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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,030 ratings  ·  269 reviews
Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Arya ...more
Hardcover, 568 pages
Published December 9th 2007 by Princeton University Press (first published November 19th 2007)
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Petra-X is getting covered in Soufriere ash
The initial chapters of this book are fascinating. They explain the rules of language sound - phonology - how one sound changes to another over time. Since these 'rules' are consistent within a language, it is possible to work backwards from a present sound to one that might have existed. If many languages have similar words meaning the same thing, then it should be possible using these phonological rules to reconstruct the original word in Proto-Indo-European although that language was in the p ...more
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
One of the things I did in grad school was to become a Proto-Indo-European otaku, a long, lonely voyage into the dark and uncharted seas of PIE myth via a marriage of philological and structural takes on mythology. I did this because I was amused by facts such as the following: (a) the English word "sweat" and its Sanskrit cognate, "svet" are practically homophonic; (b) Erin, the ancient name for Ireland, is a cognate of the Persian word Iran and of the Vedic Sanskrit word Aryan (the 'race' that ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Admittedly it does get bogged down describing archeological sites but you can skim through those sections without missing anything.

Anthony combines linguistics and archeology to localize the origins of the Indo-European language family and plot its spread across Eurasia, similar to Spencer Wells' efforts to combine genetics and archeology to trace the spread of humans from Africa.

The author marshalls the evidence to argue that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) eme
David W. Anthony's The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (HWL), is a worthy addition to Indo-European scholarship. Using a synthesis of linguistics and many recent additions to the archaeological record from Russia and other Central Asian countries, Anthony attempts to answer the lingering questions of the Proto-Indo-European languages: "namely, who spoke it, where was it spoken and when."

The focus here is on science and reaso
I feel a little bad rating The Horse, the Wheel, and Language at all, because it's primarily advancing an argument that I simply do not have the qualifications to evaluate. I have no background in archeology at all, and my background in linguistics is a single survey-level course in university and an amateur interest thereafter, so the hundreds of pages of descriptions of grave-sites and red ochre placement and pottery sherds made my eyes glaze over and are part of why it took me so long to fini ...more
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Well to tell the truth, I have actually read David W. Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World more than once (and also a few times not actually in its entirety but just perusing in detail certain chapters for academic and usually linguistic writing and research purposes). And yes indeed, I have really and truly hugely enjoyed how the author manages to write his text both engagingly and intellectually, how in The Horse, ...more
Jun 29, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

_The Horse, the Wheel, and Language_ investigates the possible origins of the Proto-Indo-European language, the reconstructed language posited by philologists and historical linguists to be the mother tongue from which a host of modern languages were derived, including English, French, German, Italian, Punjabi, Spanish, Russian and Persian to mention only a few. The mere reality of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is contested by some, who insist that a purely hypothetical language, produced
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: linguists, Asian steppe and art historians, archaeologists
Educated in an era when the Tigris-Euphrates "Fertile Crescent") region was credited with the invention of the chariot, this work's most fascinating contribution to our understanding of world history to me was the identification of the Pontic-Caspian steppes as the origin of horse-riding about 4200-4000 BCE, and the invention of wheeled vehicles around 3300 BCE. Chariots used in warfare utterly changed world history, so dating their appearance is important because it helps us understand so many ...more
David H.
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Anthony writes in his conclusion, "I have used a lot of archaeological detail in this account" and he sure did! This book is a very dense look at who the Proto-Indo-Europeans might have been (or probably were, in my opinion), looking at both the historical linguistics and the archeology.

I have an amateur interest in historical linguistics, so the first part of this book worked quite well for me (Proto-Indo-European is a "reconstructed" language based on all its descendants, likely to have existe
Barnaby Thieme
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This rather technical overview of recent archaeological and linguistic scholarship sheds important light on the mysterious Proto-Indo-European-speaking Bronze Age cultures and offers a tentative picture of their development and spread across the Steppes until they impacted an area stretching between Western China and Atlantic Ocean. The author pays special attention to evidence for the domestication of the horse around 4000 BCE and draws attention to his original work analyzing bit wear patterns ...more
Bryn Hammond
I haven't felt equipped to review this -- at least until I get to that 2nd reading. A shame not to say that I thought it fantastic, though. A couple of notes:

I am a non-linguist (severely, I think) and can find language discussion in Indo-European books scary. Here I didn't, and besides there isn't over-much of it.

Its section on frontiers -- frontier theory and how frontiers work -- was enlightening for me, even outside the scope of this book. I think I met Frontier Studies here.

If I was bored
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Most of the languages of Europe and western Asia can be traced back to a common ancestor spoken several thousand years ago termed Proto-Indo-European. The exact population who spoke this language has long been cause for speculation. While scholars have turned away from the racist fantasies of past centuries -- a tribe of blond, blue-eyed "Aryans" pouring out of the north and subduing lesser peoples -- they nonetheless could only suggest that the homeland of Proto-Indo-European was probably somew ...more
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: intelligent people with good thinking skills
This is a fascinating study. He ties up what we know about the original Indo-European language with actual archaeological studies in the Steppes of Russia, probably their ancestral home. The Indo-European language family is the largest in the world, and its daughter languages include most of the European languages, many Indian languages, Iranian and languages in Afghanistan.

