June 26, 2014

4,000-year old chariot burial from Georgia

This would make it roughly contemporaneous to the chariot burials of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture of the European steppe.

4,000-Year-Old Burial with Chariots Discovered in South Caucasus
An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus.

The burial site, which would've been intended for a chief, dates back over 4,000 years to a time archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age, said Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum.

Archaeologists discoveredthe timber burial chamber within a 39-foot-high (12 meters) mound called a kurgan. When the archaeologists reached the chamber they found an assortment of treasures, including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels. [See Images of the Burial Chamber & Chariots]

...

The burial dates back to a time before domesticated horses appeared in the area, Makharadze said. While no animals were found buried with the chariots, he said, oxen would have pulled them.

40 comments:

velvetgunther said...

It has four wheels, it was pulled by oxen. Is it a chariot or a wagon?

Davidski said...

Sounds more like a battle wagon pulled by oxen or donkeys than a war chariot pulled by horses.

terryt said...

"including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels".

I though a 'chariot' had two wheels, not four. With four wheels I'd be more inclined to call it a 'waggon'. Still it's interesting to see a couple offered as grave goods.

Jean said...

Each of these vehicles had four solid wheels. So they were wagons, not chariots.

Sgt said...

When does a 4 wheeled "chariot" pulled by oxen become a wagon?

bellbeakerblogger said...

Essentially the description sounds like the Sumerian chariot which also had four wheels.

As far as domesticated horses, the super-conservative dates are based on tack & teeth from horse burials. A morphology consistent with domestication can be seen in Europe during the Beaker period.

Of course this chariot was quickly pulled by horses. That's the purpose of a chariot!

joe bunting said...

Can we be sure the "chariots" were in fact that and not simply carts, used for travel or other purposes?

andrew said...

Chariots before horses. Who knew?

I think that the ongoing debate over whether the elements of Indo-European culture that caused it to become dominant arose in the Caucasus Mountains and were adopted by peoples on the steppe, or were invented on the steppe, remain unresolved and inconclusive.

andrew said...

Off topic, but related, a recent study determined that pants were invented by the Tocharians ca. 3400 years BP and the earliest known pants (three or four sets) have been recovered from the Tarim Basin dated to 3000-3300 years BP. They were made of wool.

CleverPrimate said...

I know that I am venturing out onto a precarious limb here but I can’t resist. I do not have a PHD in chariotry, but I have read S. Piggott’s “Wagon, Chariot, and Carriage” and consider myself well read on all things Indo-European. That being said, I do not consider a four wheeled wagon with solid disc wheels pulled by oxen a chariot. I was under the impression that a chariot was a lightly built two wheeled vehicle with spoked wheels that was designed to be pulled by a team of horses. Call these vehicles “war wagons” if you will (I am reminded of similar contraptions portrayed in Sumerian and Assyrian artwork), but I don’t believe a good case can be made that these vehicles should be considered chariots.

Alexandros HoMegas said...

The Sumerians had a donkey driven chariots like the Standard of Ur has showed, the Indus Valley Civillization probably also had a ox driven chariot, people in India still use this type of chariot.

andrew said...

I would think that one of the defining elements of a chariot would be a curved barrier in the front shielding the user from forward and perhaps side attack, as opposed to the pickup truck bed design of a typical wagon or cart whose principle purpose was to carry thing, and a design reflecting a light load.

b5550900-00c9-11e4-9f73-b78bc5cb3953 said...

Has anyone here actually seen the chariots found in Sintashta? I saw a lecture by David W Anthony but the slides were apparently broken when he got to the slides with the pictures of the chariots and spoked wheels. I searched on the internet but couldn't find any which is surprising as I would have thought this would be plastered all over the internet. Does anyone here have any links to actual photographs of the chariots/wheels from Sintashta? I would love to be able to see them.

Jim said...

"I do not consider a four wheeled wagon with solid disc wheels pulled by oxen a chariot. I was under the impression that a chariot was a lightly built two wheeled vehicle with spoked wheels that was designed to be pulled by a team of horses. "

Close but not quite. The distinguishing feature is not the number of wheels fact they the wheels are spoked, because, as you say, the vehicle has to be light and fast.

