Horses (words, archaeology)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue May 19 11:23:53 UTC 1998

Since the semester is over, a few points on the ongoing discussion:
In answer several contributors, last:  Edwin Bryant and: 11 May 1998, Paul
K. Manansala:

> what are the origins for the words for horse in Sanskrit.
> Ghota seems somewhat similar to Yenesei-Ostyak "kuta" and even
> Austronesian "kud(j)a".

I doubt the etymology of ghoTa < guurd. It does not mean 'to jump'
in Vedic. ghoTa is first attested only in the Vedic Suutras.

However, S. Dravidian has kutiray 'horse'.
This has been borrowed into Koraput Munda as *kuXrtag, (Zide and Zide
1976, 1331) <which could be close, due to the rt >T changes in Skt.)

It has been compared with Elamite kuti 'to bear, carry' , kutira 'bearer'
(McAlpin 1981:147-8;  Southworth 1979:181, DED 1711). But as Prof.
Krishnamurti has pointed out in this list, the Elamite-Dravidian
connection is open to (many) questions.

Dravidian, Munda, Nahali and Tibeto-Burmese also have other words (hullii,
sadom, maav, rta etc.). Some *may* have been local epithets ("racer"
etc.). Or, the horse can have been introduced by various people several
times and from different directions. For example, *if* it should turn out
that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian made it (out of Central Asia/Iran)
straight for the Deccan, via Sindh, Gujarat, Maharastra, as some think.

And there can have been adaptations of a earlier word for 'hemione'
(half-ass) which looks very much like a horse -- as is supposed to have
happened for Drav. hullii:  (O.)Tam. ivuLi 'horse' and Brahui (h)ullii
'horse' < 'hemione' (Burrow already in 1972; see DED 500).


That the domesticated horse (equus caballus) has been INTRODUCED into
South Asia only late is clear *even* when reading Bokonyi who believed in
the existence of true horses in some Indus finds (Surkodata) .

He says: "horses reached the Indian subcontinent in an already
domesticated form coming from the Inner Asiatic horse domestication

*Well recorded and stratified* finds of TRUE horse bones first occur in
the Northern Kachi plain of Sindh/E. Baluchistan (c. 1700 BC; cf. also
the contemporary Pirak figurines of horses and camels).  All others belong
to hemiones (equus hemionus khur, the khara? half-ass), not to true horses
(equus caballus), see Meadow & Patel, 1997.

Meadow and Patel deny the existence of the true horse in any well
documented level of the Indus civilization. All "finds" are from unclear
horizons or have not been tested carefully enough to distinguish between
horses and hemiones.

See detailed discussion in : South Asian Studies 13, 1997, 297-318, with
papers by Bokonyi, Meadow and Patel, Anthony and the journal editor.

(NB, ad personam: for those who who have alleged here some time ago that I
do not listen to archaeological evidence: well, R. Meadow and I have been
teaching a class precisely on this topic TOGETHER for the third time now
since 1991: we systematically compare archaeological and textual evidence,
which normally is not done or at least not to that extent. -- Jim Shaffer
simply says he wants to neglect textual evidence as he does not find
things in his arch.  record that the texts talk about: thus, monologue is
possible, dialogue is not.)

> Does anyone accept asva > equus?  As Mr. Vidal said: Nobody for the last
100 years or so.

But even Schleicher (1868) had IE *akva- not IE. *as'va (now S.S. Misra
has taken back some steps beyond this and reconstructs IE * as'va-!! I
would like to see <many> more cases in other languages where sh becomes

Nowdays we reconstruct, after the discovery of the laryngeal sounds
(predicted a hundred years ago) IE *Hek'wo- (with largyngeal h1)
All of this is nicely summed up in M. Mayrhofer, Etymologisches
Woerterbuch des Altindoarischen, 1986-1996, which one should at least
consult before making outlandish claims.

Of course, Mayrh.  also reports uncertainties about the IE root underlying
*Hek'wo-s. In addition, some have pointed out that the declination of
*Hek'wo- is younger (IE o-stem) than that of cow and sheep (u and i stems;
"cow" even has the very old IE dissimilation shared with "heaven" in the
acc. sing:  *gwo:wm > gwo:m > Skt. ga:m; *dye:wm > *dye:m >skt. dya:m)

That *could* mean that the word for horse was taken over only in middle or
late (but still COMMON) proto-IE from a neighboring language.
(more about riding & chariots separately).

> According to Indian tradition, the domesticated horse originated in
> the east during the Churning of the Milky Ocean.

All of this mythology is of course quite useless as it re-tells and
re-elaborates the much earlier Vedic versions where the horse was born
from the ocean, from the tear of Prajapati, etc. That tradition alone
indicates that horse lore (the As'vin!!!, diskuroi, the 2 horse(-faced)
ancestors of all Anglo-Saxons: Hengist and Horsa, etc.) is firmly rooted
in Indo_Aryan and Iranian myth <see the many examples given recently by
George Thompson and others (and add material culture:  words such as axle
etc., borrowed by Dravidian, see DED).

Michael Witzel                       witzel at

phone: 1- 617 - 495 3295 (voice & messages), 496 8570, fax 617 - 496 8571
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990

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