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.