of the Aryan invasion
4.4. THE HORSE EVIDENCE
4.4.1. The horse and IE
are prominent in the traditions of every known branch of the ancient Indo-Europeans.
In 731 AD the Pope had to prohibit the consumption of horse meat in order
to help the conversion effort among the horse-revering Germanic heathens,
who used to ritually eat horse meat As consecrated food (prasAda)
after the horse sacrifice. Horse domestication is commonly taken
to have triggered the unprecedented Indo-European expansion, with a revolution
in the lifestyle of the IE tribes (paralleled by the military, political
and economic revolution which the horse caused among Native Americans in
the 17th-18th century) as the first stage.
horse trade made its appearance in about 2000 BC along with IE communities.
The Sumerian sign for “horse” was apparently borrowed from Elamite, which
was spoken on the northern (now Iranian) coast of the Persian Gulf, half-way
between Sumer and the Indus Valley. Linguists
have argued that the Sumerian word si-si, “known in Sumerian since
the fourth millennium BC”, and the derived Semitic words (Hebrew sUs),
were borrowed from Indo-Iranian aSva, eventhough “the chronology has to
be stretched to make this comparison acceptable”.26
accept an Indian Urheimat, the chronological problem disappears: since
Vedic and related dialects of Old Indo-Aryan were spoken in the Indus basin
in the 4th millennium BC, their term for “horse” may have been imparted
to Sumerian in that very period.
according to the first archaeological surveys, there had been no horses
in the Harappan cities. By contrast, plenty of horse remains have been
found in Ukraine and South Russia, including bridle-scarred horse teeth
dated to 4300 BC.27 Is that not proof enough
that horses are a foreign import into India, and that the momentous step
of horse domestication was taken far outside India?
there had not existed any horses in Harappan India, it would still be conceivable
that Indians had domesticated the horse outside India. The idea of
domestication may have been brought to the horse-rich steppes from a more
advanced area where donkeys and oxen were already being used as beasts
of burden or even to pull carts. It is often claimed that horses
were first used for the same purpose before becoming mounts; other scholars
reject this hypothesis, considering that bare-back riding is not much more
difficult and dangerous than the whole process of harnessing a horse to
a cart. But this makes little difference for our argument, among
other reasons because both the horse and the wheeled cart are part of the
common IE heritage, as shown by their presence in the common PIE vocabulary.
explanation of the Aryans’ remarkable expansion, it is not necessary that
they were the first to domesticate the horse; it is sufficient that they
were the first to use the advantages of domesticated horses to the fullest.
Compare: gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, but used to the best effect
by the European colonizers, even in their confrontations with the Chinese.
Nor is it necessary that they domesticated the horse before their expansion
should be built on eager but unconfirmed hypotheses that the horse was
domesticated in India, but the more popular hypothesis that it was first
domesticated in Central Asia or Eastern Europe will do just fine even for
an Indian Urheimat hypothesis. The first wave of IE emigrants, in
pre- or early Vedic times, may have reached the Caspian Sea coasts and
domesticated the horse there, or learnt from natives how to master the
horse. They communicated the new knowledge along with a few specimens
of the animal to their homeland (supposing it was indeed unknown or nearly
unavailable in India itself), and along with the appropriate new terminology,
so that it became part of the cultural scene depicted in Vedic literature.
Meanwhile, the IE pioneers on the Caspian Sea coast made good use of the
horse to speed up their expansion into Europe.
4.4.2. The absence of
of horse domestication inside India should not be dismissed too quickly:
we insist that, in the presence of other types of evidence (the familiarity
with domesticated horses literarily attested since the earliest Vedic hymns),
the seeming absence of archaeological evidence should not be treated as
positive counter-evidence. For a striking example of the discrepancy
between abundant reality and meagre archaeological testimony, let us not
forget that the Harappan seal inscriptions have yielded only a few thousands
of lines of text, though they are obviously the tip of an iceberg of a
vast literary tradition.
there are practically no Leftovers of writing from the centuries between
the abandonment of the Harappan cities and the Maurya empire, more than
a thousand years during which numerous important works in Sanskrit and
Prakrit were, shall we say, composed. Does this prove that
writing was absent from India during those centuries (as has been claimed
in all seriousness by accomplished scholars), and that the grammarians
including Panini had to do their path-breaking research without the aid
of a literary corpus or written notes? Of course not: the inability of
archaeologists to find Leftovers from what we know to be a highly
literate stage of Indian civilization, simply proves that the archaeological
record in India falls short of the historical reality to a vastly greater
extent than in Egypt or West Asia. In the case of artefacts, this
may be due to a greater availability of organic, perishable materials to
build with or to write on. In the case of bodies, it is mostly cultural:
unlike the Egyptians who embalmed their pharaohs as well as their Apis
(bull-god) temple’s sacred bulls, Indians had no inclination to preserve
mortal entities for a day longer than their allotted life-span. For
the rest, the most important factor is climatological, with India’s damp
heat leading to a faster decay of the available relics.
presence of horses in Harappa may well be out of proportion to the meagre
archeological testimony of horse bones, has unwittingly been confirmed
by Marxist historian Romila Thapar. All while affirming that “the
horse is an insignificant animal in the Indus cities”, apparently referring
to the paucity (but not absence) of horse bones in Harappan ruins, she
neutralizes this oft-used argument for the non-Aryan character of Harappa
by also telling us: “Excavated animal bones from
Hastinapur in the first millennium BC when the use of horses was more frequent,
indicate that horse bones make up only a very small percentage of the bones.”28
In today’s India, cows are vastly more numerous than horses, as future
archaeologists are bound to discover in their turn, yet on ceremonial occasions
like army parades you get to see whole regiments of horses with riders
but not a single cow. This, as archaeology has confirmed, was also
the situation in Hastinapur: horses were rare in absolute figures, though
very prominent on ritual occasions of the kind recorded in the vedas.
likewise in Vedic culture: “From the Vedic texts onwards the horse is symbolic
of nobility and is associated with people of status.”29
So, the Vedic attention paid to horses was quite out of proportion with
their percentage in the domesticated animal population. Compared
with Russia, India was relatively poor in horses, and on top of that, it
was by far not as good in preserving what much of horse bones it had, for
reasons outlined above. Therefore, the paucity of horse remains is
only to be expected; it is not as strong an argument against “Vedic Harappa”
as it once seemed to be.
