Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The wheel from Mehrgarh to the Vedas and the Indian national emblem

On November 15th an article has been published on Nature Communications about a copper amulet (see the photo above) from Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, presented as the earliest object produced through the lost-wax technique.
At the same time, the amulet appears as the earliest reproduction of a spoked wheel. Of course, it is only a shape, but is it possible to use the shape of a wheel before it exists? Or was the symbol itself that finally brought to the creation of the spoked wheel, like a Platonic idea taking shape through a demiurge? It can be an intriguing debate between a materialistic and idealistic approach to history and culture... but let's analyze the issue.

First of all, about the context: "The wheel-shaped amulet inventory number MR. was collected in 1985 at the MR2 site of Mehrgarh during the excavations of the ‘Mission Archéologique de l’Indus’ (dir. Jean-François Jarrige)" 
The MR2 site belongs to the Period III of Mehrgarh, associated with the Chalcolithic and dated by the Wikipedia entry and by Kenoyer 4800-3500 BC. More precisely, the paper speaks of "sector X, Early Chalcolithic, end of period III, 4,500–3,600 BC." However, in the supplementary information we read: "Wheel-shaped ornament discovered by Anaick Samzun in 1985 from a surface recollection at the MR2 site. Despite the fact that the copper artefact was not discovered in its primary position, it belongs to the Early Chalcolithic period since the MR2 site dates entirely from this period."

The date given for the object is 6000 years old, but it is clearly a guess, a full number in the middle between 4500 and 3600 BC, which is the dating given here of the site MR2. In the same site also other wheel-shaped objects have been found: one, fragmentary, "close to the skull of a woman buried in the individual tomb H 33". This suggests that such objects were common in Early Chalcolithic Mehrgarh, and had a sort of religious meaning that could be connected also with death.
For a parallel, we can cite the Celtic use of wheel amulets (from here): 
Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines (such as in Alesia), cast in rivers (such as the Seine), buried in tombs or worn as amulets since the Middle Bronze Age. Such "wheel pendants" from the Bronze Age usually had four spokes, and are commonly identified as solar symbols or "sun cross". Artefacts parallel to the Celtic votive wheels or wheel-pendants are the so-called Zierscheiben in a Germanic context. The identification of the Sun with a wheel, or a chariot, has parallels in Germanic, Greek and Vedic mythology.
On the other hand, how old are the earliest traces of real spoked wheels used for vehicles? A common answer is: Sintashta in the Russian steppe, around or slightly before 2000 BC (for instance in the detailed book of Anthony "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language"). There are graves containing impressions of spoked wheels, evidently made of wood. The same book explains that the earliest depictions of spoked wheels are later in the Near East: on cylinder seals at Kanesh (Kültepe in Turkey), the important Assyrian colony and Hittite city, around 1900 BC. Anthony used these facts to support an origin from the steppes of the chariots with spoked wheels, followed with enthusiasm by the fans of the steppes. I consider this passion for the steppes an enigmatic and irrational propensity, maybe explainable as a sort of revenge and affirmation of superiority by northern and eastern Europeans on Asians and Mediterraneans, usually regarded (with some obvious reasons) as the source of civilization. 
Anyway, there are some facts that are ignored in this picture. Not only the wheel-shaped amulets, already discovered in the '80s and apparently completely neglected in the debate, but also some terracotta wheels from models of carts found in Harappan sites in Western India and in Shahr-i Shokhta, Iran, in levels dated to the 3rd millennium BC, most probably before the Sintashta graves.

Terracotta wheels from Banawali and Rakhigarhi, Mature Harappan period
Terracotta wheels from Bhirrana, Mature Harappan period

Terracotta wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta, 2750-2200 BC

Not only. Kenoyer in "Wheeled Vehicles of the Indus Valley Civilization of Pakistan and India", published in 2004, remarks:
At Harappa we find evidence for the use of terracotta model carts as early as 3500 BC during the Ravi Phase at Harappa [...] No carts or wheels dating to this early time period have been reported from any sites in Afghanistan or Central Asia, or even from sites such as Mehrgarh and Nausharo that are located at the edge of the Indus plain. [...] it is now possible to say that, on the basis of the currently available archaeological evidence, the development of Indus wheeled carts appears to be the result of indigenous processes occurring out in the alluvium and not the result of diffusion from mountainous regions to the west.
Evidently, he did not consider the wheel-shaped amulets from Mehrgarh, but he was dealing with models of carts and terracotta wheels, which are very different from the copper amulets.
But what is impressive here is that he puts the first wheeled carts in the region in the Indus valley, something completely ignored by this passage from the Wikipedia entry on the wheel:
The first evidence of wheeled vehicles appears in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia (Sumerian civilization), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe (Cucuteni-Trypillian culture), so the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle is still unsolved.    
Can we consider normal that the Indus valley is not mentioned 12 years after the article of Kenoyer? And is it normal that in the book of Anthony, published in 2007, there is no reference to the same article? Maybe yes, we can consider it normal, because South Asian archaeology is evidently out of the range of mainstream knowledge, even when the authors are important Western archaeologists like Kenoyer. I am the only one who has added references to Indian findings in the paragraph of that entry on the history of the wheel, and fortunately they have not been removed.
Anthony in his book, p.69, states that the Baden culture ceramic wagon models dated 3300-3100 BC are "the oldest well-dated three-dimensional models of wheeled vehicles", and there is no mention of the Harappan findings.

