Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Earliest Known Bit Associated with an...

ancient Canaanite donkey?  DONKEY?  Oh my!

But - we know that the earliest people living in ancient Egypt and the Near Middle East (including the Sumerians and Babylonians) did not have horses.  What they had were donkeys and onagers. It was the people known as the Hyksos (I think they may also have been called the Horse People) who invaded Lower Egypt (northern Egypt) and established their dynastic presence in that ancient land for about 100 years beginning in circa 1650 BCE that fueled the explosion of horses being brought into the ancient Near Middle East and Egypt in an explosion.  Before then, horses were a relatively rare and exotic commodity. The ancient Hurrians were "horse masters" and their claim to fame was sending trainers far away into foreign lands with the priceless horses, to teach the foreigners how to breed, raise and, most importantly, train these invaluable animals to pull chariots for the elite.  I believe that this was done at the time mostly through royal marriages, and Hurrian horse masters with the horses (originally brought in from the steppes and then tamed and bred) were part of precious royal doweries.

It was in about 1800 BCE, more or less, that the light-weight but extremely strong eight-spoked chariot wheel had been invented in the area of the world we now call Armenia, and this new invention spread like lightning through the known world at the time.  It was about 150 years later, more or less, that the Hyksos first roared into ancient Egypt to conquer Lower Egypt (north Egypt) and then spread their influence up the Nile River.  They were known as horse masters and has flash-fast war chariots driven by one or two expert charioteers in feather-weight and yet strong chariots with eight-spoked wheels...

They were the advanced war weapon of the day.

Without bits, of course, the ability to control a horse (or any equine), particularly at high speeds, would have been a hit-or-miss proposition...

Where's the bit?  Didn't see a photograph of it in the article.

Archaeologists discover earliest known metal bit

The earliest known metal equestrian bit has been unearthed by archaeologists in Israel. The bit was discovered in an equid burial site at Tel-Haror, and had probably been used on a donkey.

Archaeologists led by Professor Eliezer Oren, from Ben Gurion University, made the discovery in a layer of material dating from 1750 BC to 1650 BC, known as the Middle Bronze IIB Period. It is among a growing number of sites in the Near East yielding the remains of horses and donkeys.

Dr Joel Klenck, a Harvard University-educated archaeologist and president of the Paleontological Research Corporation, led analysis of the remains in the Tel-Haror site.  He said the burial site is at the base of a dome-shaped structure. The southeastern wall of the burial edifice was overlaid by a thick mudbrick partition that surrounded a nearby temple complex.

Klenck, an archaeologist specialising in the analysis of animal remains, noted the animal was a donkey, as evidenced by foot bone measurements and traits on the grinding surfaces of its teeth.
Klenck said the site yielded the earliest direct evidence of a metal equestrian bit.

“Until the excavation at Tel Haror, archaeologists had only indirect evidence for the use of bits,” he said. “An example of this indirect evidence is wear marks on equid teeth at the fortress of Buhen in contexts dating to the 20th century BC.  At Tel Haror, we retrieved the actual metal device.”

Round plates on either end of the ancient bit feature triangular spikes that pressured the lips of the equid if the reins were pulled from one direction.

He said the discovery provided important insights into ancient equestrian practices and methods of transportation in Near East.

Other discoveries in recent years in the Near East have painted a picture revealing the extensive use of donkeys and horses in ancient cultures.

The Vulture Stele, in Mesopotamia, dating to 2600BC to 2350BC, known as the Early Dynastic III period, portrays an equid pulling a chariot-like vehicle.  Various Mesopotamian manuscripts dating to this period mention the horse, donkey, hemione and hybrids such as the mule.

From Sumeria, terracotta reliefs from the early second millennium BC show equids pulling a chariot and a human riding horseback.

Hittite art from the 13th century BC, in modern Turkey, show a larger species of equid, perhaps a horse, pulling a chariot with three soldiers, in contrast to smaller equids in Egyptian murals pulling chariots with only two men.

Horse bones were found at Tell el-’Ajjul, in Israel, in contexts dated to around 3400BC and [WOW!], in Turkey, at Bogazkoy, from the 17th century BC.

Archaeologists excavated donkey remains at Tell Brak in Mesopotamia dating between 2580BC and 2455BC.

Egyptian donkey burials dating to 2000 BC to 1550 BC, known as the Middle Bronze II periods, include those found at Inshas, Tell el-Farasha, Tell el-Maskhuta, and Tell el-Dab’a.

From similar time periods in the Levant – the area including most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories – archaeologists have excavated donkeys at Tell el-’Ajjul and Jericho.

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