There's a really good depiction of chariot warfare in the opening scene of "The Emperor and the Assassin" - bit of a cultural lag, since it's set in the mid third century BCE - but those chariots have four wheels, and they haul ass.

SB said...

The kurgan and wagon burial is more interesting than whether it was a horse or Ox, and whether it had 2 wheels vs 4. Obviously wagon technology is older than Chariots.
So could this have been the origin of Kurgans with a wheeled vehicle burial? I

Fanty said...

Chariot, Wagon... depends on the language, right?

The German word for "Chariot" for example is "Streitwagen" wich could be translated into "War Wagon" as if the utilization of the vehicle makes it a "chariot".

Hmm.
Here is a pcture of mesopotamian 4 wheeled ..err.. "Thingy with wheels for Warriors to throw spears from (I guess that, because he carries at least 3 and I guess in reality its far more):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Ur_chariot.jpg/05-07-28images/fig5.jpg

modern paiting of such a thing:
http://www.angelfire.com/un/sumeria/images/ChariotDrawing.jpg

CleverPrimate said...

“The kurgan and wagon burial is more interesting than whether it was a horse or Ox, and whether it had 2 wheels vs 4. Obviously wagon technology is older than Chariots.”

Agreed.

Perhaps I missed it but was any attempt made to associate this site with any particular culture?

Davidski said...

Remains and depictions of wagons with solid wheels are found in Neolithic Europe, but spoked wheel chariots were invented on the steppe during the Bronze Age. The difference between solid and spoked wheels is actually pretty significant.

Also, burial mounds were built by a lot of different cultures, and there's nothing to suggest here that this burial mound was ancestral to the burial mounds or kurgans of the steppe.

Another point is that Kartvelian languages had to have been somewhere at this time, and they were probably in the southwest Caucasus, where this "kurgan" was found.

So this is probably a Kartvelian burial mound, built by people who were influenced by the Near East, where wagons with solid wheels pulled by donkeys were being widely used at the time, and perhaps the steppe. But the steppe connections are tenuous at best, because horses arrived in the south Caucasus and the Near East much later from the steppe with the Indo-Iranians.

So maybe this was just as much a kurgan as the wagon was a chariot?

eurologist said...

"The German word for "Chariot" for example is "Streitwagen" wich could be translated into "War Wagon" as if the utilization of the vehicle makes it a "chariot"."

Not really; the translation of German "Wagen" is car, cart, or carriage - not wagon. Apart from that, the term "Streitwagen" is way too new to allow any conclusions about the make-up of chariots.

Rokus said...

I'd wish that Kurganists were as concise in pointing out the true Kurgan. So far any heap of piled up earth would do to spread the word. I am sure the four wheeled vehicled would have been shamelessly acclaimed Kurganic almost anywhere else.

Jean said...

[i]So could this have been the origin of Kurgans with a wheeled vehicle burial?[/i]

No. This is the real point of the above discussion. Wheeled vehicles were invented about 3500 BC. At that stage they were heavy, with four solid wheels, like this much later one from Georgia.

The lighter, stripped down vehicle with spoked wheeled first appears in Sintashta around 2000 BC.

b5550900-00c9-11e4-9f73-b78bc5cb3953 said...

So does anyone have a picture of these spoke wheeled chariots from Sintashta? All I could find were illustrations like the ones on this page:
http://s155239215.onlinehome.us/turkic/btn_Archeology/HarnessingHorsepower-AnthonyAndBrownEn.htm

Do these chariots even exist? How come there are no pictures of them?

Jean said...

Do these chariots even exist? How come there are no pictures of them?

Wood decays in the earth. So wooden vehicles in burials only survive intact in rare cases, for example in permafrost or in stone tombs like Egyptian pyramids. What you will generally see are modern reconstructions or artist's reconstructions from the information archaeologists provide (from imprints left in the soil etc.) or models or paintings actually made at the time. There are no images from Sintashta itself, but there are a lot of Bronze Age rock-paintings of chariots along the trail that the Indo-Iranian speaking took as they spread eastwards. If you search Google for "petroglyphs chariot" you are sure to find some.

Va_Highlander said...