An exception to this silence is the Bulgarian M. Ivanova, who, about the Maykop wheels from northern Caucasus, says in "The Black Sea and the Early Civilizations of Europe, the Near East and Asia", pp.121-2:  
The remains of two wooden wheels at Novokorsunskaja allow some suppositions about the type of vehicle to which they belonged. In size, they are similar to wheels of the Catacomb culture [...] The presence of a hub suggests a vehicle with rotating wheels and a fixed axle. The vehicle from which the wheels at Novokorsunskaja originate might have been a two-axle wagon like the roughly contemporary wagon from Koldyri on the Lower Don. But it is also possible that the find from Novokorsunskaja was a two-wheeled cart. Clay models of two-wheeled carts with rotating wheels attest to the use of this type of vehicle in central Asia and the Indus valley in the late fourth millennium BC. At Altyn-depe in south Turkmenistan, such models occur in the second half of the fourth millennium (Namazga III period) and become more common in the early centuries of the third millennium. Cattle figurines with holes in the withers for attaching the yoke have been recovered at Kara-depe. Comparable models appeared in the Indus valley around 3500–3300 BC, during the Ravi-Phase of the Indus culture at Harappa (Kenoyer 2004, 90 f., Fig. 2).
So, going back to Kenoyer's article, the American archaeologist continues speaking of the wheels found from the Early Harappan period (2800-2600 BC), 17 in number; 4 of them from Harappa have painted motifs, and one "shows radiating lines that could represent spokes". The design given in the paper (Figure 4, no.7) can suggest spokes indeed. Kenoyer adds that the technology of wheel transport however is not well attested out of Harappa itself, and he remarks, citing Tosi 1968, that also Shahr-i Sokhta has not given wheels. Probably, the terracotta wheel exposed in the Museum of Oriental Art in Rome shown above has been found later than Tosi's publication. By the way, it is remarkable that there are also zebu (Bos indicus) figurines, and since zebus were domesticated around Mehrgarh, it suggests a significant influence from the East, from the Indian subcontinent. A tendency shown also in the historical period, since the Helmand area (Arachosia) was known as White India and was more Indian than Iranian until the Muslim conquest (see here). 
On the other hand, Kenoyer adds (p.8):
Further north in Central Asia, the first carts appear during the subsequent Namazga V period (2600-2200 BC) that corresponds to the Harappa Period in the Indus Valley, and these are four wheeled carts drawn by one or two camels and not by bullocks. Since camels were not domesticated in the Indus valley, we can assume that the use of camel carts is an indigenous process in Central Asia and that the construction of four wheeled carts in Central Asia is also a local phenomenon.
About the Mature Harappan period, Kenoyer speaks of a significant increase in the number of terracotta carts and wheel fragments, and has also something to say about the reproduction of spoked wheels: 
The most controversial discussion revolves around the construction of spoked wheels that have been associated with the use of the horse drawn chariot and by extension, the Indo-Aryan culture. In India single examples of "spoked wheels" have been reported from the sites of Lothal, Rupar, and Mitathal, Banawali and most recently at Rakhigarhi [...] Perhaps the most convincing example of a spoked wheel comes from the site of Rahkigarhi, presumably from the Harappan levels though the excavation report has not yet been published. In this example there are eleven radiating spokes that would have provided considerable support to a light outer rim.
The wheel in question is that of the photo above. Kenoyer does not speak of Bhirrana, that was excavated in the same period of the publication of his article (2003-2006). And in Puratattva no.36, of the year 2005-6, after Kenoyer's article, we find an article by L.S.Rao about wheels found in Bhirrana. There are several instances of wheels with painted spokes or spokes in low relief, already from the Early Mature Harappan period. I suppose the dating of this period should be around 2600 BC (the accepted beginning of the Mature Harappan), although a paper by Sarkar et al. published on Nature gives even 6.5–5 ka BP for this period. Being too far from the consensus on the periodization of the Indus-Saraswati culture, I do not dare to accept it.
However, we have a confirmation that spoked wheels were well known in Mature Harappan India. L.S.Rao, who apparently did not know Kenoyer's article (he cites only a 1998 book of him), remarks that they have not been found in the Indus valley, but we have seen that an example was already in an Early Harappan level of Harappa, and we can add the spoked wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta contemporary with Mature Harappan. Mehrgarh's amulets seem a bit too early, also compared with the earliest cart models from Harappa (3500 BC). However, 3600 BC as the lowest limit of the Chalcolithic level of the amulets is not so far from it, but very far from the first attestations of a terracotta wheel with spokes (after 2800 BC, Early Harappan). Moreover, those copper objects are quite different from the terracotta wheels, and they can also be pure symbols. But why in that shape, and symbols of what? We can remark that they have six spokes. What can be the meaning of that number? 
If you search for numerical symbolism in ancient India, the best place is the hymn RV I.164. There we read in st.11-12: 

dvādaśāraṃ nahi tajjarāya varvarti cakraṃ pari dyāṃ ṛtasya |
ā putrā agne mithunāso atra sapta śatāni viṃśatiśca tasthuḥ ||
pañcapādaṃ pitaraṃ dvādaśākṛtiṃ diva āhuḥ pare ardhe purīṣiṇam |
atheme anya upare vicakṣaṇaṃ saptacakre ṣaḷara āhur arpitam ||

