David Anthony on the Opening of the Eurasian Steppe, 2000 BC; Joseph Needham on Cultural Diffusion across the Steppe

Peter Myers, July 7, 2002; update February 11, 2018. My comments are shown {thus}; write to me at contact.html.

You are at http://mailstar.net/needham-anthony.html.

(1) Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China. Volume I Introductory Orientations
(2) The Origin of Horseback Riding, by David Anthony, Dimitri Y. Telegin and Dorcas Brown
(3) David W. Anthony, The Opening of the Eurasian Steppe at 2000 BCE
(4) The Institute for Ancient Equestrian Studies
(5) Nicola DiCosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies: the Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History

(1) Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China. Volume I Introductory Orientations, Cambridge University Press 1961.

{p. 83} In north-eastern China (Honan and Shansi) the Yangshao phase was followed by another Neolithic culture known as that of Chheng-Tzu-Yai or of Lung-Shan (sitenames). This, still lacking all metal, was characterised by a smooth black earthenware of fine texture and high finish. The Lung-Shan men were certainly more advanced than those of Yangshao; the four animal species previously mentioned were fully domesticated, and probably also now the horse. At this point, too, appear other techniques, long known in the Middle East, but new to China, particularly the potter's wheel, and the building of towns and houses made of tamped earth (terre pise). It is possible that the Lungshan people knew the use of wheeled vehicles, but the absence of metal parts makes this uncertain.

1. This takes us down to about - 1600 {i.e. 1600 B.C.}. Within a hundred years of that date either way appeared, with apparent suddenness, that mature bronze-age culture which came to be embodied in Chinese history as the Shang dynasty. Most of what we know about it derives from the excavations at its metropolis, Anyang 3 in Honan, carried out under the auspices of the staff of the Historical Institute of Academia Sinica, 1929-33. ... By 1899 Chinese scholars realised that they were inscribed with very ancient writing ...

{p. 84} The other outstanding characteristic of the Shang period was the extensive use of bronze for all kinds of uses, ritual, war and luxury, less perhaps for tools and implements. It has been repeatedly remarked that the magnificent workmanship of the sacrificial vessels, which were often cast in commemoration of some honour bestowed on a prominent man by the king, and bear inscriptions to that effect, surpasses that of all later work. An important use of bronze was for the metal parts of wheeled vehicles, which were becoming common. ...

There now appears the beginning of wheat cultivation, which must have spread from the Middle East, where the plant is native (Vavilov, 1). Bishop (2) has pointed out that the area of wheat-culture in antiquity is almost identical with that of the use of bronze. Shen Tsung-Han, a leading agriculturist, has stated that the wheat varieties grown in earlier times in China were the same as those found along the lines of communication in Central Asia and in the Middle East.

Most archaeologists are of the opinion that the Shang people certainly, and probably also the Yangshao people, were predominantly agricultural, and Creel, fairly representatively, denies that the Chinese people ever passed through a pastoral period. Milk and milk products have been absent from their diet since time immemorial, and pastoral metaphors are exceedingly rare, if present at all, in the most ancient Chinese writings which we possess. Nevertheless, I always find it difficult to account otherwise for the fact that so many words in the Chinese language which have the meaning 'good' or related meanings, are based on radical no. 123, yang, sheep.

{p. 88} One may judge of the astonishment of many, therefore, when it appeared that no less than twenty-three out of the thirty rulers' names were to be clearly found on the indisputably genuine Anyang bones (cf. the lists of Wang Kuo-Wei, 2; and Hopkins, 1). It must be, therefore, that Ssuma Chhien did have fairly reliable materials at his disposal - a fact which underlines once more the deep historical-mindedness of the Chinese - and that the Shang dynasty is perfectly acceptable. One curious fact about the Shang kings is that the second character in their names is nearly always one of the cyclical 'stem' or 'branch' series already referred to.

What, then, is the position of the Hsia? Andersson hints that it may have to be considered simply a semi-legendary memory of what was perhaps the dominant focal point of the Yangshao 'prehistoric' culture. Creele notes that the character hsia never appears on the oracle-bones with the meaning of a State, but concludes that there probably was some kind of integrated community or primitive State which had the name.

{p. 90} Though the influence of the north-western and western complexes was felt throughout the second millennium, it would seem to have made its greatest contribution at the time of the Chou conquest of the Shang. The north-western style was primarily patriarchal nomadism, involving the worship of heavenly bodies (astral religion), horses and horse-sacrifices, tent-dwellings, tumulus-graves, earthenware drums and the levirate. The western complex ('proto-tibetan') has been hardest to analyse, but cremation, polyandry and the couvade seem to have formed part of it.

What exactly may be the relation between these ancient culture-complexes and the tribal peoples who inhabit large areas of the western and south-western provinces today (the Miao, Lolo or Nosu, Chiang, Man, etc., in Szechuan, Yunnan, Kweichow and Kuangsi), and whose customs show clear survivals of many features from ancient Chinese life (dances at mating festivals, use of poisoned arrows, etc.) remains a subject of great research possibilities.


Little is known of the origin of the Chou people, except that they were from the western regions (somewhere in the present provinces of Kansu and Shensi) and that they were less advanced culturally than the Shang, whom they admired. Their conquest of the Shang area, which was roughly speaking the Yellow River valley, parts of the North China plain, and the lands between the Huang-Ho and the Huai River, took place at a time fairly close to the Aryan conquest of India. But though the Aryans were also bronze-age chariot-users, there is no evidence suggesting that the Chou came from anywhere west of China proper. They continued the Shang traditions of bronze-working, pottery and textiles, and took further steps in the development of the written language. Though possibly of pastoral antecedents, they quickly adopted the thoroughly agricultural character of the unfolding Chinese civilisation. The new astronomical evidence arising from the study of eclipses mentioned on the oracle-bones (Tung Tso-Pin, 1; Dubs, 26), indicates that the conquest took place in the latter half of the -IIth century and not 1OO years earlier, as was traditionally supposed.

The outstanding feature of the Chou period was its systematisation of bronze-age proto-feudalism which had been sketched out under the Shang, until it became almost as fully developed as in the typical feudal period of Europe.

{p. 98} As we have seen, history in China cannot be pushed back beyond about - 1500. In comparison with this, the other river-valley civilisations of the ancient world are much older. The Neolithic begins in Egypt about - 6000, but it is short, since copper became known there (much earlier than anywhere else) about - 4500; in Europe it lasted three thousand years. European Neolithic culture of the north has some clear resemblances to Chinese, particularly in the use of spiral designs on pottery, which in both cases replace the geometrical and zoomorphic designs of southern Europe and the Middle East. It is provoking that so far no cave-paintings analogous to the famous Neolithic works of art of Western Europe and North Africa have come to light in China, since it would be just such paintings, if the Yangshao or earlier Chinese ever made them (and it is hard to believe that they did not), which might show us the earliest possible stages of the pictograms found so much more highly developed on the Shang oracle-bones.

By - 3500 we are at the beginning of Chaldean Ur, and two hundred years later at the beginning of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom is already over, and the Hyksos invasions in progress by - 1700, i.e. just about the time of the beginning of the Shang. The period from about - 3000 to - 2000 sees also the flourishing of Akkad in Mesopotamia, the age of bronze in Egypt, Iran, Mesopotamia and the Indus cities such as Mohenjo-daro. Bronze reaches the eastern Mediterranean towards the end of the period, and Western Europe about - 1900. Thus the Celtic tumulus-builders of the West European bronze age are the real contemporaries of the Shang bronze-founders at the other extreme end of the heartland. We shall later consider the suggestion that the similarity went far into social organisation. In any case it is sure that from the main foci of ancient civilisation in Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, and the Indus valley, arts and techniques spread both west and east.

{p. 99} While the city of Anyang was in full life, about - 1400, a non-Semitic but cuneiform-using people of Asia Minor, the Hittites, with their capital near modern Ankara, first developed the manufacture of iron (though isolated pieces, probably of meteoric origin, had long been known, especially in Egypt). A couple of hundred years later the industry had spread to Nineveh, and at the turn of the millennium the Etruscans took a knowledge of it to Italy. Penetration both east and west was slower. The European iron age is divided into the Hallstattb period, from - 900 to - 500, and the La Teneb age, from - 500 to - 1OO. To this latter age have been ascribed the familiar semi-legendary figures of our youth, Conchobar and Cuchulainn and Deirdre. One can see, therefore, that the appearance of iron among the Chinese feudal States, at about - 600, was of late Hallstatt time, and indeed the latest appearance of iron in any of the great culture-areas. In spite of this fact, we shall see below (Sect. 36) how rapidly the Chinese surpassed all other parts of the world in iron technology.

