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Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins Paperback – January 26, 1990
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'Mr. Renfrew has written this fascinating book to review the subject in general and to advance a revisionist idea about the mode and timing of the Indo-European spread.' Stephen Jay Gould, The New York Times Book Review
'Written for the nonspecialist, this book refreshens the mind with new information, rigorous analysis, scientific scruple, and critical panache.' Thomas D'Evelyn, Christian Science Monitor
'The argument is lively and lucid, and the book deserves a wide readership among specialists and non-specialists alike. It is a daring thesis ... Renfrew is not afraid of dealing with big problems...an attempt to move archaeology forward and to break its isolation ... he has started another of those debates on which progress in archaeology depends.' Richard Bradley, Nature
In this book Professor Renfrew directs remarkable new light on the links between archaeology and language, looking specifically at the puzzling similarities that are apparent across the Indo-European family of ancient languages, from Anatolia and Ancient Persia, across Europe and the Indian subcontinent, to regions as remote as Sinkiang in China.
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If he had looked further east, say for instance in the linguistics of Mongolia or China, not to mention south into India, our good Prof. Renfrew might have discovered a different foundation. Migration DID have its influence; and the contact with early I-E speakers slammed many a noun into the Far Eastern languages-- like "ma" in Mongolian, meaning "meat" as from the "mare." A far better take on the subject was proposed by J.P. Mallory even though he minced through so many chapters, not quite willing to come right out with it and say, "Yes. The homeland was in the Pontic-Caspian region." And at least Mallory depicted an equestrian on his cover.
Fact is, I-E was brought into Old Europe by horsemen, but not necessarily the wild debauch that Marija Gimbutas viewed. The steppe culture has now been shown to be far more sophisticated than once assumed, even as few as fifteen years ago. The horse created mobility and trade, not just war. And that is the real assocition to I-E. Mallory was correct and Dr. Anthony has enlarged the theory. Renfrew has written an interesting book, a little too speculative, too dismissing, and unwilling to give Central Asian "barbarians" their due. The subject is being corrected, and now we have a better view.
I found this study rather stodgy. The Anatolian discussion takes up far less of the book than you might expect from the reviews on Amazon before mine. Renfrew's wide ranging, and the whole IE search for origins occupies only a part of a larger effort to take his fellow archeologists to task for ignoring or misinterpreting linguistic evolution within the artifacts they excavate.
The pace of the book's slow, if the facts stay abundant; the style of the methodological marshalling of so much archeological, linguistic, and comparative cultural data turned often leaden. Any work written for a non-specialist that addresses recondite debates and learned contentions may run the risk of such arcane discourse. But, Renfrew, while no natural tale-teller, remains convinced of his iconoclastic assertions, and if you are committed to understanding this subject, this and J.P. Mallory's near-concurrent "In Search of the Indo-Europeans" represent crucial texts on the origins of IE. While I'd been meaning to read Renfrew for a long time, what impelled me to finish it was the appearance in 2007 of David W. Anthony's "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language," which proposes a Pontic steppe origin in Russia and southern Ukraine for the riders who took Proto-Indo-European across the plateaus as an "elite" language of poetry about a male sky-god and began to leave its traces with other peoples who then began cultivating PIE.
As Renfrew wrote nearly two decades before Anthony, I was curious to see if I could find anticipations of Anthony's theory in Renfrew. I prepared to understand Anthony's OIE elaborations by first learning from how Renfrew built his foundation. He discourages the findings of linguistic paleology. He warns in matching cognates of Sanskrit "ratha" with Latin "rota" that it's "a far cry from saying that some hypothetical Proto-Indo-Europeans used chariots with wheels (or indeed carts with wheels) in their original homeland." (86) Also, he discourages Gimbutas' far-reaching establishment of a PIE Russian-Ukraine "Urheimat" to better assert his competing claim-- based on analysis of early Greek-- for Anatolia.
The liveliest part of the work remains for me the incorporation of Christopher Hawkes' "Cumulative Celticity" theory that Renfrew adapts to his wave-family tree (stammbaum) plotting for PIE. He denies that the La Téne artistic style presents a hub in Central Europe for the migration of Celts, shows how that noun can be defined eight ways, and favors Myles Dillon's reasoning that fundamental language changes began "in situ" in the places we find Celtic languages developing historically, rahter than emanating from a Continental center through massive migration or war. Therefore, the Iberian (Hispano-Celtic) or Goidelic (Q-Celt) branches of ancient Celtic languages stayed far enough on the Atlantic fringes that they did not alter with subsequent innovations that warped other Celtic varietals into insular Brythonic (P-Celt) or Western European Gaulish forms attested to in the historical record.
Finally, well before the genetic applications suggested by DNA comparisons with language from Stephen Oppenheimer ("Origins of the British," 2006), Renfrew predicts in passing that in Britain prior to the withdrawal of the Romans already many people may have spoken a Germanic language (137). However, Renfrew discourages in this pre-Genome Project breakthrough in genogeography a trust in such efforts as pioneered Luigi Cavalli-Sforza: "I think experience has shown that genetic arguments in relation to language and culture quite readily lend themselves to misleading interpretations." Still, the "wave of advance maps" such earlier scholars charted with their mapping of "various blood groups in Europe, suggesting genetic affinities," Renfrew finds may "await further assessment," which two decades later appears to be occuring with scholars such as Cavalli-Sforza, Oppenheimer, and Bryan Sykes, to name only three of those addressing their findings for a wider audience.
(P.S. I reviewed Bryan Sykes' "Seven Daughters of Eve" & "Saxons, Vikings & Celts" along with Stephen Oppenheimer's "Origins of the British" on Amazon.)