argues that persistent material culture frontiers tend to coincide with linguistic frontiers. This suggests that a well-bordered material culture horizon ("horizon" being an identifiable pattern regarding archaeological finds) would be home to one or more languages which would be, for the most part, contained within it (or at least it would be bounded on all sides by other languages). However, since this methodology is not fully accepted yet, and since even if accepted it does not provide a 1:1 correlation of language and culture, this work should be read critically. Furthermore, a number of his conclusions appeared to me sufficiently tentative that they could not be accepted without question. This work thus needs to be read as a groundbreaking (and thus somewhat tentative) work rather than a fully authoritative account.

However, despite the above issues, his proposed mappings of Indo-European language groups to archaeological horizons work surprisingly well. In some cases, the mappings seem to be hard to dispute.

I am going to disagree with a number of other reviewers on the value of minutae in the book. While it is true that the book seems to get repetitive at times regarding goat to sheep ratios, horse to cattle ratios, burrial types, etc. there is a great deal of value in providing this information.
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