The close coincidence in date between the appearance of many of the great ethical and religious leaders has often been remarked upon: Confucius, c. - 550; Gautama (Buddhism), c. - 560; Zoroaster (if a historical personage), c. - 600; Mahavlra (Jainism), c. - 560, and so on. But the Chhun Chhiu period was also contemporary with many important political events, such as the taking of Nineveh by the Medes in - 612, the fall of Babylon to Cyrus in - 538, and the invasion of the Punjab by Darius in - 512, all examples of Iranian expansion. At the beginning of the Warring States period, the Greeks checked Iranian expansion westwards ( - 480), and the middle of the - 5th century saw the erection of the Athenian Parthenon. The concluding stages of the Warring States time are contemporary with many outstanding events, such as the conquests of Alexander the Great (c. - 327), the foundation of the Maurya dynasty in India and the beginning of the reign of Asoka ( - 300 and - 274 respectively), and the Punic Wars in the Mediterranean ( - 250 to - 150) which overlap with the first unification of China under Chhin Shih Huang Ti. But the beginning of the Roman Empire ( - 31) does not take place until well into the Han dynasty, to which we must now turn, after a few words on the short-lived triumph of the Chhin.



ONE DAY about fifteen years ago I walked into the library of my friend Professor Gustav Haloun for one of the sessions in which I was reading with him that ancient, largely Taoist book, {note a} the Kuan Tzu. He suggested that we might rapidly pass over certain material connected with the chapter before us {note b} as it seemed to embody nonsensical fables about animals, but I was for a closer examination of it. It turned out to contain a statement that certain marine animals were subject to a lunar cycle, increasing and decreasing in size as the moon waxed and waned. Great was my astonishment as I remembered that Aristotle said exactly the same thing. {note c} While the details of this matter will be given in a later volume (Sect. 39, Zoology), the point to be emphasised here is that, although the many fragments which went into the composition of the Lu Shih Chhun Chhiu cannot be exactly dated, most of them are to be attributed to just after the time of Aristotle himself, i.e. the late - 4th and early - 3rd centuries.

Aristotle's statements refer to the sea-urchin, and have been confirmed in our own time, {note e} but the question immediately presents itself, what could be the relation between two such observations at the opposite ends of Asia appearing simultaneously? Could the observations have been independently made by Greek and Chinese fishermen? Or is it conceivable that a Greek-speaking Scyth might have conversed with a Chinese-speaking Hun about such matters, so that a rapid transfer of the idea took place over thousands of miles among peoples who had never even seen the sea? The latter possibility is difficult to believe.

Again, a few weeks before writing these paragraphs, I attended a meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine at which another old friend, Dr Charles Singer, spoke of Galen in relation to ancient anatomy. He emphasised that Galen himself never dissected the human body, nor did any of his teachers do so, yet it is certain that the Alexandrians had carried out dissections, beginning with Herophilus and Erasistratus

{notes} a Attributed to Kuan Chung of the - 7th century; but put together in the - 3rd or later and not connected with him. b Ch. 37; it deals partly with 'sympathetic' effects and action at a distance. The parallel was ch. 45 of the Lu Shih Chhun Chhiu (cf. R. Wilhelm (3), p. II4). c De Part. Anim. IV, S (ed. Didot, vol. 3, p. 280, 14ff.), 680a 31; Hist. Anim. 544a 16. d The idea of a lunar influence on animal life may also be traced further back in China, for it is found in the Hsia Hsiao Cheng (cf. R. Wilhelm (6), p. 239) which may well be earlier than Aristotle. e H. M. Fox (1). The lunar Periodicity in reproduction affects gonad size.

{p. 151} in the first half of the - 3rd century. The early Christian fathers mostly speak of dissection as of something shocking which they themselves had not been personally in contact with. {note a} I reflected on the strangeness of the fact that a similar rise and fall of ancient anatomy can be observed in China, beginning rather earlier with Pien Chhio, well attested in the time of Wang Mang ( + 9) and continuing a little later into the San Kuo period (c. + 240), after which, as in Europe, it vanishes until the late middle ages. Then the Sung anatomists precede Mondino de Luzzi {note b} by about a century, but fail to go further.

The object of these examples - and many other equally strange parallelisms could be cited - is to show the necessity of saying something, before discussing the history of thought and the individual sciences in China, about what one might call the credibility of the travel of ideas at different historical times between East Asia and West Europe. In the material later to be described innumerable points will arise which will tempt the question, how independent was this development? Could it have been affected by, or alternatively was it itself responsible for, some other event in the history of science and technology in India, in the Islamic lands, or in Western Europe? As a necessary preliminary, therefore, a brief discussion of the whole question of the conditions of possible mutual influences, as by trade-routes and translators, seems to be in place. {note c}

{notes} a For example, Tertullian, quoted in Needham (1), vol. 1, p. 25. b Singer (1), p. 77; Sarton (1), vol. 3, p. 842. c Many books on particular aspects will be mentioned as we go along, but this is a suitable place to refer to a Chinese work which covers the whole of the field, though not, of course, from our point of view - the six volumes of Chang Hsing-Lang (1). The smaller book of Feng Chheng-Chun (1) is complementary to this, since it deals with the only area not covered by Chang, namely the South Seas. d p. 38 above. e E.g. J. Ross (1); Chatley (4). f (2), pp. 607ff. For his final opinions see (14), pp. 15ff., 37ff


In the first place, as already suggested, there was a certain continuity between China and Europe in the bronze age, not simply because of the presumed transmission of the technique, but because of an actual correspondence of forms of objects.

In a series of important papers Janse has demonstrated the essential unity of Europe and China in this respect from before the Shang dynasty ( - 1500) well into the Chou. The correspondences described are impressive. One paper (Janse, 1) deals particularly with bronze and iron swords; it shows that each of the following forms occur widespread in both Europe and China, and sometimes in intermediate zones of the steppes: (a) two-edged swords with antenna-pommels (see Fig. 26); (b) two-edged swords with ring (annulus) pommels (see Fig. 26); (c) scabbard belt attachments of bronze or jade of an identical and complex form; and (d) scabbard strap attachments or cleats. Certain other types, however, are peculiar either to China or to Europe. The annulus pommel continued in use in China in the Han time, as witness the reliefs in the Wu Liang tombshrine, one of which is reproduced here from the Chin Shih So (Fig. 25).

Another paper (Janse, 2) was devoted to the curious cruciform tubes or buttons, which were probably harness pieces or ornaments, characteristic both of Chinese bronze age and of the Hallstatt civilisation in Europe (cf. p. 99 above). Many more similarities were set forth in a review (Janse, 3), in which the following further identities of form were described: (a) stone hammer-hatchets (i.e. like some modern hammers, having a hammer-head on one side and a hatchet or chisel head on the other); (b) the 'reversed spiral' motif of the Yangshao painted pottery (already referred to, p. 81); (c) triple-finned arrow-heads, found only in the Hallstatt region, south Russia and China; (d) zoomorphic pot-handles; (e) zoomorphic gold ornaments; (f) scabbard furnishings of special type; and (g) chalices of precious metals with

{p. 161} a sphere or ring on the stem. Lindblom (1) has added vessels with star-shaped lids, the wide distribution of which includes Africa. Besides all these, Janse (4) lists (a) a certain type of bronze lance-point; (b) torques or neck-rings; (c) certain ceremonial axes (Fig. 27) ; (d) harness buttons; (e) flat porphyry oblong ceremonial axes with rudimentary arms; and (f) bronze socketed celts.

The last-named object is a hollow bronze axe, so made that a wooden handle can be fitted into it. It was an epoch-making invention which helped to transform the forested landscape of the Old World. The first metal celts or axes had been solid and fixed like stone ones; then in the Middle East a hole was contrived in them for the shaft to pass through. But these axes took a lot of metal, available only to big States or in metal-rich areas, and the socketed axe saved no less than half the metal previously necessary. Probably it was invented on the edge of the forest country but not too far from the old metal centres, and spread both east and west. The socketed celt has given rise to controversy; Seligman (1, 2) first thought that it offered definite evidence of an eastward transmission reaching China as late as the - 6th century, but later (3) had to admit that such hollow axes were datable in China as far back as the - 12th, upon which Shiah (1) pointed out that since the earliest European types cannot go back much beyond - 1300, an unlikely speed of diffusion would have to be supposed if it were held that the Chinese types were derived from the west European. The view now generally accepted (Childe, 12) is that there was a continuity of type from the Severn to the Huang-Ho, but that the point of origin was somewhere in between.

