May 22, 2011

Horse not important for the emergence of steppe pastoralism

The earliest horses from the Botai culture of Kazakhstan were used for the mares' milk and were hunted for food. It has also been suggested that the horse has been instrumental in the early emergence of Eurasian pastoralism. If that is true, then we expect to find horse remains in steppe pastoralist cultures in addition to domesticated animals (goats and cattle, the pig is lacking).

A paper by Frachetti and Benecke looked at the chronological sequence of the Begash culture from southeastern Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, they found no horse bones in the earliest period, a few ones in subsequent periods, while 14 per cent of the animals were horses only in the later (post-Mongolian) phase.

From the paper:
The relative frequencies show a steady increase of this species through time, from 2 per cent in Phase 1b to 14 per cent in the Phases 5 and 6. Whether the lack of horses in the earliest phase of occupation (Phase 1a) is an artefact of the small size of the total faunal collection or was a reality remains an open question. The second half of the third millennium BC, which roughly corresponds with Phase 1a, is considered as the period when horse domestication flourished in Western Asia (Benecke & von den Driesch 2003). Nevertheless, percentages of horse remains at Begash remain below 6 per cent until approximately AD 50 (Phase 3b).
...

The steady increase in horses in the faunal record does correlate with documented political and social expansions of eastern Eurasian mobile pastoralists in the mid-first millennium BC. For example, the increase in horses in Phase 3 (750 BC-AD 50) corresponds with the growth of nomadic steppe confederacies such as the Saka and Wusun (Chang et al. 2003; Rogers 2007).

...

The domestic horse is documented at Begash by the start of the second millennium BC, but its impact on pastoralism is not clear. It is true that by increasing their use of the horse throughout the Iron Age and later periods, the inhabitants of Begash likely improved their mobility and access to pastures across various ecological niches for their primary herd animals. Nevertheless, the zooarchaeological record from Begash illustrates that the increase in horses through time correlates first with opportunistic hunting forays at the end of the Bronze Age and then with expanding political engagements that undoubtedly reshaped the organisation of Eurasian pastoralist communities from the first millennium BC onward.

When compared to the relative stability of other domesticates at Begash, the small Bronze Age presence and limited expansion of horses in the faunal record before historic periods demands that we reconsider the degree to which domestic horses played a dominant role in emerging pastoralist lifeways or in aiding the diffusion of regional material culture throughout prehistory. Specifically, there is not ample evidence for extensive horse riding during the second millennium BC at Begash. To the degree that Begash is indicative of other pastoralist settlements in the region, the faunal evidence directly challenges the image of middle to late Bronze Age pastoralists (2000-1000 BC) as derived from migrating horse-riders (Kuz’mina 2008) and suggests that horse riding was not the most significant catalyst for regional diffusion at this point in prehistory. This does not demote the importance of domestic horse riding as a key innovation for Eurasian populations in general or defray its historical impact on the region write large; rather these data suggest there were other mechanisms by which pastoralism, material culture, and ideology developed among regional populations in the third and second millennia BC (Frachetti 2008a).
The early "cowboys of the steppe" paradigm is slowly collapsing. Certainly the horse was known, milked, eaten, and occasionally ridden on the steppes, but its central role in the emergence of Eurasian pastoralism has been ovestated on rather flimsy evidence.

It is only in the 1st millennium BC when it is picked up by Iranic/Turkic warrior confederations that the horse starts to affect Eurasia in a big way, and that is precisely the time when the Scythians appear in West Eurasia from their eastern homeland, followed centuries later by nomadic groups, from the west and north making their presence felt in China.

Antiquity
Volume: 83 Number: 322 Page: 1023–1037

From sheep to (some) horses: 4500 years of herd structure at the pastoralist settlement of Begash (south-eastern Kazakhstan)

Michael Frachetti and Norbert Benecke

Does the riding of horses necessarily go with the emergence of Eurasian pastoralism? Drawing on their fine sequence of animal bones from Begash, the authors think not. While pastoral herding of sheep and goats is evident from the Early Bronze Age, the horse appears only in small numbers before the end of the first millennium BC. Its adoption coincides with an increase in hunting and the advent of larger politically organised

Link

29 comments:

sykes.1 said...