So translated by Jamison and Brereton (see here):
11. Twelve-spoked, the wheel of truth [=the Sun] ever rolls around heaven—yet not to old age. Upon it, o Agni, stand seven hundred twenty sons in pairs [=the nights and days of the year].
12. They speak of the father [=the Moon] with five feet [=the seasons] and twelve forms [=the months], the overflowing one in the upper half of heaven.
But these others speak of the far-gazing one [=the Sun] in the nearer (half) fixed on (the chariot) with seven wheels [=the Sun, Moon, and visible planets] and six spokes [=the seasons, in a different reckoning].
The word ṣaḷ-ara means 'having six spokes' and it is the Rigvedic equivalent of ṣaḍ-ara, found in a repetition of st.12 placed in AV (Śaunaka recension) 9.9.12 before a repetition of st.11 (see here for the translation). The same stanza 12 is cited in the Atharvavedic Praśna Upaniṣad, commented by Śaṃkara, who recognized the symbolism of the year and seasons. About ṣaḍara, he glossed with the compound ṣaḍ-ṛtu-mat- 'having six seasons'.

Now, in Harappan seals we find a sort of spoked wheel, regularly with six spokes:

Harappan square seals with the character of the 'spoked wheel' (from this site)

Plano convex molded tablet 
discovered in Harappa, 1997.

The similarity of shape with Mehrgarh's amulets is remarkable, and the fact that it is placed over the heroic scene on the convex tablet shows its strong symbolic character, probably with a solar meaning as in the Vedic hymn.
Also in historical times, the wheel of Viṣṇu, called Sudarśana-cakra, is often described as having six spokes, symbolizing again the six seasons (see e.g. here).
Thus, we would have again a striking instance of cultural continuity, this time from Chalcolithic Mehrgarh to historical India through the Harappan age. 
Mehrgarh's 'spoked wheel' perhaps was not a real wheel but a circle symbolizing the cyclical time of the year and the Sun, like the Native American 'cross in a circle' or the Sun cross of European prehistory. We can also compare Bactrian bronze seals having circular shape, the last one is directly comparable to the one from Mehrgarh, although with 8 spokes:

However, the Harappan terracotta wheels reproduce real wheels, and the ancient six-spoked symbol could be easily identified with the new technological object, that had also the advantage of representing the idea of movement of the Sun. Now, the spoked wheel has been associated with the Aryans because it is mentioned in the Vedas. In Vedic rituals like the Vājapeya we find a ratha-cakra 'chariot wheel' placed on a post to symbolize the Sun, with 17 spokes. According to the Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra, before climbing the post, the officiant is hailed with formulas, which declare him lord of the 12 months and the 6 seasons of the year (see here).

The wheel was so central in the ancient Indian worldview that the ideal king was called Cakravartin 'a ruler the wheels of whose chariot roll everywhere without obstruction' (Monier-Williams, translating the German Petersburg dictionary). Both in Jain and Buddhist traditions this emperor of the Earth has, among the seven jewels (ratna), the 'jewel of the wheel', symbol of Dharma, in the sense of justice and social order.

Relief with Cakravartin from Amaravatī
Also Ashoka, the great emperor, used a wheel, evident in the pillar below, with 24 spokes, explained in various ways and adopted in the Indian flag itself. However, it seems that on the top of the lions there was a wheel with 32 spokes, that can be interpreted as the 32 marks of the Mahāpuruṣa (Great Man) proper to the Buddha and the Cakravartin king. Interestingly, in the legend of Ashoka called Aśokāvadāna, the number of pilgrimage sites connected with the life of the Buddha and visited by Ashoka totals thirty-two (see J.S. Strong, The Legend of King Aśoka, Princeton 1983, pp.123-5).
Radha Kumud Mookherjee, an historian and member of the Indian Parliament at the time of Nehru, tried to include that wheel on the national emblem (see here):
“It app­ears that a ‘chakra’ with thirty-two spokes was, in the original, placed atop the shoulders of the four lions. The basic idea was that the wheel of righteousness, representing spiritual forces, should be above the four lions, representing material strength. (However) there is evidence to show that this top wheel fell off the shaft on which it rested and so in the Sarnath Museum one sees the lion capital without the top.”“We feel our state emblem should not embody in itself, as it were, a historical mistake. The sheer accident of the wheel being detached from the pillar should not justify a truncated copy of the original sculpture. Besides, the chakra, which is now only engraved in the abacus, does not convey the significance and symbolism of the original, which stresses the superiority of spiritual values. It will be in conformity with our principles and ideals if we correct the mistake. If we have wanted to revive the Ashokan ideals, as indeed we have done, let us not perpetuate a mutilated variant of this monument.”
Pragyan Kumud, a descendant of the historian, has decided to "go up to the highest authorities until the change is made", explaining: “There is something in symbolism, otherwise we would not need national emblems. Maybe, if the chakra of peace was put back into its rightful place, our country would witness a change for the better.” 

So, the wheel symbol is still actual in India, a rolling lasting millennia...

reconstructed Sarnath pillar


 Giacomo Benedetti, Impruneta, Italy, 6/12/2016



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for this wonderful article !