Another, even stranger, story concerns the ubiquity of the 'bird-chariot', i.e. a bronze or pottery image of a bird mounted on three wheels. Many collections of Chinese antiquities include specimens of these, but they are known from Egypt and from many sites in Europe. Sometimes the latter have several birds perching on a kind of frame like a gun-carriage. Was the bird-chariot a toy or a religious cult-object? How far back does it go at each end of the Old World? These questions remain unanswered, but Laufer (25) has summarised all the information available.

In these fields we find, therefore, the same situation that we have already encountered, namely, the almost simultaneous appearance of ideas and techniques at both ends of the Old World. Janse (3) emphasises that in those early times there was no barrier of independent national State frontiers to hinder diffusion and exchange

{p. 163} across the vast length of the steppes which extend from the Baltic and the Carpathians to the Ordos, and he illustrates this with an excellent map. He also makes (4) the acute observation that from the beginning of both the Hallstatt and the corresponding Chinese cultures there was an association of salt and iron (see on, Sect. 48). He notes that both were also interested in yellow amber.


Armstrong, following the lead of Granet, has investigated, in an interesting series of memoirs, some common themes in Chinese and Western folklore. In the crane dance (1) he sees counterparts of the minotaur in the bull-headed Shen Nung and Chhih-Yu, and of the labyrinth in the underground passages of the tomb of Chhin Shih Huang Ti; finding that the dance itself was part of a cultural pattern of sacrificial and funerary ritual which extended from the Aegean through the Fertile Crescent to China and south-east Asia. The later association of the crane with Taoist mysticism is well known. Granet (1) had already identified the crane ritual with magic concerning thunder, rain, fertility and reincarnation. In two other papers (2, 3) Armstrong concludes that there was a eurasiatic community of ploughing ritual practices, ranging from the Chinese imperial ceremonial ploughing at one end to the 'triple-furrowed field' depicted on the shield of Achilles in Homer's description, or to our own Plough Monday, at the other. Then there is the magic connected with the herb Artemisia ulgaris or albab (Fig. 29), prominent in the Shih Ching (Book of Odes), widely used not only in China but also in ancient and medieval Europe, and even in Mexico, as a constituent of incense and a powerful demonifuge, in spite of the unimpressive

{p. 164} character of the plant. Another paper (5) elucidates the affinities of Chinese bull ritual and spring ceremonies with parallel rites in ancient Crete and Egypt; and a sixth compares bird symbolism (especially that of the goose and swan) with that of the West. Students of comparative folk-tale structure debate whether the Mongol conquests were important in transmission to Europe (Cosquin, 1). {note a}

{notes} a Cf. the remarkable affinity of some of Chaucer's tales with ancient Indian stories; refs. in Tarn (1) p. 154. Cosquin dealt with the technologically interesting theme of the 'sorcerer's apprentice', showing that it did reach Europe from India, though probably not through Mongol intermediation. b I mention the books of Hodous (1) and Werner (1), and the fifteen-volume Superstitions de la Chine of Dore (irritatingly so entitled, as it is an exhaustive description of Chinese folklore and mythology); but unfortunately little of the literature on this subject reaches satisfactory standards of sinological scholarship. Chinese scholars, however, have for some years produced the excellent journal Folklore Studies at Peking. {end of quotes}

(2) The Origin of Horseback Riding, by David Anthony, Dimitri Y. Telegin and Dorcas Brown


Analysis of horse teeth from the Ukraine proves that riding began 6,000 years ago, much earlier than had been supposed. The innovation affected the dispersion of culture and language

{Inset, p. 44} DAVID ANTHONY, DIMITRI Y. TELEGIN and DORCAS BROWN study the cultural prehistory of eastern Europe. Anthony is an assistant professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.; Brown, his wife, has collaborated with him in the field and directed studies on bit wear in horses as an adjunct lecturer at Hartwick. Telegin is a senior researcher at the Ukrainian Institute of Archaeology in Kiev. He is an authority on the Ukraine during the Neolithic and Copper ages and has conducted many excavations over the past 40 years. {end inset}

{p. 44} On the day when a human first jumped onto the back of a horse and surveyed the world from that elevated post, the course of history was changed. A French hippophile once observed, with only a little hyperbole, that man, threatened by elements that conspire to destroy him and by beasts stronger and faster than he, would have been a slave If the horse had not made him a king.

Horseback riding has generally been supposed to have begun in central Asia a mere five centuries or so before the appearance of cavalry in armies of the Middle East around 1000 B.C. This view Is mistaken. New evidence based on dental wear caused by a bit in a prehistoric horse indicates that riding began much earlier. The epochal relation between horse and rider originated in a Copper Age society known as the Sredni Stog culture, which flourished In the Ukraine 6,000 years ago. Riding therefore predates the wheel, making it the first signiflcant innovation in human land transport. Moreover, the time and place of the earliest riders lend new support to the old theory that horsemen from the steppes of Eurasia helped to spread the Indo-European famHy of languages, now the most wldely dlspersed in the world.

Before about 4300 B.C., horses were exclusively wild and ranged naturally through the vast belt of grasslands that extended from the Ukraine east to the Tien Shan and Mongolia. Small horse populations lived in central and western Europe, but the animals were important in the human diet only at the edges of the steppe grasslands, where they must have formed large herds. Like the buffalo in North America, they were the primary large grazing animal of the steppes.

Horses recovered from prehistoric sites might have been used in three ways: as wild game, as domesticated sources of meat and as mounts. Ways to distinguish these uses have been suggested from studics of two populations of modern feral horses. Joel Berger of the University of Nevada has studied the mustangs of the Granite Range of Nevada, and Ronald R. Keiper of Pennsylvania State University and Daniel I. Rubenstein of Princeton University have studied the ponies of the Eastern Shore barrier islands of Virginia and Maryland. The ethologists found that horses in the wild naturally form two primary social units: bachelor bands and harems led by a single stallion.

Bachelors roam widely and unpredictably, whereas stallion and harem bands follow habitual routes, producing dunglined traHs that would have made these bands easy for hunters to track. The remains of hunted horses should therefore consist primarHy of adult mares and their immature offpring. In contrast, the horses chosen for slaughter from a domestic herd should include a higher proportion of young males, who are unruly and not needed for the increase of the herd.

The sex and age structures revealed in the bones of the horses eaten by Copper Age humans should therefore indicate whether the horses were wild or domesticated. Unfortunately, determination of the sex of horse skeletons is often impossible, because it depends on the preservation of the upper or lower jaw tooth row, which in males contains canine teeth that are normally absent in females. But because there is little meat on a horse's jaw, relatively few were brought to the kitchens, whose leavings constitute the principal archaeological trove. Attempts to identify the earliest domesticated horses have consequently depended on traits other than sex, primarHy cranial measurements and lower leg bone dimensions, neither of which yet provides conclusive evidence for domestication.

The most important archaeological site for the study of early horse-keeping is Dereivka, a hamlet excavated by one of us (Telegin) between 1960 and 1967 and again in 1983. The site, one of hundreds identified with the Sredni Stog culture of the Ukrainian Copper Age, is 155 miles (250 kHometers) south of Kiev on the west bank of the Dnieper River, in an ecological zone that forms a transition between the forest steppe to the north and the true steppe to the south. The Sredni Stog culture, named after an island in the Dnieper where the first site of this type was excavated, dates between 4300 and 3100 B.C. Four radiocarbon dates from Dereivka indicate that it was occupied around 4000, give or take a few centuries.

The recovery of grindstones and flint sickles indicates that the Sredni Stog people practiced agriculture. The plenitude of bones of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs suggests that they also bred stock. Horses, however, are what makes the culture distinctive economically.

As a percentage of food refuse, horse bones are about twice as important for the Sredni Stog people as they had been for earlier cultures in the region. Not only did they eat more horsemeat, they ate it at sites farther north, in well-watered, forested catchments where feral horses rarely roam. The people must have brought the horses there.

The increased use of horsemeat sug-

{p. 45} gests that the culture domesticated the animal around this time as a source of food. It would have been a particularly convenient source: horses, unlike cattle and sheep, are native to the region and hence require less care - particularly during the lean winter months. Not long after horses were first corralled, someone mus have hit on the idea of riding one.