How sad. "The Horse, The Wheel, and Language" was such a nice read. And then, course, there is Renfrew's whole Armenian thing and Indo-European farmers.

By the way, there is this wonderful "theory" over at

http://www.accuracyingenesis.com/adam.html#paradise

That locates the Garden of Eden more or less in Armenia, too.

larskik said...

mr Sykes
that is pseudo-science and even the website is named
BIBLICAL RESEARCHBIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY

I googled peter martin and it seems he's a journalist from sunday times and not a scholar

Dienekes said...

And then, course, there is Renfrew's whole Armenian thing and Indo-European farmers.

Renfrew doesn't advocate an Armenian origin, more like Catal Hoyuk for pre-Proto-Indo-European.

I don't have any very strong opinions on the deepest origins of the PIE language family (or PPIE, or Indo-Hittite, or whatever). The only things that seem certain to me are:

- Earliest Indo-Europeans lived in West Asia
- European Indo-Europeans are all descended from West Asian farmer groups that migrated to Europe, to the west.
- Anatolian, Tocharian, and Indo-Iranian are descended from West Asian groups that stayed in West Asia/moved to the east
- Armenian is a back-migrant from Europe, Ossetic and a few other extinct Iranic languages, back-migrants from Asia
- Very early steppe groups spoke non-IE languages, probably extinct, although I wouldn't rule out something close to Uralic, or Uralic was formed as a synthesis of steppe languages and the languages of the Mongoloid groups of the forested part of Siberia.

Onur said...

Very early steppe groups spoke non-IE languages, probably extinct, although I wouldn't rule out something close to Uralic, or Uralic was formed as a synthesis of steppe languages and the languages of the Mongoloid groups of the forested part of Siberia.

I think Uralic (and also Altaic) has nothing to do with the early Eurasian pastoralists. Uralic seems to be strongly associated with Western and Central Siberian Mongoloid hunter-gatherers.

lars said...

"Armenian is a back-migrant from Europe"
mr Dienekes according to Gamkrelidze&Ivanonv
Armenian is the IE language that stayed in the homeland
indeed armenian is strongly connected with indo-iranian (more than with Greek)
It's phrygian wich is an european backmigration's result
if Armenian was the result of an european backmigration we would not have armenians that lack north european admixture at all as it's was shown by the dodecad project
btw it seems there is a problem on "semitic 5 thousands years old thread"!?

FlyOverMan said...

I noticed the paper bases their analysis and findings on a "fine sequence of animal bones from Begash". Does Begesh provide a good representative picture of the Eurasian Steppes? How does the data that Frachetti analyzes compare to Anthony's? It seems like they are looking at to different sets of horse bones.

eurologist said...

It's the same story in Central Europe: the connection is with the Urnfield Culture - not with Tumulus. Horses were extremely rare until the late Bronze Age/ early Iron Age. The very first bite pieces are attested to ~1,300-1,400BCE (1,500 in Hungary); carriage graves are not important until Hallstatt and La-Tène; in northern Germany horses remained rare until Roman times. Horses were extremely expensive to keep and thus were likely mostly held by rich/noble families for sport and prestige. Work animals remained oxen until the middle ages.

Of course, I have joked for years now about these supposed Kurgan hordes trying to ride their horses or drive their chariots through the dense, thick underbrush forests, moors, and deep snow without fodder, to boot.

Jack said...

Assuming that IE languages originated 9000 years ago in the ME, I have two questions:
1) The IE lived side by side with Etruscan like languages? I am thinking about Lemnos and southwestern Anatolian coast.
This stuff always made me wonder about the ME theory.
2) What language was spoken in the Balkan refuge center of I Y-haplogroup expansion? Any idea?
Perhaps I missed some info.

Dienekes said...