    1. I would like to say that Anthony, in one recent article co-authored by him with the linguist Ringe, argues that the wheel is central in locating the PIE homeland. Little does he realise that going by his logic, it is South Asia & not the steppe which should be the PIE homeland.

    Here is the article - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273312232_The_Indo-European_Homeland_from_Linguistic_and_Archaeological_Perspectives

    Also, poignantly enough, in Figure 1 of this article, it is revealed that out of all IE languages, it is the Indo-Iranians who have managed to preserve the full set of IE terms for various components of a wheeled vehicle/cart - a situation quite very compatible with the presence of Indo-Iranians in Indus Valley, Eastern Iran & Central Asia during the 3rd millenium BC.

    2. Also I would like to point an interesting detail here. The Indo-Iranian term for camel 'ushtra' is likely related to its use as cart-pulling animal. According to the Sanskrit Etymological Dictionary 'ushtra' also denotes a buffalo, a bull with a hump and also a cart/wagon. Bulls were used to pull carts by Harappans while camels were used for the same by the Central Asians.

    1. Welcome to the blog, Jaydeep, and thanks for the interesting comment. About uṣṭra, according to the Petersburg dictionary it denoted also the buffalo or the zebu bull, and uṣṭar/uṣṭṛ a bull drawing a plough. So, it seems probable that the root has to do with drawing, but it is not clear which root is there, the last edition of Mayrhofer's Sanskrit etymological dictionary is very uncertain, the main proposal is a root *us/wes- 'to be humid' like ukṣā 'bull' compared to ukṣati 'to sprinkle, moisten'.

    2. Thank you. I am most glad to be contributing. You've got a wonderful blog full of insightful posts. I have been following your blog ever since your article on Indo-Iranians but never felt like commenting.

      I should have added that I have referring to the Monier Williams dictionary. Referring to it again, it appears that 'ushtra' is derived from root 'ush' which means to burn, punish, consume, kill or injure. Further we also learn that 'ushta' - ush + ta means burnt, quick, expeditious. Also 'usha' means saline earth.

      I am not sure what could be the correct derivation of the meaning of 'ushtra' but going by the above it might mean 1. an animal or object at the disposal of man to consume or make use of or 2. an animal/object that helps one to expedite his work or 3. since 'usha' also means saline earth, it may have something to do with the ploughing of the land.

      So the original meaning might have been used only for a bull used for ploughing. Subsequently with the invention of the cart, the word probably began to be used for a cart drawing bull and then subsequently a camel.

  3. Giacomo,

    See comments from Carlos in the Harappan Group , as I also forgot to cite you that Cucuteni-Trypillian toy wheel carts are dated as far back as 3900BC , so they may even predate that of N India, This is a wheeled cow from Tripolye (Cucuteni-Trypillian cow-on-wheels, 3950-3650 B.C ) :

    Thanks to him for remembering . As you know Asko Parpola pointed this in his book . In his words :

    ''Maran (2004a,b) suggests the Late Tripolye culture as the most likely place of origin for wheeled vehicles. Late Tripolye is the only culture to show evidence of wagons predating 3500 BCE (Burmeister 2004), in the form of drinking cups provided with rotating model wheels and with ox foreparts protruding from the front of the cup. In addition to these wagon-shaped drinking cups, there are numerous Late
    Tripolye drinking cups in the shape of an ox-pulled sledge, which is thought to be the immediate predecessor of the ox-pulled wagon ''
    See page 43 here -

    1. But of course they were not Spoked Wheeled cart models but solid , And its hard to imagine the Technology of wheel spreading that fast from around Carpathian Basin to N India! , they can even be contemporary and if we take Carlos's suggestion the INdian one can even be older! . The Wheel Technology can be a parallel unrelated evolution too . But obviously the Sopked Wheel has its genesis in the Indo-Iranian sphere . See this research also on Carpathian Wheels:


    2. I have cited Wikipedia about Cucuteni-Tripolye, that is dated there in the second half of the 4th millennium. Instead, in the page about Cucuteni culture, we find this significant observation:
      "Very few researchers, e.g., Asko Parpola, an Indologist at the University of Helsinki in Finland, believe that the CT-culture used the wheel with wagons. However, only miniature models of animals on 4 wheels have been found, and they date to the first half of the fourth millennium BC. Such models are often thought to have been children's toys; nevertheless, the do convey the idea that objects could be pulled on wheels. Up to now there is no whatever evidence for wheels used with real wagons."
      From a blog:
      "Mayas made extensive use of wheels for children’s toys. They basically mounted any kind of animals on wheels." But we don't know of Mayan carts.
      Anyway, I don't say that wheels or carts are invented in South Asia, although it seems possible for spoked wheels, that are the main topic of this post.

    3. Yes of course!. But is it conceivable that the civilization is also a candidate where Wheel Wagons appeared earliest ?. I mean since its quite possible that the SSVC had very early use of spoked wheels , it will seem a bit strange that they didn't know solid wheeled wagons earlier!.

  4. This is a great article! I was telling Nirjhar that the early toy carts are a bigger deal than spokes.

    Here are some links to earlier discussions, in which I had participated. I had tried to point out to Steve farmer that the sign is found both as a high eccentricity ellipse as well as a circle.


    there is also a copper chariot box from chanhudaro I had found on Dr. Kalyanaraman's blog. I I don't see it anymore online. I saved a copy of the image. I will send you. It would be good to get a approximate date for it as well.