Dereivka has yielded evidence documenting these trends toward increased exploitation of horses. The 2,412 horse bones in its refuse piles (probably accumulated in the course of several reoccupations of the site) constitute 61.2 percent of all the identifable animal bones. They represent at least 52 animals - probably many more - for a total of 15,000 pounds of meat. That amount would account for 60 percent of the meat weight of the fauna found at the site.

Only six mandibular fragments can reliably be assigned a sex, but all are male. That finding suggests that most of the animals at Dereivka - in fact, a striking preponderance - were male.

We know that a wild harem band would yield only about 30 percent males, counting immature offspring, and that a random harvest of a wild horse population would yield somewhat less than 50 percent males. It appears, therefore, that the horses were culled from a managed domestic herd. On the other hand, recent analysis of the ages of the Dereivka horses indicates that most of them were killed beween six and eight years of age, older than one would expect for a cull of young bachelors. The site probably contains the remains of both wild and domesticated horses.

The most spectacular find was a horse that had been treated very differerently from the others. lt was a stallion, seven or eight years old, whose head and left foreleg were found in a ritual deposit with the articulated remains of two dogs. The three animals appear to have been brought together intentionally, in the form of hides or pelts with the entire head and the bones of the foreleg or of the spine still attached. Nearby, workers found a clay figurine shaped like a boar and fragments of others that resembled humans. There were also two perforated pieces of antler that appeared to be the cheekpieces of a bit.

The entire assemblage is a cult deposit: the grouping of horse, dogs and anthropomorphic figurines clearly indicates the horse's domesticated status. The ritual custom in which a horsehide with the head and feet attached is displayed on a pole to mark a sacred location is widely documented in pre-Christian Europe. The rite was conducted well into this century among the Buryat and 0irot peoples, who live between the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal in Soviet Asia; it may persist there to this day.

The Dereivka cult stallion clearly dates to the Sredni Stog culture. It was found on the ground surface that existed in the Copper Age, where it either fell or was placed, eventually to be covered by Sredni Stog refuse. These details of discovery are consistent with what would be expected for a pole-mounted offering of a head and hide and make it very unlikely that the cult stallion came from an intrusive pit dug by people who came later.

{p. 46} The antler cheekpieces - if that is what they are - are similar to others that have been cited as circumstantial evidence for Copper Age riding. These include a pair from a Sredni Stog grave at Ateksandriia (which lacked horse remains); some have also been recovered from coeval sites in Poland and eastern Germany. But although similar antler cheekpieces were certainty used 2,000 years later as a part of Bronze Age horse harnesses, these Copper Age examples do not provide absolute proof for the existence of riding.

Another suggestive group of artifacts, analyzed in detail by one of us (Telegin), is the polished stone mace heads that have been recovered from a wide range of late Copper Age sites in the steppes and adjacent parts of southeastern Europe. The earliest ones do not appear to have been shaped to portray animals, but the later specimens, from 3500 to 3000 B.C., are carved to represent horses' heads, occasionally wlth suggestions of harness straps. These later objects seem to be associated with a post-Sredni Stog culture known as the Yamna. They combine the image of a horse with the symbolism of wealth, being made, for the most part, of the exotic stone porphyry. The mace itself also symbolizes mllltary power. No other animal is represented similarly in Copper Age Europe. Yet even so, the maces do not prove horseback riding.

Because there were no artifacts that clearly proved when riding began, we decided to look in the horse's mouth. We assumed that if the earliest ridden horses were bitted, even with rope bits, their premolar teeth would bear microscopic marks. This initial assumption was greeted with doubt by several veterinarians, who pointed out that the bit ideally remains on the soft tissues of a horse's mouth, where a slight tug on the reins can cause intense discomfort, providing control over the animal. A properly adjusted bit shoutd rest on the horse's tongue and gums in the space between the incisors and the premolars [see top illustrations on opposite page].

But as horse trainers have told us, bits do not always rest where they should. This practical wisdom was confirmed by X-ray fluoroscopic photographs of horses champing on their bits, taken by Hilary M. Clayton of the University of Saskatchewan. The photographs showed that if the bit is not perfectly adjusted, the horse can elevate and retract its tongue, raising the bit back onto its forward premolars. The fleshy corners of the mouh are positioned far enough forward of the premolars so that the horse must pull the bit into its cheeks and grasp it firmly between its premolars in order to prevent the checks from pushing it forward onto the gums.

A horse that habitually fights the bit will therefore move it repeaedly onto the anterior part ot the occlusal (chewing) surface of its forward premolars, where its precarious grip causes the bit to slip over the prow of the tooth. The enormous strength of the horse as it squeezes the bit between its teeth and the tendency of the bit to slip back and forth over the prow of the tooth cause bit wear.

Two of us (Anthony and Brown) examined the lower premolar teeth of 10 modern domestic horses that had been bitted and of 20 feral horses from Nevada and the barrier islands of Virginia - animals that had never been bitted. Under a scanning electron microscope, the damage caused by a bit was elearly distinguishable from that caused by natural occlusal wear. A bit causes damage that is distinctive in four ways. First, the location of the damage is consistent: the occlusal enamel of the first cusp is scarred on the cheek side of the tooth, on the tongue side and on the prow. Second, the scars form a characteristic pattern. Spalls (small fractures) radiate from the center of the raised enamel surface, sometimes joining to form trenchlike breaks that run along the length of the enamel ridge. Third, the bitÕs movement back and forth over the broken enamel produces irregular areas (called abraided step fractures) within spalls. Finally, the firsl cusp is often beveled, or worn down, toward the front of the mouth.

{p. 47} On average, 3.56 millimetre of the tooth prow are worn away in modern horses that show the microscopic traits of bit wear. But wear averaging only 0.82 millimeter is found in the premoIars of feral horses. Moreover, the occlusal enamel of these horses is generally quite smooth, completely lacking the heavy scars that covered the firsl cusp of bit-worn horses. About a third of the feral horses do exhibit some fracturing of the enamel on the cheek side of the ffrst cusp, but never on the tongue side. (The damage to the cheek side results naturally trom the way horses chew.) Even in these cases, no feral horse has ever been found to bear dental patterns that could be mistaken for bit wear.

Armed with this knowledge, two of us (Anthony and Brown) went to Kiev at the invitation of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. There, together with Telegin and Natalya Belan-Timchenko, an archaeozoologist, we studied the teeth of a wide variety of prehistoric horses. We made high-resolution casts of lower premolars recovered from sites ranging from 25,000 years old to just 1,000 years old. Analysis of the casts in the U.S. established that horse teeth dated earlier than 4000 B.C. showed no beveling or microscopic evidence of bit wear. T he Dereivka cult stallion, however, exhibited beveled anterior premolars, with a beveling measurement of 3.5 millimeters, almost exactly the average for our bit-worn control sample and far from the 0.82 average for feral horses.

When the casts of the Dereivka cult stallion premolars were examined under the scanning electron microscope, all the microscopic traits of bit wear were found to be present. Beveling, center-origin spalls and abraded step fractures were in evidence over the entire first cusp. The wear was confined to the beveled area; it did not extend to the rear portion of the same tooth. Moreover, because the Dereivka cult stallion was deposited in a head and hoof ritual, the matching upper jaw was preserved and could be fitted against the lower. No malocclusion could account for any of the wear. The stallion was therefore bitted, which means it must have been guided from behind. Such guidance must be provided by either a rider or the driver of a wheeled vehicle. Five hundred years before the invention of the wheel, such a horse could only have been a mount. It is the first horse known to have been ridden anywhere in the world. Strangely, none of the four other lower premolar teeth from Dereivka ex-

{p. 48} hibit clear evidence of bit wear. These teeth were part of the general kitchen refuse at the site and probably came from horses that were eaten. The horse chosen for inclusion in a ritual assemblage with two dogs was the only animal that exhiblts clear evidence of usage as a mount.

We sought not only to date the invention of riding but also to ascertain its effects on the society of late Copper Age Europe, roughly from 4000 to 3000 B.C. Several scholars, notably Andrew Sherratt of the University of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum and Sandor Bokonyi of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, have proposed that extensive social and economic changes were brought on by the use of animals for secondary products, such as wool and dairy foods, and as sources of power for riding and draft. If riding preceded wheeled vehicles, its effects will be distinguishable from those associated with draft.