1) The IE lived side by side with Etruscan like languages? I am thinking about Lemnos and southwestern Anatolian coast.

The Southwestern Anatolian coast was inhabited by Carians, an Indo-European people. Indeed, as far as we can tell, all the known languages on both sides of the Aegean were Indo-European.

The language of Lemnos is undecyphered, as is Etruscan, as is the language of the Minoans. Personally I don't see any difficulty with that, especially for the island languages. When I've got Greek, Thracian, and Proto-Phrygian on the European coast and several Anatolian languages on the Anatolian coast, it's more parsimonious to think that Lemnian was intrusive rather than a remnant and/or that it was highly divergent because it was an island language.

Also, I don't see a problem with the "side by side" part of your question. If we are to track all the known (not inferred) language expansions, they lived "side by side" with other languages. For example, Latin-based expanded when the Romans lived side by side with Etruscans, Greeks, and various other Italian IE languages; English expanded despite the fact that English lived side by side with Celts, and so on.

Indeed, we only have to look at the Caucasus/Transcaucasus region where you have 3 Indo-European languages (Armenian, Iranic, and Greek), Turkic, NE Caucasian, NW Caucasian, Kartvelian, Aramaic, a bunch of extinct ones, and perhaps more all living next to each other.

So, some of the indigenous languages of the region live next to a plethora of other languages, some of which are very ancient and some are very recent. In the case of the Aegean, the situation is even simpler as Indo-European languages dominated both coasts in antiquity, so I really see no problem with the idea that some of the first farmers of West Asia and Europe were PIE speaking.

Corduene said...

@Lars Armenians are back migrants but from the Balkans and not from the Northern Steps. The closest language to Armenian is Phrygian. Even the Name Armenian has it´s origin in the Balkans. They are named after a Macedonian "Armenius" according to Strabo.

Dienekes said...

"Armenian is a back-migrant from Europe"
mr Dienekes according to Gamkrelidze&Ivanonv
Armenian is the IE language that stayed in the homeland
indeed armenian is strongly connected with indo-iranian (more than with Greek)
It's phrygian wich is an european backmigration's result
if Armenian was the result of an european backmigration we would not have armenians that lack north european admixture at all as it's was shown by the dodecad project
btw it seems there is a problem on "semitic 5 thousands years old thread"!?


First, we don't know how many Proto-Armenians were involved in establishing the Armenian language in the Armenian plateau. Given that Armenians are said to be Phrygian colonists, and Phrygians were intrusive in Central Anatolia from the Balkans, I, personally, would not argue that present-day Armenians are exclusively descended genetically from the Balkan migrants.

Second, Armenians do possess substantially more of the "South European" element than all their neighbors save the Turks. That's a signal of a western connection that e.g., Iranians and people from the eastern Caucasus lack.

Third, I would not speculate that the northern European component was present substantially in the Phrygian homeland in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, and in what level.

Dienekes said...

Of course, I have joked for years now about these supposed Kurgan hordes trying to ride their horses or drive their chariots through the dense, thick underbrush forests, moors, and deep snow without fodder, to boot.

Chariots are a complete joke as a military advantage in the Balkans because of the uneven terrain. Riding a chariot in that terrain is more like a form of punishment.

Chariots were adopted by the Mycenaeans at about the same time as they were in the entire Near Eastern world. They were probably status symbols (much like fancy cars were when they were first introduced), and may have also served for man-to-man combat between princes when the terrain allowed it (as in the Iliad).

Horse riding is not much use either. For tending flocks, a dog is much more useful. For plowing fields, a pair of oxen. For transportation, a donkey. The horse was useful militarily only in particular plains areas such as Thessaly or parts of Macedonia.

When people tell me that the horse was a military advantage in a Greek context, I just need to tell them that when the Athenians wanted to ask the Spartans for help before the battle of Marathon, they dispatched a footrunner, not a horse-rider.

Onur said...

