I still can’t believe that Chris Gosden’s book about magic and Iceland: Land of the Sagas came together with a common connection. Horses command the countryside in Iceland. The Icelandic horse is a special breed that is naturally small, thin-legged, fully maned, and docile. Never bred for hauling carts and heavy work, they are for riding and can cross great distances. They have an unusual gait.
Their ancestors came from the steppes of Asia. The horse was first domesticated and used by humans around 3,500 BCE. They became important for riding, hauling food, and rituals in what is now Kazakhstan. Their use spread to Siberia and Mongolia over the next 2 thousand years, and they became common in the Altai Mountains. This is documented by Chris Gosden in his 2020 book Magic: A History in a chapter called “Shamanism and Magic on the Eurasian Steppe”. Horse related technology improved over time. The number of horses used by humans increased, and new types of gear like a swivel bit to control a horse’s movements have been found in tombs. They became common by 1000 BCE. Because horses were often buried near the humans who used them, scientists are learning a lot about them and their use. One special tomb from Arzhan that was never robbed is becoming as important as King Tut’s. It has been especially rich in yielding interpretable information about horse and human interaction.
I’m just now coming to the part about how the chariot was introduced and used. Humans in the Sintashta culture where the Ural Mountains begin invented a fast and light 2-wheeled chariot that became a widely adopted vehicle. In only a couple of hundred years their use spread to Egypt and as far away as China. Gosden, a professor of archaeology at Oxford University, knows about them because a large number of these vehicles were buried with many horses. I am benefiting from his research by learning about what he has studied and repeating it above.
I will continue to report on what I note, but be advised that forthcoming essays will contain strange information about tattoos, burial practices, Icelandic horses, magic practiced by humans, and the deep involvement of horses in human development.