Recorded cultural responses in the New World provide a model by which to reconstruct the impact of riding in the Ukraine during the Copper Age. Horses may have been among the first tokens of European life to penetrate North America. These horses derived from Spanish stock introduced in the late 17th century by colonists in New Mexico. The horses either escaped or were traded through a chain of indigenous societies to reach the central part of the continent. The tribes there clearly adopted horseback riding long before they encountered guns, European diseases, European traders or other aspects of Western life. The effects of the adoption of riding can therefore be examined in at least partial isolation from other European influences for the period between 1680 and 1750.

The acquisition of horses wrought a revolution in virtually every aspect of life of the Plains tribes. Riders could move two to three times farther and faster during a day than people on foot. Resources, enemies, allies and markets that had previously been beyond effective reach suddenly became attainable. Subsistence and economic survival in the dry grasslands, an uncertain and risky proposition for pedestrian hunters, became predictable and productive. Sedentary horticultural villagers whose river valley settlements had been the centers of population and economic productivity became vulnerable to lightning raids by mounted enemies who could not be pursued or punished. Many of these villages were abandoned, and their occupants became mounted hunters in self-defense, as happened in the ease of the Cheyenne, the Arapaho and the Crow.

Warfare increased in intensity and social importance, both because horses became an easily stolen standard of wealth and because mounted societies redrew ethnic boundaries that had been based on pedestrian travel distances. Trade and exchange systems extended farther, became socially more complex and carrled a higher volume of goods (including horses) than had been possible with pedestrian transport. Comparable changes occurred independently in South America.

Similar changes seem to have unfolded in the time of the Sredni Slog culture, which is now well known from excavations at more than 200 sites in the steppe river valleys of the Ukraine. Settlements conained a few lighly built dwellings in which extended family groups might have lived together. They hunted, fished, farmed and herded cattle and sheep - perhaps on horseback. They buried their dead in small cemeteries of 10 to 30 graves, providing most of the deceased with only one or two simple tools as gifts. Some graves, however, contain copper ornaments, shell beads and fine flint implements, suggesting that they harbor members of an incipien elite.

One would expect a newly mounted Sredni Stog population to have emerged into radically altered relations with is neighbors, as happened with the Native Americans. In fact, important changes did occur. By the late Sredni Stog period represented at Dereivka, copper ornaments begin to appear in graves in

{p. 48A} numbers and varieties not previously seen east of the Dnieper.

These ornaments clearly derive from the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture, which flourished from about 4500 to 3500 B.C. in the forested uplands between the Dnieper River and the Carpathian Mountains. It had large agricultural towns and many small villages, copper metallurgy, two-story buildings, rituals associating female figurines and grain, and technically sophisticated polychrome ceramic vessels. In addition, copper ornaments of the Cucuteni-Tripolye type and spectrographic composition also begin to appear in cemeteries 900 kilometers east of Dereivka. These ornaments were conveyed as far as Khvalynsk, on the middle Volga, presumably by Sredni Stog middlemen.

Horseback riding, by bringing distant cultures into contact, seems to have stimulated both trade and war. The largest Cucuteni-Tripolye settlements ballooned in size, covering more than 750 acres (300 hectares) and including as many as 1,000 structures. Such unprecedented population concentrations can best be explained as defensive in nature. Moreover, cemeteries resembling those of the Sredni Stog people appear around 3800 B.C. some 600 kilometers to the west of the Dnieper, in eastern Hungary and western Romania. Horseback riding should have led to just such changes: the enrichment of the Sredni Stog culture, the extension of long-distance trade and communication across the grasslands, the defensive concentration of sedentary farming populations and the movement of Sredni Stog groups into resource-rich areas that they had never before been able to exploit.

It is possible that the first riders spoke a language we would now call proto-Indo-European. Linguists have reconstruced tha language, now long extinct, from the evidence of its descendant tongues. These include Sanskrit, Homeric Greek and Latin, as well as such modern languages as English, French, Russian and Persian.

In the past century some archaeologists and linguists have sought the Indo-European homeland in the grasslands of the Ukraine, particularly among the horse-rich remains of the Yamna, a culture that grew partially out of Sredni Stog and expanded across the steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas. James Mallory of Queens College, Belfast, has reasserted the theory of a Ukrainian homeland. Alternatively, other scholars have recently suggested that the Indo-European languages were carried from Anatolia by the expansion of the first farmers during the Neolithic age, long before horses were domesticated [see "The Early History of Indo-European Languages," by Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, March 1990].

Even the authors of this article disagree about the original Indo-European homeland. But if the grasslands of the Ukraine did support speakers of some of the early Indo-European dialects - a judgment on which we do agree - then the discovery there of horseback riding near the beginning of the fourth mlllennium B.C. provides a possible mechanism for their dispersal.

Dispersal to the eastern steppes could have been accomplished through a new economic adaptation based on grassland herding and small-scale agriculture in the river valleys. The deep steppe was a hostile environment; it could not support large human populations prior to the development of horseback riding. In fact, riding helped to transform the vast Eurasian grasslands from a barrier to a conduit of communication and trade.

An Eastward dispersion by the first riders would have encountered only small and scattered human resistance. Dispersal to the west would have been much more complex because it would have encountered the well-established agricultural societies of Copper Age Europe. Archaeological data and theoretical models of migration tend to support the theory that such movements took place, first in the east, and then to the west, between 3500 and 3000 B.C.

In all these developments the horse played a critical role, as it would continue to do in human events for the next 5,000 years. But it is now clear that it took a very long time for the custom of riding to diffuse southward into the Middle East. When horses finally did appear there, around 2200 to 2000 B.C., they were used in a role previously played by asses or ass-onager hybrids, as draft animals attached to battle carts. The superior size and speed of horses and perhaps new control methods based on the bit contributed to the refinement of the war chariot by 1800 B.C. It was as a chariot anirnal that the horse trotted onto the pages of history, two millennia after it had first been broken to the bridle. {end}


DEREIVA: A SETTLEMENT AND CEMETERY OF COPPER AGE HORSE KEEPERS ON THE MIDDLE DNElPER. Dimitri Y. Telegin in British Archaeological Reports, International Series 287,1986. THE "KURGAN CULTURE," INDO-EUROPEAN ORIGINS, AND THE DOMESTICATION OF THE HORSE: A RECONSIDERATION. David W. Anthony in Current Anthropology, Vol. 27, No. 4, pages 291-313; August-October 1986. THE DOMESTICATION OF THE HORSE. David W. Anthony in Equids in the Ancient World, Vol. 2. Edited by Richard H. Meadow and Hans-Peter Uerpmann. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1991. THE ORIGINS OF HORSEBACK RIDING. David W. Anthony and Dorcas R. Brown in Antiquity, Vol. 65, NO. 246, pages 22-38; March 1991.{end}

(3) David W. Anthony, The Opening of the Eurasian Steppe at 2000 BCE. In The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia, ed. Victor H. Mair, Volume 1, published by the Institute for the Study of Man, Washington, in conjunction with University of Pennsylvania Publications, Philadelphia, 1998.

{p. 94} Beginning at least as early as the Bronze Age, the people of Xinjiang were closely connected with the steppes to the west. Their physical type, fabrics, wheeled-vehicle technology, and burial rituals suggest an origin in the western steppes. The steppes were not a one way corridor leading from west to east. Instead, the steppe zone was potentially a bridge across the center of the Eurasian continent. Once that bridge was open the dynamics of historical development changed permanently, not just for the societies east of the Tian Shan, but for all the peoples of Eurasia.

Before about 2000 BCE the Eurasian steppes were occupied by a number of distinct cultures that differed in their origins, economies, technologies, mortuary rituals, and ceramic types. Low-energy ecologies - steppe and desert - posed real challenges to the development of an economy that could support significant concentrations of people. During the millennia before about 2000 BCE, only a few cultural traits diffused acrots the steppe zone in either an east-west or north-south direction. This long-established pattern changed dramatically between 2000 and 1700 BCE, when the people of the steppes became relatively unified with the widespread adoption of similar subsistence strategies, ceramic and weapon types, house and settlement types, and ritual practices. This complex of broadly shared traits defines the early Andronovo horizon between the Ural Mountains and the Tian Shan ... and its cousin in the steppes west of the Urals, the Timber-Grave (or Srubnaya) culture (Kuzmina 1994). ...

{p. 95} No single factor produced the change that opened the steppe corridor at around 2000 BCE. The evolution of the Andronovo horizon was the culmination of changes that had been developing in the western steppes over the previous 3,000 years. Three fundamental factors revolutionized steppe lifeways during this long period.