Apparently, the Sintashta chariots were not preserved and are known only from imprints. The wheels had between eight and twelve spokes, the chariots were lightly constructed, too narrow to have carried more than one man, and are therefore substantially different than the war chariots of the Middle East. Vladimir Gening, who excavated the burials, believed that they were purpose-built grave goods and never intended for practical use.

Because they were not preserved, there is no direct dating of the chariots. The dates presented by Anthony are of horse skulls from a chariot burial at Krivoe Ozero.

Rokus said...

"So could this have been the origin of Kurgans with a wheeled vehicle burial?"

No. This is the real point of the above discussion. Wheeled vehicles were invented about 3500 BC. At that stage they were heavy, with four solid wheels, like this much later one from Georgia.

The lighter, stripped down vehicle with spoked wheeled first appears in Sintashta around 2000 BC.

So, if both kurgans and wheeled vehicle burials are dated older than the spoked wheels of some "kurgan" civilization, the latter must be a derived hybrid construct. Something known for years but still ferociously opposed by the irrational breed of Kurganists.

Mehedi Hasan Mamun said...

I think Those vehicles had four wheels only. The should be named as wagons, not chariots.

Davidski said...

What Va_Highlander is claiming isn't true.

There's a talk on Sintashta chariots here...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HliaR2Ep24s&list=PLAXoDomeFLX90fTHi0W8lYBtEoZHSBH2i&index=6

b5550900-00c9-11e4-9f73-b78bc5cb3953 said...

Apparently, the Sintashta chariots were not preserved and are known only from imprints. The wheels had between eight and twelve spokes, the chariots were lightly constructed, too narrow to have carried more than one man, and are therefore substantially different than the war chariots of the Middle East. Vladimir Gening, who excavated the burials, believed that they were purpose-built grave goods and never intended for practical use.

Because they were not preserved, there is no direct dating of the chariots. The dates presented by Anthony are of horse skulls from a chariot burial at Krivoe Ozero


I just think its very odd that there isn't even any pictures of the burials or the impressions they left. It would be great if we could see a picture of the imprints left by the burials rather than illustrations. I mean these are the first chariots and spoked wheels!! You would think there would be pictures all over the internet about this rather than hard to find illustrations.

Look at this lecture by David Anthony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HliaR2Ep24s

Around 49 minutes when hes talking about chariots, almost none of the pictures of these chariots burials in his slides worked. These pictures must exist somewhere! I would love to see even one picture of the impression of spoked wheels from the burials dated around 2000 BC.

Apparently, the Sintashta chariots were not preserved and are known only from imprints. The wheels had between eight and twelve spokes, the chariots were lightly constructed, too narrow to have carried more than one man, and are therefore substantially different than the war chariots of the Middle East. Vladimir Gening, who excavated the burials, believed that they were purpose-built grave goods and never intended for practical use.

Because they were not preserved, there is no direct dating of the chariots. The dates presented by Anthony are of horse skulls from a chariot burial at Krivoe Ozero.


But shouldn't there be pictures of the imprints? You would think that such a hugely important subject central to the question of indo-european origins would have many pictures. Its all very odd.

Jean said...

I just think its very odd that there isn't even any pictures of the burials or the impressions they left.

Of course there are. There is one in David Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), page 398, fig. 15.13. I imagine that there are dozens of such photos in Russian archaeological archives. They are not making things up! :)

The problem is that imprints in the ground are very difficult to see in a photo unless it is really large and high resolution. So archaeologists usually make drawings instead, which make it easier to see such features. That is what you will see alongside the photo in Anthony's fig. 15.13. Even then it much easier for the layman to visualise the chariot if there is an artist's reconstruction.

Va_Highlander said...

Davidski, not everyone agrees with Anthony or considers his word to be final. I took the above from a very thorough and nicely balanced treatment of early equine history by Robert Drews: Early Riders: The beginnings of mounted warfare in Asia and Europe, p 43.

If you want to claim that my comment disagrees with Anthony, that may well be true, but you cannot honestly pretend to know the truth yourself. All you know is what you read and who you choose to believe, same as the rest of us.

Davidski said...

The claim that Sintashta chariots were too small for more than one person and didn't even work is false, since there are chariots found at Sintashta and Petrovka that are big enough for more than one person. So what's so balanced about false statement?

