The search for an answer to a centuries-old puzzle has led a Hartwick College anthropology professor to a lifetime of research.

The story that David Anthony has been able to uncover has recently been published in a book titled "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World," published by the Princeton University Press.

It was in 1786 that English philologist William Jones first discovered that there was a relationship between Indo-European languages including Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. But he wondered who were the people that spoke the "mother tongue," Anthony said. The book is his theory on that issue.

"It's geared to the Scientific American (magazine) audience," Anthony said. "You don't have to be an archeologist to read it."

Published two weeks ago, it was ranked seventh in the civilization and culture section on Amazon.com on Friday.

Anthony, who has been a professor at Hartwick for 20 years, began the work that led to the book 30 years ago as a graduate student. Building upon the efforts of earlier scholars, he has worked summers with his wife, Dory Brown, since 1989, at sites in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. Several of those six-week trips were made with Hartwick students.

He said he expects a debate about his conclusions. But, he added, the evidence that he has accumulated shows that the Proto-Indo-European language came from the Yamnaya culture located in what is now Ukraine and southern Russia, north of the Black and Caspian seas.

Using technology that was not available 20 years ago, such as carbon-14 dating and chemical analysis of bones, he was able to tie the eastward and westward migrations of those people to about 3,500 B.C. This followed the "transportation revolution" that included the development of the wheel and horseback riding.

"It made people rich and militarily powerful," he said, and brought the language to areas from India to eastern Europe.

Historically, this has been an important issue because European societies have argued for hundreds of years over who were the purest descendents of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, Anthony said. This led to the historical and deadly misunderstanding by the Nazis, who argued that the Germans were the descendents of this culture. But the Aryans were a people who actually lived in Iran and Afghanistan, Anthony said.

Brown, who is president of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society and has a master's degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, said that when she met Anthony in 1977, he was already working on his idea. They were married two years later.

She has provided illustrations and maps for the book.

"What he has done with his work is very important," she said. As an archeologist and historian, "I get to benefit from the research he has done."

Hartwick College Anthropology Chairwoman Connie Anderson said when Anthony was hired, "he was already thinking of these ideas."

The book's publication is "a big accomplishment," not only for what it has to say but because it is printed by Princeton University Press, she said.

"Hartwick provides the opportunity to do really significant projects like this," she said.

Anthony said new techniques were developed that helped him reach his conclusions. This included concentrating on the microwear on horses' teeth caused by the early historical uses of a bit.

Those teeth were compared with those from autopsy labs at Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania of horses that never used the equipment. "We were the first to analyze that, " he said.

Since the earliest bits were probably rope, "we had to find out how that wears on teeth," he added.

To do this, four horses were outfitted with the item at State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. After 150 hours, plaster casts were made so they could be analyzed.

Although the book is done, Anthony and Brown will be continuing their research this summer.

He said, "I could spend the rest of my lifetime tying up the loose ends."

Recommended for you