  5. Its important to remember while discussing Anthony and Ringe's postulated wheel line of 4000 BC, that only words for "axle" and "thill" can be regarded as true vehicle related words.

    other words are older than true wheels. e.g. nAbha, hub, omphalos, navel etc. Obviously this is much older vocabulary transferred to wheel or cart related terms after wheels became prevalant.

    Similarly all world cultures would have had words for circle, geometrical concepts to understand stellar movements etc.

  6. Yes, I think the same. So the concept of the 'spoked' symbol could exist also before wheels and maybe had the same name as the wheel later. Nābha/nābhi of course comes from human anatomy.

    1. I think geometrical developments like circles could have existed before the invention of the real wheel, but six-spoked wheel is a more complex feature, which in my view is previous to the adoption as a solar symbol for instante.

  7. Continuing with where I had left off, if one looks at the argument of Anthony & Ringe, they are using the wheel argument to suggest that the early date of PIE proposed by Renfrew is not possible and therefore his model fails in that regard. Their argument seems to be sound atleast in this respect.

    However what they also imply is that after the probable separation of Anatolian, the late PIE group (before Tocharian separated) was well acquainted with wheeled vehicles and quite possibly was one of the inventors of wheeled vehicles since they have indigenous PIE vocabulary for various parts of wheeled vehicles.

    So far this is fine. But what we also see from table 1 & figure 1 of the Anthony-Ringe paper is that it is only the Indo-Iranians and more likely only Sanskrit that has preserved all the IE cognates of wheeled vocabulary. IMHO this creates problems for the steppe hypothesis.

    In the Indus civilization as well as the related Eastern Iranian & Central Asian people, we have a vastly spread out population that is very well-acquainted with the use of wheeled vehicles from the mid 4th millenium BC atleast. Now if the Indo-Iranians migrated from the steppe into these regions in the 2nd millenium BC, more than a millenia since these regions were using wheeled vehicles, how did they manage to preserve all the PIE cognates for wheeled vehicles while no other IE group managed to do so ? Why did the indigenous people of Central Asia, Iran & South Asia, chose to stop using their millenia old terms for wheeled vehicles and replaced them with the terms used by the invaders ? It makes little sense.

    On the other hand, if late PIE existed in South Central Asia around 3500 BC, and barring the Indo-Iranians, if the other IE groups gradually migrated to other regions in the subsequent centuries, it would very neatly explain why the Indo-Iranians alone managed to preserve all the cognates of the wheeled vehicle vocabulary.


    To add to it, as Giacomo is well aware, Mariya Ivanova, argues for a substantial contribution from Central Asia & NE Iran into the formation of the Maykop phenomenon.

    Now let us have a look at the following sequence :-

    We have the earliest evidence of wheeled vehicles in the Saraswati Sindhu region. In the subsequent centuries we see the likely spread of wheeled vehicles along with the appearance of the Zebu in Eastern Iran. Could this signal a movement of people from East to West in carts pulled by the Zebu cattle ?

    Subsequently, we see the possible presence of wheeled vehicles in the Maykop as noted by Ivanova. Now, I remember in an earlier post on Zebu by Giacomo, there was a mention of a very early evidence (3rd millenium BC) of Zebu remains in one of the Caucasus countries. Compounding this we now have evidence of y-dna L1a (a predominantly South Asian branch) in Chalcolithic Armenia, and we also have the presence of mtDNA M52 in Northern Caucasus among one Maykop site. To me this clearly suggests a trail of migration leading all the way to South Asia.

    Later on, the Maykop culture went on to significantly influence the Yamnaya. Today, the Caucasus has the presence of the Zebu cattle while Eastern European steppe cattle has Zebu admixture. A recent paper on cattle genetics, which Nirjhar is well aware of, speculated that the Zebu admixture in steppe cattle might have something to do with the Yamnaya and the IE connection.

    We also had a recent dog aDNA paper wherein it was found that an ancient dog from a German Corded Ware site had Indian/Iranian dog as well as Indian/Iranian wolf admixture. This was again suggested as being due to Yamnaya influence. But the trail ends ultimately in Iran or South Asia.

    1. Can you give the reference of the dog paper?
      I agree with many considerations, but about Renfrew's model, the fact that Anatolian does not share the IE wheel vocabulary could strengthen the idea that the IE homeland is close to Anatolian, that remained isolated from the evolution of wheel vocabulary in Central-South Asia. This would be not the homeland but a center of technological innovation, that spread the spoked wheel and chariot vocabulary to other areas.
      But simple carts with axle and solid wheels were present also in Europe at the same time as in Asia, as is shown by the Bronocice pot in Poland and the Ljubljana marshes wheel in Slovenia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel#History
      So, where is really the origin, or are there multiple origins?

      We should also consider that the word and concept of wheel is not necessarily connected with vehicles, it can also refer to the potter's wheel, that appeared first in the Middle East, see this from the same wiki entry: "Precursors of wheels, known as "tournettes" or "slow wheels", were known in the Middle East by the 5th millennium BCE (one of the earliest examples was discovered at Tepe Pardis, Iran, and dated to 5200-4700 BCE.) These were made of stone or clay and secured to the ground with a peg in the center, but required effort to turn."

    2. Here you can see the dog papers discussion :

      I think you knew about it though .