Va_Highlander said...

No one said that "the chariots didn't even work". That was just your emotions getting the better of you, Davidski.

Are you claiming that all the Sintashta chariots were big enough to carry two men or just some of them? And are we being asked to take Anthony's word for this or is this supported by independent researchers?

b5550900-00c9-11e4-9f73-b78bc5cb3953 said...

Because they were not preserved, there is no direct dating of the chariots. The dates presented by Anthony are of horse skulls from a chariot burial at Krivoe Ozero.

Do you have more information on this? Where can you read more about how these chariots were dated. I'm reading Anthony's book now but I haven't reached the part where he talks about these finds.

Of course there are. There is one in David Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), page 398, fig. 15.13. I imagine that there are dozens of such photos in Russian archaeological archives. They are not making things up! :)

The problem is that imprints in the ground are very difficult to see in a photo unless it is really large and high resolution. So archaeologists usually make drawings instead, which make it easier to see such features. That is what you will see alongside the photo in Anthony's fig. 15.13. Even then it much easier for the layman to visualise the chariot if there is an artist's reconstruction.


I guess I shouldn't really talk about this topic until I have finished reading his book (I'm on chapter 5 right now) but I skipped ahead and saw the picture you were talking about. I still wish there were better pictures, even most cellphones today have cameras on them that I'm pretty sure would be able to see the spoke impressions in proper lighting. Is there any good documentary on this topic where a camera team goes to these sites? I just think its shocking that something so central to the expansion of the indo-europeans has so little media.

Shayan said...

As someone who's been riding for over two decades and who derives most of my income from the equine industry, I've always had major issues with the conclusions drawn from archaeological evidence for domestication. Changes in dental morphology from bitting make the assumption that bitting followed shortly after domestication. Well, it really isn't a safe assumption. Hackamores or bosals, first found in Iran (an IE cultural sphere close to the steppes) can and will suffice for many horses for any and all equine pursuits. These would leave no measurable signs in the archaeological record. I suspect horses were domesticated earlier than the oft-bandied 4kya we've been saying for goodness knows how many decades now. And given that the southern rather than northern Caspian has the greatest genetic diversity of horses on the planet, it seems more likely to have occurred there than the northern steppes in my opinion. After all, that's the same general region where goats, cattle, some sheep, and onagers were domesticated.

Va_Highlander said...

b5550900-00c9-11e4-9f73-b78bc5cb3953:

I strongly suggest reading, Early Riders, by Robert Drews, whose discussion of the Sintashta chariots I summarized above. He provides a welcome counterweight to Anthony's hyper-partisanship.

Chad Rohlfsen said...

Are they testing for y-DNA, here?

Davidski said...

Shayan,

Horses could not have been domesticated south of the Caspian because there weren't any wild horses there. Wild horses were confined to North Eurasia at the time, so they could only have been domesticated there.

Va_Highlander,

Like I already told you, the source you're quoting is outdated and misleading. It claims that all Sintashta chariots were too small for more than one person, which is false. This isn't a matter of opinion, but a fact.

So all we're left with is the dodgy claim that a wagon from Georgia is a chariot. And it's not even the earliest wagon we know of. There are earlier wagons in Europe.

Lots of wishful thinking and frustration here. Really sad to watch.

Shayan said...

That's simply not the case--horses were widely distributed at the time of domestication, and well earlier to boot:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0018194

Shayan said...

Here's another useful link regarding that study as to horse distribution prior to domestication:

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2011/04/two-holocene-refugia-for-european.html

Va_Highlander said...

Davidski, I see that you have unintentionally answered my question. If there were independent support for Anthony's claim, surely you would have mentioned it.

Even if we set aside past experience and assume that Anthony is telling the whole truth, there is still nothing compelling us to doubt that these were purpose-built grave goods, as the excavator suggested.

As for this "wagon" burial that gives you such pain and discomfort, those of us familiar with regional archeology are not at all surprised. The earliest kurgan burials are also found in Transcaucasia. These and other elements of so-called kurgan culture spread north to Maykop, along ancient trade routes, and thence to the Pontic steppe.