4.4.3. The presence of
in several Harappan sites remains of horses have been found. Even
supporters of the AIT have admitted that the horse was known in Mohenjo
Daro, near the coast of the Arabian Sea (let alone in more northerly areas),
in 2500 BC at the latest.30 But
the presence of horses and even domesticated horses has already been traced
further back: horse teeth at Amri, on the Indus near Mohenjo Daro, and
at Rana Ghundai on the Panjab-Baluchistan border have been dated to about
3,600 BC. The latter has been interpreted as indicating “horse-riding
invaders”31, but that is merely an application
of invasionist preconceptions. More bones
of the true and domesticated horse have been found in Harappa, Surkotada
(all layers including the earliest), Kalibangan, Malvan and Ropar.32
Recently, bones which were first taken to belong to onager specimens, have
been identified as belonging to the, domesticated horse (Kuntasi, near
the Gujarat coast, dated to 2300 BC). Superintending
archaeologist Dr. A.M. Chitalwala comments: “We may have to ask whether
the Aryans (…) could have been Harappans themselves. (…) We don’t have
to believe in the imports theory anymore.”33
the presence of horses in the Harappan excavation sites is not as overwhelming
in quantity as in the neolithic cultures of Eastern Europe. However,
the relative paucity of horse remains is matched by the fact that the millions-strong
population of the Harappan civilization, much larger than that of Egypt
and Mesopotamia combined, has left us only several hundreds of skeletons,
even when men sometimes had the benefit of burial which horses did not
for the question of the horses is that any finds of horses are good enough
to make the point that horses were known in India, and that they were available
to a substantially greater extent than a simple count of the excavated
bones would suggest. The cave paintings in
Bhimbetka near Bhopal, perhaps 30,000 years old (but the datings of cave
paintings are highly controversial), showing a horse being caught by humans,
confirm that horses existed in India in spite of the paucity of skeletal
remains.34 There is, however, room for debate
on whether the animals depicted are really horses and not onagers. Other
cave paintings, so far undated, show a number of warriors wielding sticks
in their right hands and actually riding horses without saddles or bridles.35
that both the Austro-Asiatic and the Dravidian language families have their
own words for “horse” (e.g. Old Tamil ivuLi, “wild horse”, and kutirai,
“domesticated horse”) not borrowed from the language of the Aryans who
are supposed to have brought the horse into India, should also carry some
weight. Partly because of the uncongenial climate, horses must have
been comparatively rare in India (as they would remain in later centuries,
when Rajput forces were attacked by Turkish invaders with an invariably
superior cavalry), but they were available.
concerning horses remains nonetheless the weakest point in the case for
an Indian Urheimat. While the evidence is arguably not such that
it proves the Harappan culture’s unfamiliarity with horses, it cannot be
claimed to prove the identity of Vedic and Harappan culture either, the
way the abundance of horse remains in Ukraine is used to prove the IE character
of the settlements there. At this point, the centre-piece of the
anti-AIT plea is an explainable paucity of the evidence material,
so that everything remains possible.
is true both at the level of physical evidence and on that of artistic
testimony: the apparent absence of horse motifs on the Harappan seals (except
one)36 can certainly be explained, viz. by
pointing at the equally remarkable absence of the female cow among the
numerous animal depictions on the seals, eventhough the cow must have been
very familiar to the Harappans considering the frequent depiction of the
bull. A taboo on depictions of the two most sacred animals may well
explain the absence of both the cow and the horse. However, it is
obvious that a positive attestation of the horse on the Harappan seals
would have served the non-invasionist cause much better.
linguists arguing in favour of this IE-Sumerian connection are T.V. Gamkrelidze
and V.V. Ivanov; in reply to two Russian articles of theirs, I.M. Diakonov
wrote: “On the Original Home of the Indo-Europeans”, Journal of Indo-European
Studies, spring 1985, p.92-174. The quotations are Diakonov’s, p. 134.
story of horse domestication and its social effects is told by David Anthony,
Dimitri Y. Telegin and Dorcas Brown: “The Origin of Horseback Riding”,
Scientific American 12/1991.
Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist,
January-March 1996, p.21.
Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist,
January-March 1996, p.21.
Mackay and A.D. Pusalker, quoted in Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory,
a Reappraisal, p.118; see also K.D. Sethna: KarpAsa, p. 13-15.
in Harry H. Hicks & Robert N. Anderson: “Analysis of an Indo-European
Vedic Aryan Head, 4th Millennium BC”, Journal of Indo-European Studies,
fall 1990, p.425-446, specifically p.437.
Gupta: The Lost Sarasvati and the Indus Civilization, p. 193-196,
with full references.
in: “Aryan civilization may become ‘bone’ of contention”, Indian Express,
paintings have been reproduced in, among others, Klaus Klostermaier: Survey
of Hinduism, p.35.
to la nuit des temps, “the night of time”, in Science Illustrée,
in N.S. Rajaram: From Harappa to Ayodhya, inside the front page.
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