The first was the introduction, largely from outside the steppe zone, of the two principal domesticated grazing animals, cattle and sheep, which laid the foundation for steppe subsistence practices. The second was innovation in the means of transport - the introduction of horseback riding and of the wheeled vehicle - which together made it possible to exploit the low-energy grassland environment in a manner that was both productive and predictable. The culminating factor was a complex interplay of technological and ideological changes after 2000 BCE - the spread of cattle and sheep herding east of the Urals, the development of metallurgy and mining in the steppe zone of the southern Urals and in northern Kazakhstan, the introduction of the horse-drawn chariot as an instrument of elite competition, and the diffusion of an associated Indo-Iranian ritual complex that was widely adopted by the previously diverse societies between the Urals and the Tian Shan.

{p. 96} ... the faunal evidence suggests that ovicaprid pastoralism did not become widespread in the steppes and deserts east of the Caspian Sea until the mid-third millennium BC.

{p. 99} Sheep were not native to the Pontic-Caspian steppes, so must have been introduced as domesticates.

{p. 100} Sheep and cattle could be herded on foot, but large-scale herding was greatly facilitated by horseback riding. Riding also

{p. 101} improved the annual search for good pastures, and for any other resources that required long-distance travel. Once people began to ride, perceived and experienced distances were reduced, and the social and geographic landscape of the steppes altered. Riding led to the expansion of territorial boundaries, which increased territorial conflicts and warfare, and intensified long-distance trade. (Anthony 1986; Anthony, Telegin, and Brown 1990; Anthony 1994a). ...

The Dereivka stallion exhibits bit wear made by a hard bit - perhaps bone. The amount of wear would have required at least 300 hours of riding with a hard bit, according to our experiments. If the deposit containing the stallion skull and mandible dates to about 4000 BCE, as Brown, Telegin and I would argue, it pre-dates the invention of the wheel. If the bit wear at Dereivka precedes the introduction of wheeled vehicles, it probably resulted from riding. The bit wear at Dereivka is the earliest evidence for the use of horses as transport animals anywhere in the world.

{p. 102} Horses were not used for bulk transport during the early millennia of horse exploitation. And it was bulk transport that finally opened the Eurasian steppe.

In the drier portions of the Eurasian steppe, herds of cattle and sheep were required to move frequently and across large horizontal distances between major river valleys in order to find sufficient pasture. Bulk transport was needed to help the herders move their tents and supplies with the herd. In the absence of such transport, early steppe herders like those of the Sredni Stog culture remained tied to the major river valleys, where all of their settlements and cemeteries were located. When wheeled vehicles were introduced, the combination of vehicular bulk transport and horseback riding made large-scale herd management possible and freed steppe herders from their logistical dependence on residential bases in the river valleys. This change led to a dispersal of settlements and cemeteries across the steppes and greatly increasing the productivity of steppe pastoralism.

The earliest wheeled vehicles in the Eurasian steppes appeared west of the Caspian Sea in the context of the Yamnaya culture culture (3500-2500 BCE), which grew partially from Sredni Stog, but occupied a much larger area, from the Danube delta eastward to the Ural River (Map 2). Yamnaya vehicles were slow, solid-wheeled wagons and carts, probably pulled by oxen, but they could carry enough tents and supplies to enable herders to live in distant pastures with their herds

{p. 103} for months at a time. The earliest Yamnaya wagon is dated about 2900 BCE at Bal'ki on the lower Dnieper.

Yamnaya was the first steppe culture to really exploit the steppe, a development documented by the establishment of Yamnana kurgan cemeteries in pastures located far from the major river valleys. Yamnaya kurgan cemeteries contained from 4 to 25 burial mounds, often placed on the top of a ridge. Beneath the kurgan, the deceased was placed in a grave pit that was roofed with logs, reed mats, or stone slabs, in a supine position with the knees raised (in early Yamnaya graves). The ground surface around the grave pit often was dug out, creating an inclined surface leading down to the grave opening. A similar grave type and burial posture appeared in Xinjiang over a thousand vears later. Yamnaya cemeteries were visible, stable reminders of ancestral territories in the steppe landscape, and were re-visited and re-used over many generations, but Yamnaya settlements became so mobile and insubstantial that they virtually disappeared from the archeological record - a settlement pattern consistent with increased reliance on pastoralism. In addition, Yamnaya was the first steppe culture to intensively exploit steppe copper ores, a probable result of increased movement over and familiarity with the steppe landscape. Yamnaya metalworkers used arsenical bronze to make tanged daggers (Anthony 1997), pins, flat axes, and in one

{p. 104} exceptional grave, a metal staff or club 48 cm. long, weighing 1.5 kg. Yamnaya metal workers also experimented with iron - Yamnaya iron ohjects include a short dagger and the welded head of a bronze pin. ...

Except for their reliance on domesticated horses, the steppe cultures east of the Urals were quite different in almost every way from the Yamnaya culture until about the middle of the third millennium BCE. ...

{p. 105} I have argued elsewhere (Anthony 1995), following Mallory (1989), that Yamnaya also represented a linguistic watershed: the Yamnaya culture probably can be equated with the proto-lndo-European language community. At its easern margin, peoples that can be identified as Indo-Iranian developed a new culture complex that included chariotry, by about 2000 BCE.

3. The Chariot and Indo-Aryan Ideology

The appearance of chariotry in the steppe is indicated earliest by the burial of chariots, sacrificed horses, and horse-driving gear ...

{p. 106} It is possible to draw a line of development that begins with Yamnaya in the western steppes and continues through Sintashta-Petrovka into Andronovo - and Andronovo is widely seen as the archeological expression of early Indo-Iranian ritual identity (Kuzmina 1994; Chernykh 1992). Through Andronovo, contact was established with the fortified city-states of the Bactria-Margiana

{p. 107} Complex in the upper Amu-Darya region, and with the desert oases of Xinjiang (Map 3). ...

Metallurgy and agro-pastoralism together gave steppe societies a new source of wealth. But both metallurgy and agro-pastoralism had existed under the Yamnaya culture without diffusing eastward. An additional stimulus was ideological and technological - the combination of chariotry, a wealthy and competitive elite, and the power of Indo-Iranian poetry and sacrificial rituals.

Some aspects of Indo-Iranian religion and ritual can be reconstructed on the basis of similarities between early Vedic traditions as encoded in the Rig Veda (probably compiled about 1500-1300 BCE) and early Zoroastrian beliefs preserved in the Avesta ...

{p. 108} The widespread adoption of a broadly similar Andronovo mortuary ritual, with attendant sacrifices of horses and cattle, might therefore be seen as something more significant than just the spread of a new burial custom. It might well represent the adoption of a larger Indo-Iranian ritual identity, a necessary part of which was the Indo-lranian language(s). ...

The manipulation of Indo-Iranian poetry and ritual by priests and their attendants during sacrifices, and by cattle-rich, metal-rich, chariot-driving chiefs during feasts and competitions might have made these practices superficially attractive to the indigenous societies of the steppes.

{end quotes}

(4) The Institute for Ancient Equestrian Studies

David Anthony heads the Institute for Ancient Equestrian Studies (IAES): http://users.hartwick.edu/~iaes.

The Samara Valley Project: Introduction to IAES Research in Russia http://users.hartwick.edu/~iaes/Russia.htm

On March 1, 1999, the IAES began a formal three-year collaboration with the Institute for the History and Archaeology of the Volga (IHAV) in Samara to work on a three-year archaeological research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The project focuses on archaeological sites in the Samara River valley in central Russia, the center of Eurasia. We began with test excavations at Barinovka and more extensive excavations at Krasnaya Samarka, Late Bronze Age (LBA) settlements located on the broad flood plain of the Samara River. The LBA is an important time period for the development of Eurasian steppe cultures. In the opening centuries of the LBA, between 2000 and 1700 BCE, a complex of broadly shared cultural traits spread across the Eurasian steppes. These traits included similar agro/pastoral economies, pottery and weapon styles, house and settlement types, and mortuary rituals. For the first time in history, broadly similar cultures occupied the steppes from the borders of China to the edges of Europe, creating a transcontinental interaction zone.