I will admit I am a linguist and know how to reconstruct dead languages. In order to do so, you have to understand the sci
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: indo-european
I'd like to start my review of the book with part of the last sentence of the last chapter of the book:" the invisible and fleeting sound of our speech we preserve for a future generation of linguists many details of our present world." (p.466)

The main ideas of this book are a reconstruction of a dead language and how that is possible (in this case Proto-Indo-European) and dating it. The reconstruction of the lives and migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans including their possible homeland
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
The first several chapters, and the last several chapters are both excellent. The middle bogs down a bit. I'm interested in archaeology, but my eyes were crossing while trying to read some of the middle portion. Very interesting, however. ...more
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
A much more compelling story than the history of our "genes", this books traces the evolution of the common cultural and linguistic roots of societies as diverse as the Lithuanians and the Iranians, the Indian sub-continent and the British Isles. Anthony details a breathtaking range of scholarship, from the early linguistic chapters (which too tantalisingly brief) through frontier and migration theorists, to his own archaeology, to pull together his argued position for the development of a cohes ...more
Michael Fassbender
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book for anyone with an interest in understanding the Indo-Europeans and the various ways that we are their heirs today.

Here, Anthony attempts to bridge the gap between the linguists and the archaeologists who have generally pursued their studies separately; by creating a zone of common ground, he has created a glimpse of the period 3500 BC to 1500 BC. He has shown us something of the people who spoke the ancestral form of so many languages today, and how they spread their cul
Dec 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
Anthony has rendered a great service in making available information on the archaeology of the Bronze Age cultures of the Pontic-Caspian and Eurasian steppes contained in Russian language publications. The book features excellent notes and bibliography and extensive maps and illustrations. Many of the illustrations, however, are adapted from other publications and lack sufficient accompanying information to be useful for anything other than giving a general impression of the artifacts included i ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2019
I was really excited to read this book to understand the origins of the Indo-European languages and especially the shared culture and mythology of ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings and modern Hindus. However, this book is first and foremost a book of archaeology. I think it's probably a pretty good book of archaeology, but I found myself less than completely interested in analyses of grave sites, ratios of different animal bones and the wear on horse teeth caused by bits. There is a lot of parsing ...more
Victoria Pownall
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really fascinating stuff, especially about the connections between the indo european languages, which are spoken by over half the world and can be traced back to one single mother tongue
Peter Bradley
Please give my review a helpful vote -

This book appears to be a quintessential "gosh-wow!" science book. By Gosh-wow!, I mean a book that tackles a big unanswered question in a mind-blowing way. The reconstruction of a language that was not written down and which has not been spoken for 4,500 years, and the final answer to the question of where the ancestors of the Indo-European languages came from is such a question.

The first quarter of the book hummed,
Ginger Griffin
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Proto-Indo-European speakers: Invading hordes or back-slapping cultural salesmen? Anthony goes with the salesman option (even likening PIE expansion to a franchise operation at one point). That theory looked a lot more plausible in 2007, when this book was published. Now, not so much. Genetic evidence developed since then shows that PIE speakers (known to archaeologists as the Yamnaya) expanded rapidly out of the Eurasian steppe and quickly replaced most of the people then living in western Euro ...more
Brian Turner
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a great book if you want to learn more about the archaeology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans on the Russian Steppes. Disappointingly, the title is misleading as it covers almost nothing about the spread of Indo-Europeans outside of the steppes.

The book starts well enough with an exploration of Proto-Indo-European as a language - what we know, and what we can learn from it. But then it soon falls into a repetitive pattern of archaeological reports for the large number of identified cultures i
Feb 25, 2012 rated it liked it
As a graduate student in linguistics, I was initially quite enthused to read a book that bridges the gaping divide between linguistics and archaeology. The first half of this book does a decent job of describing the basics of historical reconstruction of language and understanding linguistic change within cultural landscapes (with a few sociolinguistic over-generalizations and gaffes).

However, Anthony's narrative of Proto-Indo-European's heritage and vast expansion is rather sparse on the lingu
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got pointed towards this book due to its being cited a few times by Karen Armstrong in the The Great Transformation - particularly around Zoroaster being much earlier than I had previously heard and how parts of the Rig Veda are remnants of proto-Indo-European culture. While there was a little of that in the book, the vast majority was on the archaeological evidence that there WAS a proto-Indo-European culture, along with the linguistic evidence. The linguistic evidence I found fascinating, al ...more
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Experts tell us one of the most compelling accounts for origin of the Indo-European languages put the place of birth the Steppes north and east of the Black Sea. But, what if you are not satisfied to take expert pronouncements at face value and want to reach your own conclusion?

DWA provides an account of what may have taken place between Europe and Central Asia between about 5000 BCE - 3000 BCE, extrapolated from an extremely detailed analysis of trends in pottery, burial customs and the conten
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This was MUCH more than I bargained for. Extremely thorough on the archaeology (the number of cultures and 'horizons' is off the chart) with detailed explanations of horse tooth wear patterns, more pots than you can shake a stick at, pages of radiocarbon dating, words like caprine, onager, and einkorn, unknown minerals and gems, references to Siberian rivers... it is a miracle I made it through.

While a monument of scholarship, I can't see it helping my cursory intro to linguistics lectures on P.
Jan 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: wilson-qrt-list
I gave this one start because I didn't finish it, I couldn't get through it. Although it has a lot of promise and some great tit bits it is just too entirely academic and unless your a linguist or anthropologist I don't see you reading all of it either. After about the first 80 pages I started skipping around using the section headings scanning for bits that interest me. Having a communications degree I might be more interested in the origin of words and language than most but this book is a lab ...more
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I think I've learned that while I find language and linguistics fascinating, archaeology just leaves me cold. The first 100 pages or so were great (because they mostly focused on linguistics), but after that it just got bogged down in too much technical detail (i.e. archaeology), and I skipped/skimmed from that point. ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, linguistics
This is not the popular history I was hoping for. Instead, it’s an odd mishmash of a popular-history approach to the historical linguistics of Porto-Indo European and an eye-glaringly technical report of archeological research. If I had an academic background in archeology, I would like have gotten more out of the book.
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David W. Anthony is an American Professor of Anthropology, specializing in Indo-European history and languages.

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