Given that Armenians are said to be Phrygian colonists, and Phrygians were intrusive in Central Anatolia from the Balkans, I, personally, would not argue that present-day Armenians are exclusively descended genetically from the Balkan migrants.

The problem with the Phrygian=Armenian hypothesis is that Phrygian is a deciphered language and so if it was an ancient form of Armenian this should have been established by now. The result of the decipherment is the opposite: Phrygian is clearly distinguished from Armenian as a separate IE language/branch.

Onur said...

For transportation, a donkey.

Donkey has surely been much more used for transportation (both of humans and packs) than horse since the domestication of both animals. BTW, what does this study say about donkeys? Also does it say anything about camels?

eurologist said...

When people tell me that the horse was a military advantage in a Greek context, I just need to tell them that when the Athenians wanted to ask the Spartans for help before the battle of Marathon, they dispatched a footrunner, not a horse-rider.


Dienekes, this is when I sometimes get so close to giving up. There are so many well-accepted ideas, many promulgated during the past 100 years or so, that are so clearly way-out-there, or, better put, completely unsubstantiated in a scientific context, that the entire field should blush and cringe and admit they need to start anew --- perhaps this time, as an actual science.

Dienekes said...

Phrygian isn't decyphered, it is known very poorly because of the small corpus, but it does seem to share the augment in the formation of past tenses like Greek and Armenian.

The genuine Armenian words in Armenian are also not that many, so you basically have two languages with very small vocabularies, one of which is first attested half a millennium before it moved to Asia Minor, the other one about 1,500 years later. Not an ideal situation.

Valikhan said...

That's another wonderful article! Just one comment about that:

"1st millennium BC when it is picked up by Iranic/Turkic warrior confederations that the horse starts to affect Eurasia in a big way, and that is precisely the time when the Scythians appear in West Eurasia from their eastern homeland".

Scythians appeared in Steppe from East for sure. But IE languages and Iranian ones appeared in Stepper (if ever did) not from East but rather from South-West.

Onur said...

Scythians appeared in Steppe from East for sure. But IE languages and Iranian ones appeared in Stepper (if ever did) not from East but rather from South-West.

So according to you were Scythians, Sarmatians and even Alans Turkic, or at least Altaic?

visvakarman said...

Yet cavalry was decissive in battle, like the Macedonians proved at Queronea, for instance

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Perhaps horse domestication wasn't central to food production at first, but the case for domesticated horses providing a decisive military edge doesn't require a whole lot of horses to work.

Cavalry was synonomous with military superiority from not long after the horse was domesticated for most of the time period until it horse cavalary was definitively shown to be obsolete in the World War I charge of the light brigade.

Also, the horse doesn't have to be always and everywhere a military advantage. What it has to do is to allow one group of people to get enough of an advantage that they can attain a critical mass that starts to propel them against others by scale and survival strategies that they are biased towards alone.

If horses let IE people become the dominant steppe population and if frequently horse assisted military victories make conquest look like a good foreign policy strategy that deserves more resources, you produce a large civilization that is better than average at making war. Once you have a large society that has made war making part of its basic strategy in competition with other societies, whether horses in particular continue to be an advantage in war making as potential opponents eventually come up with defenses and new terrains aren't as favorable to war on horseback doesn't really matter.

Jared Diamond's example is apples and Indians. Indians could have domesticated the apple given the wild species available to them, and apples were optimal for North America, butthey didn't get there because you need to follow a path of agricultural living in general before you can manage it and it doesn't have a fast enough learning curve for a newly food producing society. Once you are on a path of perfecting military prowess, you will get places that you never would have if you didn't focus on devoting resources to military ventures because your early military adventures had been hit and miss because you had no edge over your neighbors in war.

Dienekes said...

Yet cavalry was decissive in battle, like the Macedonians proved at Queronea, for instance

There was no cavalry used in the battle of Chaeronea, at least none is mentioned in the ancient accounts of the battle.

The Macedonian success in battle was mainly due to their use of the long spear, as well as the tactical innovations that Philip II learned from the Thebans (uneven phalanx).

