post some time ago.
First of all, I'd like to say that David Anthony is an eminent archaeologist with vast knowledge about the prehistory of the Eurasian steppes, and more concretely about the archaeology of human societies in connection with horse domestication, an area which is vital in our understanding of Eneolithic and Bronze-age societies. He has written extensively about this issue and has also developed an innovative technique to date the use of domesticated horses by analysing bit wear in their bones. I'm sure his ideas about the subject are valuable and must be taken into account in any serious research in that field. Now, what's the problem? The problem arises when Anthony tries to fit all these data into a comprehensive explanation of the genesis and transcontinental expansion of Indo-European (IE) languages. This is when his scientific writing becomes fantasy.
Anthony bases his archaeological voyage on a series of linguistic facts which he accepts as irrefutable. We have talked about these things profusely in this blog (the traditional concept of proto-language, the use of linguistic paleontology, etc.) and we have seen how these ideas can easily be challenged. Anthony, however, takes them for granted. In his view, there is a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) people to be found somewhere, with its own language and even institutions. (p. 89): "that language [PIE] is a guide to the thoughts, concerns and material culture of real people who lived in a definite region between about 4500 and 2500 BC". In this respect, he follows Gimbutas' and Mallory's ideas, which we have extensively talked about (and criticised) in the blog. The novelty is that Anthony uses horse domestication and later developments as the use of chariots, as the main factors in the expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans and their languages.
In his book, Anthony analyses one by one all the prehistoric cultures of the Pontic-Caspian region. He presents them in the framework of his own preconceptions, at times establishing simple correlations between culture, people and language. Pastoralist societies become PIE societies endowed with a remarkable capacity of expanding and subduing other human groups. (p. 343): "Wealth, military power, and a more productive herding system probably brought prestige and power to the identities associated with Proto-IndoEuropean dialects after 3300 BCE. The guest-host institution extended the protections of oath-bound obligations to new social groups. An Indo-European-speaking patron could accept and integrate outsiders as clients without shaming them or assigning them permanently to submissive roles, as long as they conducted the sacrifices properly. Praise poetry at public feasts encouraged patrons to be generous, and validated the language of the songs as a vehicle for communicating with the gods who regulated everything. All these factors taken together suggest that the spread of Proto-Indo-European probably was more like a franchising operation than an invasion. Although the initial penetration of a new region (or "market" in the franchising metaphor) often involved an actual migration from the steppes and military confrontations, once it began to reproduce new patron-client agreements (franchises) its connection to the original steppe immigrants became genetically remote, whereas the myths, rituals, and institutions that maintained the system were reproduced down the generations."
The author finishes his analysis at this point, sometime at the Bronze age, with all the IE proto-languages ready for action. Their incredible run of good luck lasts centuries, millennia. In the vast poker game of prehistory Indo-Europeans seem to have the winning hand at all times!
Obviously, Anthony is not the only researcher who has felt the temptation to offer a comprehensive explanation of IE origins and expansion. Like Mallory and Gimbutas, he does so from an archaeological perspecitve, and as I said before many of the things they said might be useful and coherent, at least at a minor, less ambitious level. A similar type of analysis, enriched with population genetics data, is to be found in other authors, such as Mario Alinei. Reading his volumes about the linguistic prehistory of Europe I often felt a bit lost in the never-ending tales of prehistoric societies that follow one another. His theories are possibly quite imperfect and need a lot of refining, and in some cases must probably be rejected, but there is an important difference between Alinei and the more traditional authors such as Anthony or Mallory: his approach offers a more logical framework to understand language events through time.
Note on illustrations: on the left, The Large Blue Horses, a painting by Franz Marc.