My essay on lactose tolerance and its relationship to the Indo-European expansion triggered some discussion. As I mentioned in my previous history of beer, according to authors J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams the Proto-Indo-European lexicon which has been carefully reconstructed by European scholars through generations of comparative linguistics contains words which indicate a diet that included meat, salt, dairy products and the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer, mead and possibly wine. The word for “honey” is of particular interest as both the Chinese and the Uralic words for “honey” appear to be loanwords from Indo-European.- - - - - - - - -
It is interesting to notice that yoghurt-like products were enjoyed in a belt stretching from the Black Sea region and the Caucasus into Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This area largely overlaps with the geographic extension of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European.
The earliest attested wheels from 3500 BC, which were probably associated with the first phase of expansion of Proto-Indo-European itself, were solid disc wheels. The invention of the spoke made wheels lighter and transportation swifter, with spoked wheels and chariots appearing around 2200-2000 BC. It is likely that peoples of the Eurasian steppes were the first to tame the horse, maybe as a meat animal before they figured out they could ride them or use them for warfare. The faster horse-drawn chariot was developed before 2000 BC in the western steppes and contributed to another phase of the Indo-European expansion, although Proto-Indo-European itself was almost certainly dead as a spoken language by 2500 BC. According to available evidence it looks plausible that after 2000 BC, aided by the new spoke-wheeled chariot, the speakers of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language moved from the Urals and southwestern Russia into Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, northern India and the Tarim Basin, eventually giving birth to the languages we know as Vedic Sanskrit and Old Persian.
The first practical spoked wheel horse-drawn chariots are attested in the burials of the Andronovo culture in southwest Russia, which practiced sophisticated bronze metallurgy and spread this eastward across the steppes. It is often assumed, though not proven, that they spoke an Indo-Iranian language. The first Chinese words for horses and chariots (and a few other terms) were Indo-European loanwords. Pottery of Andronovo-type has been found in Xinjiang in western China. The first known chariot burial site in Shang Dynasty China dates from about 1200 BC. At the opposite end of Eurasia, a stone at Bredarör in Sweden from ca. 1300 BC is carved with an image of a chariot with four-spoke wheels drawn by two horses.
There is extensive evidence for the recognition of the Sun as a deity among many Indo-European peoples. There is much evidence, both literary and iconographic, for the circular Sun being associated with a wheel, or that the Sun-god has a chariot with wheels drawn by a horse. A widespread motif in Iron Age Europe was the swastika, an equilateral cross with arms bent in the same rotary direction. This is an ancient and initially positive religious symbol that was in use well before 1000 BC but was hijacked by the Nazis in the twentieth century and turned into a symbol of evil. It seems to be a variant of the spoked wheel, giving a clear suggestion of rotary movement.. Its solar significance is often contextually apparent.
The details of which culture spread where and exactly what language they spoke are still debated by scholars, but the effects are clear: Between 1800-1200 BC you could find horse-drawn chariots in use throughout almost the entire landmass of Eurasia, from the borders of Shang Dynasty China via Egypt, Crete and Anatolia to northern Europe. This corresponds to the period of the ancient Vedas and the emergence of Vedic Sanskrit in India. Peoples speaking Indo-European languages played a vital role in the diffusion of wheeled vehicles.
Diffusion eastward in Eurasia of metallurgy and metal weapons and tools during the second millennium BC is certain and acknowledged by Chinese specialists. This external stimulus to the already emerging Chinese civilization spread via the western Xinjiang region, which physically belongs to the steppes, to the Yellow River valley. Silk fabric was developed very early in China, probably in prehistoric times. There is a claim, so far unconfirmed, that traces of Chinese silk have been found on an Egyptian mummy from the end of the New Kingdom period, ca. 1070 BC. Whether this is true or not, there can be little doubt that there were contacts across Eurasia more than a thousand years before what is often seen as the beginning of the Silk Road. According to David W. Anthony in The Horse, the Wheel, and Language:“The Eurasian steppe is often regarded as a remote and austere place, poor in resources and far from the centres of the civilized world. But during the Late Bronze Age the steppes became a bridge between the civilizations that developed on the edges of the continent in Greece, the Near East, Iran, the Indian subcontinent, and China. Chariot technology, horses and horseback riding, bronze metallurgy, and a strategic location gave steppe societies an importance they never before had possessed.…The road from the steppes to China led through the eastern end of the Tarim Basin, where desert-edge cemeteries preserved the dessicated mummies of brown-haired, white-skinned, wool-wearing people dated as early as 1800 BCE. In Gansu, on the border between China and the Tarim Basin, the Qijia culture acquired horses, trumpet-shaped earrings, cast bronze ring-pommel single-edged knives and axes in steppe styles between about 2000 and 1600 BCE. By the time the first Chinese state emerged, beginning about 1800 BCE, it was exchanging innovations with the West.”
A number of remarkably well-preserved mummies from the second millennium BC have been recovered in the dry Tarim Basin of Central Asia, dominated by the Taklamakan Desert and located in what is today far western China. Several of the corpses have European features and reddish-blond or copper-colored hair. The oldest mummies such as the Loulan Beauty date back to ca. 1800 BC. “From around 1800 BC, the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucausoid, or Europoid,” says Professor Victor Mair of Pennsylvania University. The textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber reckons that their cloth can be traced back to the Caucasus and the area north of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. DNA samples have confirmed the northwest Eurasian origins of many of the mummies in this region.
Indra, the Vedic god of thunder, is described in the Rigveda as having reddish-blond or copper-colored hair and beard, similar to his Slavic and Germanic counterparts in Europe. He was a pre-eminent drinker of soma, a ritual, intoxicating drink possibly similar to mead. Indra also plays a part in the Jain and Buddhist mythology of India, but in Brahamanic times he slowly lost his grandeur and was supplanted by Vishnu and Shiva as the most important gods.
Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.