    3. One of the arguments of vehicle wheel vocabulary being a singular event before the spread of PIE is the specific case of reduplication in the reconstructed word * kwekwlos.

      This has to be kept in mind. Jaydeep the argument thAt non IE natives could not adopt wheel vocabulary since they already had wheels is an easy hump to cross for indologists since they postulate that they did it for everything else e.g. Place names , names for family members ...every sphere of life not just wheels.

      By the way the thill is called sAj in Hindi

      The etymology of pahiyA is unclear

      There's the Germanic or English word hitch that may be related thill

      NIA has hinchko meaning swing in Gujarati
      Bangla has an adverb or verb called hinchke meaning jerk or pull

      There ofcourse the verb Kheench in Hindi.

    4. about pahiyA, this is the one :
      pradhí 8672 pradhí m. ʻ felly ʼ RV.
      Pk. païa -- n. ʻ wheel ʼ, pāya -- m. Deśīn., K. pahī f. ʻ felly, wheel (of cart or well -- rope) ʼ; P. pahīā m. ʻ wheel ʼ, N. pahiyā, paiyā; Or. paï ʻ felly, tyre of wheel, wheelmark ʼ, pahiyā, païā, payā ʻ wheel, rim of wheel ʼ; Bi. H. pahiyā m. ʻ wheel of cart ʼ; -- ext. -- ḍa -- in G. paiṛũ n. pradhīyatē see pradadhāti.
      Addenda: pradhí -- : WPah.kṭg. paiɔ m. ʻ wheel ʼ.

      About Thill , we have thela in Bng. where ṭhelā /thila is to push , but for the English word I didn't find any dictionary .
      ṭhēḍḍ 5512 *ṭhēḍḍ ʻ push ʼ. 2. *ṭhēll -- . 3. *ṭēll -- . [Cf. *ṭhēcc -- , *ṭhēss -- , *ṭhōss -- ]
      1. P. ṭheḍā m. ʻ stumble ʼ.
      2. S. ṭhelhaṇu ʻ to push ʼ; P. ṭhehlaṇā ʻ to thrust into water ʼ, ṭhillhṇā intr. ʻ to plunge into water ʼ; Ku. ṭhelṇo ʻ to push ʼ; N. ṭhelnu ʻ to push, poke ʼ, intr. ʻ to protrude ʼ; A. ṭheliba ʻ to push ʼ, B. ṭhelā, Or. ṭhelibā, Mth. ṭhelab; H. ṭhelnā ʻ to push ʼ, ṭhelā ʻ push -- cart ʼ (→ Bhoj. P. ṭhelā m.); G. ṭhelvũ ʻ to push ʼ, M. ṭhelṇẽ.
      3. Ku. ṭelaṇo ʻ to push, thrust ʼ, ṭilṇo ʻ to cram ʼ.
      *ṭhēṇṭha -- ʻ defective ʼ see *ṭhiṭṭha -- .
      *ṭhēll -- ʻ push ʼ see *ṭhēḍḍ -- .
      *ṭhēss -- ʻ push ʼ see *ṭhēcc -- .
      Addenda: *ṭhēḍḍ -- . 2. *ṭhēll -- : S.kcch. ṭhelṇū ʻ to push ʼ, OMarw. 3 sg. pres.pass. ṭhelijaï.
      *ṭhēll -- ʻ push ʼ see *thēḍḍ -- Add2.

    5. In David's article its not thill is not the operational word but the vedic word issa for thill.

    6. Dear Giacomo,

      As far as the linguistic argument is concerned, I agree that it will support an Anatolian homeland before the split of Anatolian & non-Anatolian late PIE.

      However, from a genetic standpoint it now looks impossible. We now know that the Anatolian Neolithic farmers have contributed substantially to European Neolithic populations and this group was certainly not Indo-European. On the other hand, this group has not contributed to populations of South Asia beyond some Northwest groups like Pashtun and perhaps Baloch. This too is likely to have admixed into the Northwestern groups from Iran during the period of Islamisation since the Kalash entirely lack this Anatolian Neolithic admixture inspite of being one of the closest modern populations to Iran Neolithic.

      Hence, the Anatolian homeland theory for IE looks dead at the moment from the genetic viewpoint.

      We might ask, what about the Early Neolithic farmers from Western Iran ? This group looks a lot more promising as it is of the same stock which later on spread the Indo-European languages. This Iranian Neolithic ancestry also made inroads into Anatolia and even Greece from the late Neolithic/Chalcolithic period. As per Lazaridis et al, Iranian Chalcolithic groups are also the most ideal fit for the southern population that contributed to steppe_Eneolithic and the Yamnaya.

      However, as far as South Asia is concerned, it is a little problematic. First of all,even if we assume that the South Asian Neolithic is derived from the Iran Neolithic, than Iran_Neolithic derived populations were present in South Asia at Mehrgarh since 7000 BC atleast. The problem gets compounded by the fact that even sites like Bhiranna have 8th millenium BC dates for the Neolithic phase. In other words, by 7000 BC, Iran Neolithic derived populations was already fairly well spread acorss NW India/South Asia. Could we expect them to have been Indo-European at such an early date ? Very unlikely, whether we consider the wheel argument of Anthony & Ringe and even otherwise.

