Ulan IV, kurgan 4, grave 15. 3D wagon reconstruction, created using Autodesk
Article: Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes. Antiquity. June 2014.
Natalia Shishlina, Elmira Ibragimova, D.S. Kovalev
The major advances in the Neolithic Subpluvial are characterized by the Neolithic Revolution that produced major efficiencies through irrigated agriculture, which in turn allowed population to grow rapidly, the primary byproducts of which were population concentrations with increased social complexity, the emergence of class differentiation, and increasing vulnerability to hostile changes in climate. An excellent example of this growing vulnerability to climatic volatility was the 5.9 Kilo-year Event and one of its major casualties was the destruction of the Ubaid Culture (“6500-3800 BC” and probably from 7500 BC in the flooded portion of the Persian Gulf) which had thrived for the duration of the Neolithic Subpluvial (7500 to 3500 BC).
However, another impact of the 5.9 Kya Event was the drying of the Eurasian Steppes that forced hunter gatherers (who were probably using small-scale dryland farming before the the drought) to convert to nomadic pastoralism out-of-which emerged the serendipity of abundant wild horses and cattle (for oxen) and the invention and application of horse/ox-drawn wheeled vehicles: wagons and carts. This created a previously unknown and virtually limitless mobility. Following the 5.9 Kya Event, the Steppes were a virtual Cornucopia for meat-eating horsemen moving increasing flocks and herds among choice pasture in their “mobile homes.” Prosperity would have increased their numbers until “this land ain’t big enough for all of us” forced many to move east, south, and west from the Steppes.
As we saw in previous posts, some migrating horsemen went east, southeast, and south (insert “horsemen” in the search bar and investigate those prior posts). Those heading south would have gone through the Zagros Mountains and settled therein as-well-as beyond into South Asia and Mesopotamia.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at the horses, wagons and carts that helped the Steppes Horsemen go anywhere they wanted in Europe and Asia. I consider this the first technological breakthrough in the endless chain of subsequent innovations that led to today’s global culture.
For you who are familiar with horses, wagons, and carts I am introducing some basic material to widen the insight of those not so blessed. But, there are nuggets that will interest you. I’ll label the materials so that everyone can pick and choose. You can also dig into these topics by inserting them in this website’s search bar or googling to do your own search.
- We’re dealing mostly with the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age.
- The pivotal event (sin qua non) is the domestication of the horse, which I illustrate with videos on the taming of a wild horse, the training of a well-bred foal, and the magic of an Arab trainer.
- The next pivotal event is the application of the wheel to a vehicle in the Steppes which first occurred in the late 4th millennia BC (for more depth, click “Go to publication” or “Download” in the linked page). This wagon (shown at top of page) is the basic design of the first wagons, shows how it’s made and that it’s not steerable, and was the first “mobile home” or “RV” in the world. Cut off 2/3 of the body and the aft 2 wheels and you have a cart, which a millennia later morphed into a speedy chariot when the spoked wheel lightened its weight.
- The following recent paper adds further depth to the Steppes horse culture and its impact: Re-theorizing mobility and the formation of culture and language among the Corded Ware culture in Europe by Kristian Kristiansen et al (2016).
The events and inventions above created a “perfect storm” for a wide swath of humanity who were not Steppes horsemen. Old Europe fell. The Indus Valley (pre-horse) civilization fell. Anatolia fell. The Jazira fell. The Indo-European and Indo-Iranian languages spread like wildfire.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke