Bit wear and Prehistory

As a budding historian, I think books and written records are pretty awesome.  Written records in particular are pretty great because that’s is what history is really.  History began when people started writing things down, and everything before is lost in the mists of prehistory, ultimately unknowable.

That’s what I used to think, anyway.  This week’s readings, among other things, changed the way I think about the supremacy of the written word.  Archaeology lends so much insight into early human populations.  Actually analyzing animal bones and charred seeds and what they mean is a little beyond me, but I can recognize the insight they can give.  I think one of the most interesting aspects was how bones can tell the age and gender of animals in a settlement and this in turn can tell whether the bones came from wild or domestic horses.  This is obviously important for determining when people domesticated horses.

Bit wear is incredibly interesting, and the fact that it so recently became studied is interesting to me.  As someone completely ignorant about horses and bits and such things, it seems pretty obvious that sticking a piece of metal in a horses mouth would change the horse’s teeth.  The matter is not so cut and dry as it appears though.  Assuming that bits do cause ware, so much can be gleaned from old horse teeth.  The question of where horse back riding originated can be answered by bit wear patterns on teeth.  The question of where it spread can be answered by the same thing.  It seems like such a small thing, a bit of ware on an old tooth, but it can tell us so much about early humans and the domesticated animals around us.

Linguistics are another source that can tell us a great deal about the movement of peoples before there were written records.  Again, the specifics of it go mostly over my head, but I trust that people smarter than I can trace how Indo-European languages developed over the years and can figure out what this means in terms of early humans.  And from what I understand, so much information can be derived from language.  We already knew this though.  As Kessler taught us, we experience vestiges of age old pastoralism in our language every day.  Language is so central to our lives and can tell us so much about our past.

I suppose part of this class was about looking at history before the written word made everything so easy.  There’s so much evidence about early humans and their animals if we know how to look.  As a historian, it has been so interesting to learn so much about a time that I, like so many others, think of as being prehistory.

How things came to be, Donkeys, Language, and the Wheel for Transportation

I find the bestiality paradigm almost shocking assumed Bullet’s normality of it. Seriously, given our perception and relationship throughout time, donkeys?! I agree with Camilla, apparently bestiality was not frowned upon back then like it is today. Sure, sexual preferences are (for most) an intimate topic. I can reasonably see a present-day discussion of sexual preferences to include and not be ridiculed for what Bulliet explained as a rise of sexual fantasies between humans. Perhaps that would be what it might feel like to discuss bestiality back then: private but normal. Today, if an intimate sexual preference discussion included bestiality, it would be not so easily received (and not viewed as “natural”).

The discussion of the merging of the words “ass,” a donkey and, “arse,” a person’s bum that was too vulgar to use in public, made me realize that perhaps the entire origin of our language would provide clues about who we were and what our relationships were like throughout history. It was only in America that the confusion of the world surfaced (in Brittan “arse” is still the only vulgar word).Maybe this confusion of the words in America points to our increasing disconnect to our deep evolutionary history. Is it possible that this lack of word origin understanding (among other factors) positioned us to develop a post-domestic society (categories again!) of industrial agriculture? This fits nicely with the “dumb-ass” discussion question Camilla posted.

I found The Horse, the Wheel, and Language readings intriguing. The horse chapter had more horse-specific data and measurements than I have ever really cared to understand. The results can be appreciated nevertheless. For example, bit wear (as so defined in the reading) indicates that a horse has been ridden or driven. It was interesting to note that large horse herds would have been difficult to keep without riding them. I think back to our discussions of animal predispositions allowing them to form bonds with humans, where there is a horse (or a dog or a dolphin, etc) there is a human who will try to ride it.

The invention of the wheel is monumental. I enjoyed the explanation of how it connected cultures across the land into one interacting system. It was the wheel for the carriage pulled by domesticates that created a new global consciousness; a transportation revolution! (Similarly, I think it is time for another revolution in transport that redefines our relationship with oil and fossil fuels but that’s another discussion entirely)

We’re taking about our heritage and a food system that began by innovation, geographic luck, and animal propensity.

Finally I enjoyed recognizing the inherent errors our system of historical, scientific, and other types of studies. It does not mean we should stop studying. It means we must be so adaptable and flexible to include the standard deviations, or error percentages of information in the dark or not accounted for. If you ask me, there’s something to the old fashioned beliefs that make sense like preserving your food the
old fashioned way”.