      Hence, for an Iranian homeland theory for Indo-Europeans to work, we need migration from Iran into South Asia during the Chalcolithic phase. But this again creates several problems such as :-

      1. Iranian Chalcolithic was already heavily admixed with Anatolian Neolithic, the ancestry which is largely absent in South Asia. Hence, a migration from such a population into South Asia looks improbable.

      2. According to the standard linguistic theory, the Indo-Iranians were the last to separate and the last to leave the PIE homeland. So, we would need a bronze age migration from Iran into South Asia. Such a migration into South Asia during its most prosperous Harappan Era does not have any archaeological support.

      3. On the contrary, all evidence of the Chalcolithic period and later suggests the opposite. We see the movement of Zebu cattle and of domestic buffalo from South Asia into Iran. We also see the evidence from archaeology of Harappan influence in Iranian sites of the Halil Rud valley such as Konar Sandal as well as in the Helmand valley such as Shahr-i-Sokhta.


      Certainly, the invention of wheel and wheeled vehicles could have had multiple origins. The Indo-European homeland could just have been one of the early indigenous centers of this invention. However, based on the fact that the Indo-Iranians have the most well-preserved vocabulary for wheeled vehicles, it makes most sense that they were the ones who moved the least from the PIE homeland. It therefore makes sense that Indus civilization, one of early centers of wheeled vehicles, was that likely homeland. If Indo-Aryans were intrusive into South Asia, they should not have the most intact wheeled vehicle vocaubulary that derives from PIE, since they would theoretically be moving into a place that already had, in the form of the Indus civilization, a very early and very extensive use of wheeled vehicles.

    7. Interesting and clever arguments, however, about Anatolia, we have the DNA of the western part which contributed to European Early Neolithic, while we do not have from the cradle of agriculture and stockbreeding, the Taurus area and Northern Mesopotamia. My idea is that the PIE homeland is in the Taurus-Zagros region, that had a common culture in the Neolithic with roots in the Zarzian Mesolithic culture of the Zagros. This can explain why Anatolian is so archaic, although it did not spread initially to western Anatolia, which had a different Neolithic culture.
      We can also add that Old Iranian had a very pure IE vocabulary, I have the impression more than Sanskrit.

      Recently we have seen from genetics that Iranian Neolithic and Chalcolithic people possibly spread to Anatolia and Greece, Iran and India, and the Eurasian steppe. About India, we need the ancient DNA that will come very soon, but
      I think that it is possible that already the first Neolithic wave was IE, maybe kentum like Bangani, although the most important wave was the Chalcolithic wave, probably already satem like all Indo-Iranian. The wheeled vehicle vocabulary was shared in that period, and could also spread through loanwords.
      To think a PIE homeland in South Asia has not sufficient archaeological support, and also genetically does not seem possible with present knowledge, for instance because of the absence of important IE haplogroups or SNPs in India belonging to R1b and R1a, and the absence of typical Indian haplogroups like H in other IE populations.

  8. The chariot is an intermediate step into the utilization of the horse. In 2 ways:

    -The horse was small and weak(except for the arabic, which was small and strong) . It worked better pulling someone than carrying someone.
    -A chariot can be easily stopped in the battlefield. A spear, which was a common battle weapon, could be thrown or stuck in the wheels and destroy it.

    By this, I can see 3 uses for a chariot in combat:
    -Sending commands to the battle fields.
    -Protecting commanders.
    -Attacking commanders directly.

    So, the uses of horses was quite limited and it represented only the warring elite. It didn't take part in the direct combat. This is why chariots sometimes are buried (representing princes, generals and kings). I think it is straightforward to conclude that horse were rare animals, given the ratio of commanders to soldiers.

    Raising horses were a demanding thing, given that just a small percentage of them would be used at all, so they were likely imported. Likely from far away places. Like Mesopotamia (proto arabic horse) or some places in the steppes, which are also rare animals, save for some places near the Altai. Interestingly, this is where the largest invasions in history happened when horses evolved by humans to be larger, beginning in small scale around the 5th - 3rd century BC (Alexander and other commander's horses), full scale at the middle of 1st millenium with the Turks in Rome, until gunpowder was invented and used in large scale.

  9. I think it follows that caste division in a much later date, like in the beginning of the 1st millenium. Before that, there was no way to characterize a warrior class jointly with a priestly class, with an homogeneous set of skills, like riding a horse The lack of material resources required that battle skills were not restricted to a small number of people, but opened to the population at large.

    Similarly, in Europe, even after horses were quite large, it took quite a time until they were useful in full combat, using heavy weapons and shield. Around the time of the roman empire the chariot was obsolete. Later, in the middle ages there was a division in Europe somewhat similar to that of India, of nobility as the warring class, peasants as the shudra, jews as the vaishias, priestly class, though, was different, due chastity of chistianism.

  10. A tricephalic celtic head: the corleck head.


  11. 4 faced sumerian god.

