Wheeled Vehicles.

Vidhyanath Rao rao.3 at osu.edu
Wed Dec 29 18:54:19 UTC 1999

From: "Stanley Friesen" <sarima at ix.netcom.com> wrote:

> Given its design, the chariot is a fairly direct derivation of the
> two-wheeled cart, with modifications to make it more suitable for
> warfare and/or racing.

If by `cart', you mean ox-carts, this is simply wrong. In two words,
Trans-Mission :-) See below.


The chariot issue has raised its head again. I will limit myself to
things which I have not said before (according to the list archive). I
also will to be brief without being cryptic. For fuller details, please
refer to the cited references. I suggest that all the participants in
this discussion read the basic references (the books by Spruytte, and by
Littauer and Crowell, and the articles by the Littauer in Antiquity in
the late 60's for basic facts), but especially Spruytte and the paper by
Littuaer and Crowell cited below before proceeding with this
discussion.[A more discursive version of this post (except for paras 3,
4 and 5 of my reply) may be found distributed over several posts in the
Indology list
(http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgadkw/indology.html) during 1998.]

JoatSimeon wrote, in a message dated 20-Oct-1999,

> For that matter, the light, spoke-wheeled, bentwood-and-wicker
> chariot was pretty fully developed in the 21st century BCE, and in
> the traditional Androvonovo area.

JoatSimeon keeps repeating this ``bentwood-and-wicker'' stuff. Searching
the archives, the only evidence for this (s)he has given is quotations
from the article of Anthony and Vinogradov in Archaeology. The evidence
available concerning the superstructure is extremely limited: All that
we seem to have is some stains in one cemetery at Krivoe Ozero, as seen
in Photo 4 on p.39. How anything about the superstructure, much less the
claim of ``bentwood-and-wicker construction'' is deduced from this
meager remain is beyond me. [The illustration on p.37 is clearly marked
as ``Artist's conception'' in the blurb on p.36. I assume that all the
list members know the difference between ``artist conception'' and
material evidence.]

As Littauer and Crowell (Antiquity 70(1996) pp.934-939) point out, one
of the feature we can be sure of, namely the length of the axle, casts
serious doubt on the durability of the vehicle. This has nothing to do
with the narrow wheel base as suggested by Anthony and  Vinogradov, but
with tendency of wheels to wobble on the axle.

After reading the article by Anthony in ``The Bronze Age and Early Iron
Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia'', I have become very skeptical
about his arguments and conclusions. He shows a total misunderstanding
of the horse harnesses reconstructed from finds in Tutankhaman's tomb.
In footnote 10 (p.105), he says ``The yoke saddle was a harness device
that seated the yoke firmly on the withers and shoulders of chariot
horses, preventing slippage of the yoke more firmly on the withers and
shoulders of chariot horses, preventing slippage of the yoke and keeping
the weight off the horses throats and chests.'' There are three errors
in this single sentence. This is all the more surprising since Anthony
cites Spruytte ``Early harness systems'' elsewhere.

Firstly, no serviceable harness system can place anything on the withers
of horses (Spruytte p.11) and the harness system as reconstructed using
the finds in Tutankhaman's tomb and representations in 2nd m. BCE does
not. Secondly, the slippage of the neck bands was prevented by placing
the axle of the chariot at the back, thus distributing part of the
weight (about 18kg, or 9kg per horse, in the case of the reconstructed
chariot with one rider, which comes to about 1/6 of the total weight) to
the yoke making it much less likely to move up the horses' neck
(Spruytte, p.41).

The third error is much more serious as it shows total misunderstanding
of the true function of the yoke saddle. I think that it is worthwhile
to explain this in some detail. Firstly, despite the name, draught
animals do not pull. They >push< against something with some part of
their body and this push is transmitted as a pull via the yoke and the
pole. In case of an ox-cart, the withers of the oxen push against the
yoke. Equids cannot do that as their withers are not prominent enough
and the yoke will not seat on their neck properly. If the yoke is tied
down, then the equids will push against the neck bands with their neck.
Experiments with mules pulling wagons (four wheels on two axles) showed
that this was not impossible, but how well horses will do when pulling
two-wheeled vehicles this way remains to be determined: Weight
distribution will shift more markedly in one-axled vehicles making fast
turns. Also, horses are said to be more nervous and likely to take
fright more easily if their neck is constricted. The yoke saddle fits
around the bottom of the neck and so the horses push against them with
the muscles around the base of the neck, rather than pushing against the
bands with the front of their necks. In other words, the yoke saddle is
a primitive horse collar. See Spruytte, pp.26--27, p.40 and p.52.

So yoke saddles are an integral part of the harness and fundamentally
change how the force is transmitted, rather than simply serve to seat
the yoke more firmly. Misunderstanding of such a basic fact vitiates the
value of David Anthony's opinions on the form and function of chariots.
Given this, I fail to see why anyone should accept his conclusions.

[In an article in Antiquity in 1997, Anthony calls the Sintashta vehicle
a ``proto-chariot''. So he might have become aware of these errors
subsequent to 1996. If so, that is all the more reason to treat his
earlier statements with more skeptically.]

To sum up, there is inadequate evidence to believe that the vehicles in
Sintashta area graves were of ``bentwood and wicker construction'', or
that they used yoke saddles, backing elements and long naves that are so
essential for a true chariot. To claim that the chariot was pretty fully
developed is based on serious misunderstandings of the engineering
issues and is {\em completely unwarranted}.

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