Reading 2

The following passage is adapted from an article titled “From the Horse’s Mouth” by Andrew Lawler (© 2005 by Andrew Lawler).

  1. Measuring teeth from dead
  2. horses in upstate New York seems
  3. an unlikely way to get at the truth
  4. behind some of the most
  5. controversial questions about the
  6. Old World. But David Anthony,
  7. a historian and archaeologist,
  8. discovered that by comparing the
  9. teeth of modern horses with their
  10. Eurasian ancestors, he could
  11. determine where and when the
  12. ancient ones were ridden. And
  13. answering that seemingly arcane
  14. question is important if you want
  15. to explain why nearly half
  16. the world today speaks an
  17. Indo-European language.
  18. The origin of Indo-European
  19. tongues has roiled scholarship
  20. since a British judge in
  21. eighteenth-century Calcutta
  22. noticed that Sanskrit and English
  23. were related. Generations of
  24. linguists have labored to
  25. reconstruct the mother from
  26. which sprang dozens of languages
  27. spoken from Wales to China.
  28. Their bitter disputes about who
  29. used proto-Indo-European,
  30. where they lived, and their
  31. impact on the budding
  32. civilizations of Mesopotamia,
  33. Iran, and the Indus River Valley
  34. are legion.
  35. To unravel the mystery
  36. of Indo-European, he taught
  37. himself Russian to closely
  38. examine archaeological reports in
  39. obscure Soviet-era journals
  40. mostly ignored in the West. What
  41. he found were not the remains of
  42. crude barbarians living on the
  43. distant fringes of the civilizations
  44. blooming five thousand years ago
  45. on the banks of the Nile, Indus,
  46. and Tigris and Euphrates.
  47. Instead,  these peoples of the
  48. steppes  stretching from Bulgaria
  49. to Turkmenistan made quick and
  50. efficient use of the newly
  51. invented wheel, mined ore to
  52. forge metal tools and weapons,
  53. and lived in substantial villages
  54. and towns.
  55. But did they ride?
  56. Cowboys without steeds can’t
  57. cover much territory. Horses
  58. would give any population on
  59. the grassy stretches of the
  60. steppes an enormous advantage
  61. in trade, warfare, and plain old
  62. pastoral migration. That mobility
  63. could be one way to explain the
  64. spread of the language which
  65. then morphed into a variety of
  66. tongues throughout Eurasia.
  67. Based on linguistic evidence,
  68. Anthony estimates that
  69. proto-Indo-European flourished
  70. between 4000 BCE and 3000
  71. BCE before dying out by 2500
  72. BCE. Yet clear representations
  73. and mentions of horses don’t
  74. appear in the Near East until
  75. about 2000 BCE. Archaeological
  76. evidence until recently has been
  77. difficult to obtain, since wild and
  78. domesticated horses look alike.
  79. Anthony realized that one
  80. creative way to tell the two apart
  81. is to look a horse in the mouth.
  82. Collaborating with his wife,
  83. archaeologist Dorcas Brown,
  84. he measured the wear on the
  85. teeth of autopsied horses. Then,
  86. with a small grant, he bought five
  87. unbroken horses and stabled
  88. them at the State University of
  89. New York at Cobleskill. He and
  90. his students fashioned a variety
  91. of bits that may have been used
  92. five millennia ago, made from
  93. hemp rope, horsehair, bone, and
  94. leather, rather than the metal
  95. favored today.
  96. Then the horses had to be broken
  97. without using equipment. The
  98. trainer put Anthony in an
  99. enclosed paddock to show him
  100. how to achieve dominance using
  101. body motions alone “It was a
  102. stunning lesson,” he recalls.
  103. After a half hour, the wild horse
  104. responded to his movements as it
  105. would have to a lead stallion.
  106. “Since then, I’ve been up to my
  107. elbows inside horses’ mouths
  108. at least once a month.”
  109. After his students rode each
  110. horse for one hundred and fifty
  111. hours, they found that even these
  112. organic bits like hemp rope wear
  113. down teeth, demonstrating that
  114. such wear and tear would show
  115. up on the molars of ancient
  116. domesticated horses as well.
  117. Taking advantage of the
  118. Iron Curtain’s collapse, Anthony
  119. and his wife visited museums
  120. across the former Soviet Union,
  121. measuring old teeth in
  122. dusty collections.
  123. He and Dorcas determined
  124. that horse teeth from two sites
  125. in northern Kazakhstan dating
  126. from 3500 BCE to 3000 BCE
  127. showed bit wear. Other scholars
  128. remain unconvinced, given
  129. the small samples. Anthony
  130. attributes some of that
  131. skepticism to the hothouse world
  132. of archaeozoology. “Dory and I
  133. are seen as interlopers—neither
  134. of us is a trained zoologist—and
  135. we have had a hard time
  136. getting accepted.”