The Horse, the Wheel, and Language - How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Anglais) Broché – 3 septembre 2010
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Bien que l'auteur s'emporte souvent vers des descriptions sur les decouvertes archaeologiques, il n'en reste pas moins que ce livre reste clair et structure.
Bon schemas et plans.
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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. Another example: "The First Cities and Their Connection to the Steppes", which describes the trading patterns that arose once cities appeared in Mesopotamia.
But these delightful sections are lost in the numbing freshet of details. Here's a quote, from page 293:
"The bronze tools and weapons in other Novosvobodnaya-phase graves included cast flat axes, sleeved axes, hammer-axes, heavy tanged daggers with multiple midribs, chisels, and spearheads. The chisels and spearheads were mounted to their handles the same way, with round shafts hammered into four-sided contracting bases that fit into a V-shaped rectangular hole on the handle or spear. Ceremonial objects included bronze cauldrons, long-handled bronze dippers, and two-pronged bidents (perhaps forks for retrieving cooked meats from the cauldrons). Ornaments included beads of carnelian from western Pakistan, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, gold, rock crystal, and even a bead from Klady made from a human molar sheathed in gold (the first gold cap!)"
The author simply couldn't make up his mind what kind of book he wanted to write. Let me speculate on how this chimera of a book could have been written: the author, having spent years with Russian archaeologists accumulating a huge store of information about their work, approaches the publisher with a great idea for a book. "These Russians have been digging up all sorts of wonderful things", he says, "but here in the West we don't know much about their work. I'd like to write a book putting all their results together into a coherent story."
To which the publisher replies, "Sounds great, but what's the hook? We can't call this book 'A Summary of Results of Russian Archaeological Field Work Over the Period 1980 - 2000'. We need something sexier."
Anthony: "Well, their research certainly sheds a lot of light upon the beginnings of the Indo-European peoples."
Publisher: "Perfect! Let's make the book about how the Indo-European languages got started! That's always a good topic!"
So Anthony writes some extra chapters to slap up front, and we get two books for the price of one:
1. "Beginnings of the Indo-European Languages"
2. "A Summary of Results of Russian Archaeological Field Work Over the Period 1980 - 2000".
Now, there's nothing wrong with this. However, buyers should be aware of the fact that three quarters of the book consists of site reports and only one-quarter deals with Indo-European languages.
"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. On the other hand, the numerous illustrations of grave goods offer a fascinating progression from simple tools and fetishes to later ornate gold statues and bronze spear points.
Although I read a library copy, I just might buy the book for the first few chapters on Indo-European historical linguistics, but I am disappointed that the subtitle is misleading.
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. Often times, it is helpful to be able to see the patterns the author is referring to, and in order to do so, one must read all of the details.
Despite my recommendation, I will however provide two caveats for those who would order this book. The first is that this is a heavy, scientific read. It is not intended to be useful to the general public, and he assumes a basic scientific knowledge of archaeology and biology. If you are looking for an easier read, start elsewhere.
The second caveat is that the subtitle is slightly misleading. The author does not fill in the effect of the Indo-European language spread on the modern world, and this is probably best left for other works anyway. This is, however, an excellent survey of archaeological candidates for the speakers of languages which are the ancestors of modern languages, however.
All in all, highly recommended for interested readers.
Anthony uses evidence from archaeolinguistics, from oft-overlooked Russian steppe archaology, and his (and his wife's) own pioneering work on bit-wear markings in ancient horse teeth to make his case. He cites Native American linguistics and archaeology to help bolster his case when appropriate, along with the well-studied history of British colonization of North America -- and does so quite convincingly.
Anthony writes in a learned, but accessible style with an occasional witticism to keep the text from being overly-dry. Perhaps my only criticism would be his neglecting to compare the spread of Indo-European with that of the Turkic languages across Eurasia -- which was also accomplished wih stunning celerity (in historical terms), and also caused enormous cultural shifts which are still visible today. Perhaps he could do so in the second edition!
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