As you may know, I’ve been thinking about the Indo-European expansion a lot. I did a lot more archaeological reading than I’m wont to for my Substacks, Steppe 1.0, Going Nomad, Steppe 1.1a: A nowhere man’s world, and Steppe 1.1b: culture vultures descend. I also got the archaeologists’ view from David Anthony, Kristian Kristiansen, and J. P. Mallory. Obviously, there are emails and earlier conversations that don’t make it into a podcast.
A few years ago I also read First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies and other archaeological works. But unlike with genetics archaeology is foreign territory to me, and I didn’t totally integrate and internalize what I read. Nevertheless, lately, when it comes to the transition between the late Neolithic and the early Copper Age in Northern Europe, the switch from the Funnel Beaker people to the Corded Ware cultures, I’ve developed a new sense of what happened and how to describe it: the arrival of Indo-Europeans en masse in the centuries after 3000 BC was into a fallen world well past its peak.
Bryan Ward-Perkins in The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization convinced me that material remains, or lack thereof, tell us something about social complexity and civilization as such. Eric Cline in 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed brings home to us just how fragile early societies were. Four centuries after the collapse of Mycenaean Greece the people of archaic 8th-century Greece seem to have had only vague memories and recollections of this period, and were unclear as to the provenance of the ruined citadels strewn across their land (these were constructed by the Greeks themselves).
The Megalith societies of Western Europe and Cuceteni-Tripilliya were pretty impressive. The last Neolithic societies left more substantial material remains than their Indo-European successors. Because we don’t have written records we don’t describe it for what it was: a “Dark Age.”
This pattern is clearer in South Asia. The Indus Valley Civilization was connected, at least tenuously, to the West Asian oikumene. After its decline and collapse, the Indo-Aryans created and perpetuated a much simpler and barbaric society. Only in the 5th century BC did post-tribal polities come into being.
More generally, the ancient intuition that the Golden Age lay in the past might not be unfounded. Many of the people whose mythologies we have were heirs of great past civilizations which were barely a memory.
If the late Neolithic societies were Arnor, the Yamnaya and their cousins were the Rohirrim.