    Dicephalic Mayan God:


    Tricephalic mask from the Lega people, Congo:


  12. As Nirjhar asked for my opinion on the article: In general, a very interesting compilation of evidence. However:

    1. Not everything looking like a wheel depiction needs to depict a wheel. A transect through a poppy seed-capsule, e.g., looks exactly like a twelve-spoked wheel, and psychoactive plants have always inspired symbolism (Cannabis leaf as modern example). I don’t know whether Mehrgarh cultivated poppy. [If so, it would raise the interesting question how a plant domesticated in the Western Mediterranean, but unknown to Early NE Farmers, so early found its way to South Asia]. Nevertheless, while the Mehrgarh copper amulet looks like a six-spoked wheel, it might, theoretically, also be an abstraction of, e.g., a six-petal flower. C.f. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svadhishthana

    2. The wheeled vehicle was the endpoint of a long technological development: The earliest wheels were flywheels. Spindle whorls are evidenced from 6mBC Greece, and didn't look much different from those Harappa wheels depicted in the article. Technically more sophisticated were wheel drills; the flywheel stabilized the drill by gyration. Mehrgarh had a quite sophisticated drilling technology, as evidenced by drilled Carneol and Lapis Lazuli pearls. But the same applies to Central Europe_ Shaft-hole axes, appearing latest during the 5th mBC, are unthinkable without well-developed wheel drills. Finally, of course, we have the potter's wheel, well evidenced from 4th mBC Mesopotamia.
    Essentially, while any kind of wheel depiction, model etc. demonstrates that the culture in question had the technological base from which wheeled vehicles might have evolved, it is no proof that these wheels were ever meant to be mounted below a vehicle, instead of on a spindle, drill, or some other kind of tool.

    3. The above shows that inventing the wheel wasn’t the problem. The technological challenge for early carts was the axle bearing: Strong enough to support heavy weights, stable enough to maintain direction, yet with low friction in order not to run hot. Hard wood or metal (copper), and sufficient greasing, e.g. birch tar (Central-Eastern Europe) or petroleum products (Near East). This aspect has received surprisingly little attention so far, including linguistic research on terms like “bearing”, “(shaft) housing” and “greasing”. Yet, it is exactly what anybody trying to prove something related to early carts, and not just spinning whorls or children toys, needs to focus upon.

    4. As concerns invention of the cart, the earliest securely dated evidence, the Flintbek trails (N. Germany) and the Bronocice pot, points to Funnelbeakers ca. 3400 BC. CT might be contemporary or a bit earlier, but still lacks AMS dating; the same applies to Maykop. Those early carts in CEE from around 3400 BC or a bit earlier almost certainly used solid, not spoked wheels.
    It is difficult to construct a mid 4th mBC link between Flintbek n. Kiel and Mehrgarh. If both knew the cart, it was probably due to independent invention. The technological base, namely the flywheel, also existed in Mergarh.

    5. Early carts had to deal with various stability issues on the wheel –> axle -> bearing complex. It probably took some centuries to technologically master that complex before tackling the next challenge, namely weight (and stability) reduction by replacing solid with spoked wheels. All prehistoric flywheels should have been solid, so the spoked wheel was another major invention.
    That invention clearly took place somewhere in SCA (maybe driven more by wood shortage than desire for weight reduction), and required mastership in wood bending. Estimating Neolithic/ CA innovation speed is extremely speculative, but my gut feeling is that it rather required close to a millennium than just 1-2 centuries to move from the solid-wheeled to the spoked-wheeled cart. IOW – I deem spoked wheels by around 2500 BC well possible, but 3600 BC feels far too early. This implies that the Merhagarh copper pendant in all likelyhood displayed something else than a spoked wheel.

    1. Thank you for the interesting comment, I agree that the amulet is most probably not a spoked wheel but rather a symbolic pattern, that could later be identified with the wheel.

      Interesting the hypothesis of a plant section, I have found no reference to poppy in Mehrgarh, in India it appears in 2000 BC from Sanghol, east of Harappa. Poppy pollen has been found in the BMAC around the same period. However, poppy has not six spokes but twelve as you observe. I wonder if other plants could have inspired that pattern. There are also fruits and melons (cultivated at Mehrgarh) who have a 'spoked' cross section: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cross_sections_of_fruit

      Anyway, if the Vedic concept of the 6 seasons was already adopted in the Chalcolithic, that could be the main reason of the symbol, where the circle is the cyclical time of the year and the spokes are its natural division.

  13. Petroleum products was not a problem due the intense trade with Summer e Akkad. Bitumen use was identified in the Merhgarth and in Summer boats in the 5th millenium BC. :

    "The use of asphalt/bitumen for waterproofing and as an adhesive dates at least to the fifth millennium BC in the early Indus valley sites like Mehrgarh, where it was used to line the baskets in which crops were gathered.[22]

    In the ancient Middle East, the Sumerians used natural asphalt/bitumen deposits for mortar between bricks and stones, to cement parts of carvings, such as eyes, into place, for ship caulking, and for waterproofing.[8] The Greek historian Herodotus said hot asphalt/bitumen was used as mortar in the walls of Babylon,[23] as did Moses in reference to the Tower of Babel.[24]"


  14. I think it was invented with a similar purpose of the wheel. To make domestic utilities. The earliest evidence of spinning wheel is from 500CE in India. But, why not before. The design is extremely simple, and it resemble the poetic use of thread in vedic poetry. It has to be confirmed, though. The spoked wheel could had been first used without a use that didn't require too much environment stress, until it was developed enough to be used on cars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_wheel

    Maybe an analysis of remaining of clothing tissues found on SSVC could determine if a spinning wheel or the usual hand spinning was used. That the usual wheel was not used outside India for so long may be related to a type of natural fiber that was only adapted to Indian conditions?