It was only in Asia that cavalry proved a valuable weapon against the Persian armies, but there it was used in wide open spaces, not the Greek terrain.

...c. said...

One question, and one comment--as a horse person from childhood and a part time shepherd, this article definitely caught my attention.

First, the question: If using Greece as an example of where horses weren't useful, why did the Caucasus get horses so early in terrain with a great deal of natural obstacles and variation? The horses there are very well adapted to it and certainly proved essential to every facet of life.

Second, the comment--the sheep I tend part-time are a Central Asian fat-tailed breed. Dogs are useless for herding them--they stand off the dog or simply scatter. Only European breeds work with sheepdogs, while Central Asian breeds are used to livestock guardian dogs. On the steppes, a horse is incontrovertibly invaluable to herding.

Thank you for your wonderful blog!

eurologist said...

Here is a recent excavation of a ~1,200 BCE Northern German battlefield (straight north of Berlin, ~3/4 on the way to the Baltic):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13469861

video (in German): www.spiegel.de/video/video-1022966.html

So far, the remains of ~90 people have been found; based on their diet (millet) and Silesian bronze pins they are viewed as likely intruders from the southeast. Some horse remains have been found, also. The entire area at the time was swampy with scattered bushes and no agriculture. At any rate, the timing falls right into what I mentioned above (late bronze age Urnfield Culture - not Tumulus). No bronze weapons have been found (only wooden ones), indicating that the people were rather poor. Perhaps the horse transported a leader.

South Central Haplo said...

what is your definition of West Asia Dienekes?.

eurologist said...

Here is a recent publication about the above battle field. About 100 individuals, and ~2 horses.

http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/085/0417/ant0850417.pdf

terryt said...

"If using Greece as an example of where horses weren't useful, why did the Caucasus get horses so early in terrain with a great deal of natural obstacles and variation?"

Riding, rather than for pulling wagons or chariots. I understand that riding on their back is a later development that using them for traction.

Dienekes said...

what is your definition of West Asia Dienekes?.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Asia

Seems about right, although (from the genetic perspective), the North Caucasus also belongs to West Asia.

Within West Asia, Iran is transitional to Central/South Asia; Anatolia to Southern Europe; Arabia to east Africa. The transition between the North Caucasus and eastern Europe is not so smooth, probably because the latter region has been affected by recent migrations of Slavs and Turkic-type peoples.

Shayan said...

"Riding, rather than for pulling wagons or chariots. I understand that riding on their back is a later development that using them for traction."

I'd like to learn more about this. What is the evidence for this assertion?

From experience working with horses for the past decade, it is far easier to train a horse for riding than for harnessing to a cart.

I'm always very interested in articles on horses and would love to read more about this.

Also, to clarify my earlier point, horses are very useful to herding sheep, goats, etc in the steppe regions. Herding dogs were/are not commonly used.

terryt said...

"I'd like to learn more about this. What is the evidence for this assertion?"

I can't remember where I read that. However I know it was in association with the domestication of cattle and donkeys. In other words horses were used for transport after cattle and donkeys had been used for such a puropose. Riding cattle is not really possible although donkeys could have been ridden. Here's a link to Wikipedia you may find helpful:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestication_of_the_horse

Quote:

"Regardless of the specific date of domestication, use of horses spread rapidly across Eurasia for transportation, agricultural work and warfare. Horses and mules in agriculture used a breastplate type harness or a yoke more suitable for oxen, which was not as efficient at utilizing the full strength of the animals as the later-invented padded horse collar that arose several millennia later in western Europe".

"From experience working with horses for the past decade, it is far easier to train a horse for riding than for harnessing to a cart".

But the person who first lept onto a horse's back must have been very brave, or foolish. If people got the idea of using horses from people who already used donkeys and horses for traction it is easy to imagine them using horses in the same way to start with.

Donkey domestication:

http://archaeology.about.com/od/domestications/qt/donkeys.htm

And:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080310170636.htm