The western aspect of this zone is known as the Timber-Grave (or Srubnaya) culture. The Srubnaya people were horse-riding cattle and sheep herders who occupied the steppes from the Ural Mts. westward to the Dnieper River in Ukraine between about 1900/1800-1300/1200 BCE (calibrated). In the drier southern steppes, near the Black Sea and the North Caucasus Mts., archaeologists have excavated many LBA graves with Srubnaya pots, ornaments, and weapons, but permanent settlements are quite rarely found - probably because most of the Srubnaya people lived most of the time in wagon and tent camps. The mobile way of life that created this archaeological pattern in the southern steppes was not new - it continued from the Early Bronze Age (EBA) and Middle Bronze Age (MBA). But the earliest phase of the Srubnaya culture evolved in the moister northern steppes, at the boundary between the steppe and the forest/steppe, in the shadow of the southern Ural Mts. Here the LBA opened with a period of widespread sedentarization that might have begun in the late MBA. Settlements became archaeologically visible for the first time in 1500 years. Hundreds have been found by archaeologists. The earlier EBA and MBA cultures of this region are known only from their burial sites. ...

The steppes of Central Asia have always been considered peripheral to the ancient centers of civilization in the Near East, China and Europe: a vast wasteland of desert and grassland, inhabited only by nomads, wild horses and locusts. At best the steppes have been thought to be an economically primitive region that at unpredictable intervals disgorged hordes of leathery mounted warriors intent on terrorizing the civilized world. But in a geographic sense the steppe zone of Eurasia was absolutely central to the communication routes and trade that ultimately brought the civilized centers of China, the Near East and Europe into contact with one another. We cannot really understand the Bronze Age in any of these regions without understanding the Bronze Age in the steppes.


The Chariot Riding Sun God Surya - by C. Hartley


Surya is the important ancient Hindu Solar God. There are many hymns found in the Rig Veda which mention or honor Surya. The Rig Veda is a collection of more than a thousand hymns written between 1200 and 900 B.C. by people known as Aryans, who came to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India from the Eurasian steppes to the north. The Rig Veda is one of the earliest known writings written in any Indo-European language. Hymn I.50 speaks to the Sun. (This passage is from The RigVeda; an anthology, a translation by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Penguin Press, London, 1981)

{from the Rig Veda, I.50; verse numbers added}
1 His brilliant banners draw upward the god who knows all creatures, so that everyone may see the Sun.
2 The constellations, along with the nights, steal away like thieves, making way for the Sun who gazes on everyone.
3 The rays that are his banners have become visible from the distance, shining over mankind like blazing fires.
4 Crossing space, you are the maker of light, seen by everyone, O Sun. ...
8 Seven bay mares carry you in the chariot, O Sun God with hair of flame, gazing from afar.
9 The Sun has yoked the seven splendid daughters of the chariot; he goes with them, who yoke themselves. ... {endquote}

This hymn is a mixture of verses about Surya and verses spoken to Surya. By its reference to the rising of the Sun we might guess that it was meant to be recited at sunrise. ...

The hymn tells of Surya's chariot being drawn across the sky by seven bay mares. Seven seems to be an important number in many religions. Seven may be significant because there are seven visible celestial bodies that wander across the sky, the Sun, Moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Because they are all wanders we can call them planets, even though today we normally do not think of the Sun and Moon as planets. "Planets" is a word which comes from the Greek "planet" which means "wander." As is found in the Greco-Roman Calendar the days of the week in the modern Hindu calendar are named for the seven visible planets, Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and they are ordered exactly as they are in the Greco-Roman Calendar, a vestige of the ordering by ancient Babylonians. Before the Gupta period (about 300 A.D.) the Hindu calendar was a lunar calendar.

Chariots were developed before 3000 B.C. and offered a warrior a stable platform from which to shot arrows and cast spears at his enemies. The horse, which was domesticated probably a 1000 years earlier in the western steppes was also of great importance to the people who wrote the Rig Veda because the horse-riding warrior was able to easily maneuver around his foot-soldier enemy. It is not surprizing that the people who wrote the Rig Veda recognized of the more powerful gods, Surya, as having two of their most powerful weapons of war, the horse and chariot.

Today there are a great number of temples in India devoted to Surya.

{image: The 15th century Surya temple at Ranakpur, Rajasthan.}

Many of the temples are easily recognized because they are often decorated with carved images of Surya, who is shown holding two daisy shaped objects, one in each hand, and accompanied by images of horses. Often there are also one or more carved images of a chariot wheel decorating the Surya temples. (A typical depiction of a chariot wheel is shown in the title of this page.) In some cases there are seven gods, representing the planets, shown in association with chariot wheels.


(5) Nicola DiCosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies: the Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 2002.

{p. 28} Moreover; chariots, mostly used for war, should be distinguished from the four-wheeled wagons and two-wheeled carts used to transport people and goods. Though based on pre-existing models of wheeled-vehicles, the war chariot seems to have been developed by the agro-pastoralists ot the Andronovo culture. The chariots were light and fast; they had spoked wheels and a rear axle supporting a box in which normally no more than two warriors could either stand, kneel, or sit. Recent discoveries have revealed fully formed chariots with spoked wheels of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture, and these may date to as early as 2026 B.C. These are technically and conceptually very similar to chariots found both in western Asia at the Lchashen site in the Caucasus - and in East Asia, at the Shang royal site of An-yang.

{p. 29} ... numerous studies indicate that the chariot was imported into China from the west, through Central Asia, possibly around the thirteenth century B.C. ... The earliest Chinese chariots to have heen found were discovered in burials of the Shang dynasty at An-yang; buried with the chariots were their horses and drivers, who served as sacrificial victims.

{p. 31} Early Nomadic (Scythian-type) Cultures in the Eurasian Steppe

The Karasuk people lived in felt tents, traveled in hooded carts, ate a variety of dairy products, and adapted remarkably well to a mobile way of life. Yet "true" early pastoral nomads, that is, pastoralists moving with their herds according to a fixed seasonal cycle, appear only in the late Bronze and early lron Age; a phenomenon that brought abont a great expansion across Central Eurasia of mounted warlike nomads. The emergence of this new anthropological type is attested to by the iconograpby of tenth-century B.C. Iran and ninth-century B.C. Assyria ...

{p. 127} Walls and Horses

The Beginning of Historical Contacts between Horse-Riding Nomads and Chinese States


No other period in pre-imperial history transformed the pbysical aspect and the political import of the northern frontier as much as the Warring States period (48O-221 B.C.). In China, the growth of state power and the increase in the size of its armies required a constant expansion of the resources of the state ...

As outlined in Cnapter 3, the development of pastoral cultures in northern China brought into existence martial societies of aristocratic mounted nomads. As a new anthropological type, the nomads appear in Chinese sources under the name of Hu. Their lifestyle was nomadic: they raised animals, fought on horseback, and excelled at archery.

{p. 134} If we hypothesize that its trade with the north was based on China's need for horses, we nust ask why exactly the horses were needed. The most obvious answer is that horses became a requirement when Chinese states began to create cavalry units.

{p. 135} The decision to introduce cavalry was controversial ...

{p. 138} Wall building did not originate in the north, but was a military concept and a technology imported from within the Central Plain ...

{p. 139} Walls were built not only by the Chinese states. The state of Chung-shan and even some Jung peoples built walls against their enemies. ...

These walls effectively inaugurated a new type of defensive system ...

{p. 150} The northern walls were built in the middle of large stretches of grassland. From the cultural remains recovered from these areas, with the exception of some Chinese coins and other objects left in the forts by military personnel, it is obvious that the whole area of the fortifications was inhabited exclusively by non-Chinese, mostly pastoral, people.

{p. 154} By the mid-third century B.C, the Hsiung-nu had hecome an important element in Central Plain polities. ...

Recognized as a regional power, the Hsiung-nu were conducting regular foreign relations with the Chinese states, characterized by hostage exchanges, alliances, treaties, and occasional wars.

{p. 155} The most important feature in the history of the northern frontier at this time are the instances of direct contact between Chou states and nomadic peoples, resulting from the disappearance of the Jung and Ti peoples as an independent force caused by the conquest wars waged by the Chou states against them and also possibly by the expansion of nomadic polities in the north.

The Great Wall has been cast, correctly, as marking a new phase - a new plateau - in the history of the northern frontier. However, this phase is often understood as one of worsening tensions between nomads and agriculturalists deriving from the expansion and strengthening of the nomadic economy and society in the north. Contrary to this view, I have argued that the walls' presence in the northern regions is consistent wilh a pattern of steady territorial growth by the states of Yen, Chao, a Ch'in, which adopted a defense technology developed among the Central States to expand into the lands of nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and then to fence off the conquered territory from other nomadic people who either had been displaced or had grown aggressive because of the military presence of Chinese states in these regions. The walls were part of an overall expansionist strategy by Chinese northern states meant to support and protect their political and economic penetration into areas thus far alien to the Chou world. This is consistent not only with the general trends in relations with foreign peoples as they developed through the Spring and Autumn period but also with the political, economic, and military imperatives facing the Central States in the late fourth century B.C.

{p. 156} In ancient nomadic societies, however, such as the Scythians of the Pontic Steppes, it is clear that, where ecological conditions allowed them, nomads incorporated cultivators within their own society. The nomadic aristocracy formed a privileged stratum that appropriated part of the agricultural revenues by political rather than commercial means.

{p. 157} Because these walls were built right in the middle of large stretches of grassland used for pastoral production, it is not too great a leap of imagination to assume that a possible driving force for the expansion of Chao, for instance, was the need to acquire horses and warriors for its nascent cavalry.

{p. 158} In fact, Ch'in's expedition to the north was not a reversal, but a continuation of a policy of colonization and militarization of the north ...

Second, the thesis that the early walls had a fundamentally offensive function provides an insight into the process of formation of the Hsiung-nu confederacy, by making it consistent with a historical phase of increasing militarization of the region where the forts were built, subsequent strengthening of the aristocratic warrior class among the nomads, and eventual centralization of political authority into the hands of ever more powerful tribal chiefs. The military pressure exereised on the borders by various Chinese generals ... posed a territorial threat in response to which the nomadic aristocracy was able to increase its social prestige and political power.

{p. 161} Those Who Draw the Bow

The Rise of the Hsiung-nu Nomadic Empire and the Political Unification of the Nomads


Before the Ch'in unification in 221 B.C., the northern states were able to "contain" the nomads, to push them away from the bolders, and to inflict upon them resounding defeats, all without much trouble. In contrast, having emerged from the smoldering ashes of the Ch'in, the Han dynasty (2O2 B.C.-A.D. 9) was forced for decades to accept humilating peace treaties.

{p. 162} The unification of the northern nomads within the Hsiung-nu Empire ... the formation of a bipolar world order, and the formulation, on the Han side, of the so-called ... "appeasement" policy.

{p. 163} The qestion of the ethnic origin of the Hsiung-nu has long been the subject of heated scholarly debates. ... The identification of the Hsiung-nu with the "Tartar" race, comprising Huns, Turks, and Mongols, goes back to the eighteenth-century French literatus H. Deguignes. This theory, inspired by the belief that the Hsiung-nu were the forehears of the very Huns who invaded the Roman empire, survived well into the twentieth century.

{p. 166} In discussing the ethnic identity of the Hsiung, Chinese scholars, like their Western counterparts, have also argued about the relative plausibility of a Turkic, Mongolian, Finno-Ugrian, or Indo-European affination. The majority opinion is that they were of Mongol stock, but this point remains controversial. Mongol scholars have long maintained that the Hsiung-nu were proto-Mongolic people and trace the origins of the historical Mongols back to them.

{p. 186} Scholars have emphasized that the Hsiung-nu emerged as a unified polity immediately after the unification of China, implying an influence of China on processes of state formation among the nomads.

{p. 187} The crisis ignited by China's push into the northern steppes was, then, the catalyst that led to the Hsiung-nu's creation of a stricter hierarchy and more cohesive military organization. According to Ssu-ma Ch'ien, before the unification, "China, the land of caps and girdles, was divided among seven states, three of which bordered the territory of the Hsiung-nu." The territory of the Hsiung-nu, therefore, extended over the entire northern marches, encompassing the borders of the states of Ch'in, Yen, and Chao. Later, Meng T'ien's expedition drove the Hsiung-nu out of the Ordos region ... The Ch'in invasion is likely to have created a shortage of pastureland, which upset the balance of power existing at that time in the steppe and forest regions with the main immediate effect of weakening the Hsiung-nu. The Hsiung-nu became therefole the target of other Inner Asian peoples such as the Eastern Hu (perhaps formerly subject to the Hsiung-nu) and the Yueh-chih. Internally, this crisis produced a drastic change of leadership, with the violent coming to power of Modun, as well as a change in the military which can be seen in the training of an imperial bodyguard, perhaps analogous to those of the Persian, Scythian, and, later, Turco-Mongol empires.

{p. 188} After Modun became supreme leader (ch'an-yu), the Hsiung-nu engaged in a policy of military expansion that led them to establish their sovereignty, or at least their influence, over an immense territory encompassing the steppes, desert, and mountains from Manchuria to Central Asia.

There is no doubt that the nomadic peoples defeated by the Hsiung-nu were responsible for paying tribute to them and that these payments, probably exacted at fixed times from the various tribal leaders, were essential for the support of the Hsiung-nu court, military machine, and general econimic well-being.

{p. 190} To acquire the external revenues they needed to counterbalance the militarization of society and the growing size of their courts and political apparati, the Hsiung-nu adopted a purely tributary system. ... Besides the tribute paid by China, the city-states and other polities in the Tarim Basin paid the Hsiung-nu ruler in fixed amounts of luxury goods and staples ...

{p. 196} During the reign of Wen-ti (179-157 B.C.) the Hsiung-nu empire reached the acme of its expansion, and in a diplomatic communication to Emperor Wen the ch'an-yu declared:

{quote} With the assistance of Heaven, the talent of officers and soldiers, and the strength of the horses the wise king of the right has suceeded in destroying the Yueh-chih, and in unsparingly killing them or bringing them into submission. Lou-lan, the Wu-sun, the Hu-chieh and other twenty-six states contiguous to them are now part of the Hsiung-nu. All the people who draw the bow have now become one family and the northern region (pei chou) has been pacified. {endquote}

The same principle was confirmed a few years later, in 162 B.C., in the treaty concluded by Emperor Wen. This treaty stipulated that, in accordance with the tradition fixed by former emperors, the Hsiung-nu should rule over the nation of the archers to the north of the Great Wall, and the settled people living in the south, those who wore hats and sashes, should be ruled by the Chinese emperor.

{p. 206} From Peace to War

China's Shift from Appeasement to Military Engagernent


With the accession of Emperor Wu in 140 B.C., a half-century long tradition of foreign relations based on the search for diplomatic solutions and negotiated agreements came to an end. In the phase that followed, the Han dynasty assumed an outward-looking expansion-driven military-oriented posture. The Han-Hsiung-nu bipolar system of foreign relations came to an end formally with the breakup of the Hsiung-nu empire and the formal acceptance by Hu-han-yeh ch'an-yu in 51 B.C. of a position of inferiority to the Han emperor Hsuan-ti (73-49 B.C.). This development was the direct result of the successful military and political campaigns during Han Wu-ti's reign (140-87 B.C.). The shift from the "peace through kinship" strategy to the military solution which took place during the lifetime of Ssu-ma Ch'ien is one of the momentous events of Han history ...

{p. 268} Ssu-ma Ch'ien, like Herodotus in Greece, was regarded as one of the most widely traveled men of his time.

{p. 269} The Hsiung-nu, particularly during the first phase of the Han dynasty, were a safe haven for rebellious Chinese leaders and dissatisfied military commanders. Most famous is Chung-hang Yueh (also read Chung-nang Shuo), who fled to the Hsiung-nu and provided them with inside knowledge on how to conduct political negotiations with the Chinese. A speech reported in the Shih Chi in which he replied to the Chinese envoys' claims of superior virtue contains much information on Hsiung-nu life and habits ... :

{quote} The Hsiung-nu clearly make warfare their main occupation; since the old and weak cannot fight, the best food and drink are given to the strong and healthy, who then become the defense and protection [of the nation]; in this way both fathers and sons can live long in security. Can one really say that the Hsiung-nu despise old people? [...] According to Hsiung-nu custom, people eat the meat of their animals, drink their milk, and wear [clothes made with] the hides; the animals eat grass and drink water, therefore they move about in seasonal cycles. This is why in critical times they practice riding and shooting, while in peaceful times they enjoy themselves without other engagements. Their communal laws are not burdensome ... {endquote}

{end of quotes}

Arnold J. Toynbee on the Aryan invasions, and the transmission of Civilization across the Silk Roads: toynbee-history-of-civ.html.

Marija Gimbutas on the Kurgan culture's intrusions into Europe: gimbutas.html.

The Rig Veda's evidence for the Aryan destruction of the Harappa civilization: rig-veda.html.

Jared Diamond on the Indo-European expansion: diamond.html.

To purchase Joseph Needham's book Science and Civilization in China second-hand via Abebooks: http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookSearch?an=joseph+needham&tn=science+civilization.

To purchase The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia, ed. Victor H. Mair (containing David Anthony's paper) from Amazon:

Write to me at contact.html.