15 November, 2009

Notes & Queries; Sledges

My observation that a 7000 year old LBK longhouse from Olszanica in Poland had 2 wide doors [right], prompted the question was it a cart shed? I think I satisfied myself, and my readers, it was not; it is simply too early. I somewhat reluctantly concluded that perhaps sledges were the possible explanation.

Well, that simply was not good enough for Martha, who edits this site, so in an interesting case of role-reversal, and she set off to consider this in much more detail.

And I am so glad she did.

Olszanica 6: A Sledge Shed?
By Martha Murphy

In regard to your “cart sheds” article, I think the wide doors on the Olszanica longhouse provided an entry to the space that housed the family sleigh. We should consider the practical importance of the sledge as a conveyance, and even a status symbol, at the time and place the Olszanica Longhouse was built. The door is wide enough to allow a yoked team of oxen to enter.

[Fig. 1] A Tennessee mountain man posing in the 1930s with his ox and mountain sledge

While we may associate dogsleds with the Inuit and the reindeer sleigh with Santa Claus, both types of vehicles have had wide use for 7000 years, in many parts of the world. Even so, sledges and sleds are often dismissed in half a sentence in histories of transportation, as the writer moves on to some theory of the invention of the wheel.

[Fig. 2 ] Logging sled in Michigan, USA, early 20th Century

Things that slip and slide

The terms sled, sledge, and sleigh are used somewhat interchangeably in English, although sledge and sleigh both carry a connotation of something larger than a sled. The common root of the English words is the Danish slaede, from the verb slee, "to slide." Traditionally the words sledge and sled/ slead were used in English, sleigh apparently being an American coinage of the early 1700s, after the Dutch brought the horse-drawn sleigh to America. In America today we typically think of a sleigh as a vehicle for people, a winter carriage.
[Fig. 3; Irish Slipes and Side-cars]
Many of us may think of sleds or sleighs as being useful only when there is snow. However, even today sleds or sledges are still used around the world, on soil as well as on snow. Even in Hawaii there is a legend about the goddess Pele and a sled.

Probably the concept of the sled occurred to the first hunter who dragged an animal home by its hind legs because it was too heavy to carry. Sledges have been used for at least 7000 years, and the wheel for only about 5500, so the sledge definitely had its day and is due a measure of respect.

The travois, a temporary sled used by some of the American Indians, could be fashioned quickly from the family’s tipi poles and cover when it was time to move, and pulled by either humans or dogs. A travois could serve as a litter for carrying toddlers or an elderly or injured person as well as the household goods. Two of the tent poles are bound together – this forms the end of the travois that drags on the trail. The loose ends of the poles are held in the hands or tied together with a leather band to form a yoke for pulling. A hide or lacing across the V-shape formed by the poles holds the load. Before the Indians had horses, a dog was sometimes used to pull a travois.
[Fig 4] An Irish slide car, early 1900s, used for hauling farm produce
The prehistory of the sledge
Sleds or sledges were known in northern Europe by the Mesolithic period. At the Vis I site in the northern plain of Russia, a number of Mesolithic wooden artifacts dating to 7000 BC were found in a peat bog. The artifacts included both a ski carved with the head of an elk and a sledge runner. (Gramsch and Kloss 1985) A better known (and more controversial) example, the Heinola sledge runner, was apparently dated by pollen analysis to 8000 BC (Clarke 1975). Autio (1987) suggested, however, that the Heinola “runner” is actually the bottom covering of a birch-bark boat. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too distracted by details: Once the concept of the ski and the technology for building a birch bark boat were both in the human mind, could the invention of the sled have been far behind? In fact, a one-runner sled in a Norway museum looks very much like a boat.
[Fig. 5] A boat-like sled from Norway may have been pulled by dogs or reindeer
Lahelma (2008) describes rock paintings in Finland that show ships or boats with elk heads on the prows, continuing the elk theme of the Vis ski. Similar elk motifs are shown in rock art from the Urals to Finland. Since these ship paintings resemble sleds, it may be that the elk theme was carved on sleds as well until such time as reindeer were domesticated and trained as draft animals.

The very earliest sleds or sledges were no doubt either pulled or pushed by humans. Professor Nishimura Asahitaro of Waseda University, Japan (late 1960s?), wrote extensively of the use of wooden mud sleds, upon which the user kneels and pushes with one foot, for fishing on the coasts of East Asia. According to Nishimura, similar sleds were used on the coasts of the Netherlands, France, and Britain into the early 20th Century for harvesting shellfish. There are one-runner sleds as well as two-runner sleds.

Wenzel (2008) wrote of the use by the Inuit of Baffin Island of whale mandibles as sled runners, attested by William Parry on his visit in 1821. Since Stopp and Kunst (2005) describe the use of cattle mandibles as sled runners in the settlement of Basel-Gasfabrik, Switzerland, 150–70/80 BC and in the eastern part of Mautern-Favianis in Lower Austria in the First -- Fourth Centuries CE, it is not inconceivable that the mandibles, tusks, or ribs of large mammals such as the wooly mammoth may have been used as sled runners by the hunters of Europe even during the last glaciation. But that is conjecture.

According to Clark (1975), the size the Heinola sled runner suggests animal traction. Childe (1937) argued for the use of the dogsled as early as 6300 BC. More conservatively, Lamb (1977) claimed, “Sledges are known to have been used from quite early postglacial times, and by 2000 BC, heavy sledges up to 4 m long, drawn by dogs, were in use from Finland to the Urals. Reindeer sledges had reached the Baltic by 1000 BC.”
These dates are subsequent to the proven use of oxen as draught animals. It seems more likely that the dog, the first domesticated animal, was also the first traction animal, but this has not been proved. The next domesticated animal after the dog may have been the bezoar goat, domesticated in the Middle East about 8000 BC, according to one source. These goats were later used as draft animals and are shown in pictures from the Middle East pulling carts; goats may have pulled plows and sledges as well. The Norse god Odin was said to have ridden in a chariot pulled by two goats. Sheep, another animal domesticated early, have been used as draft animals in some locales.

[Fig. 6] These loggers used a sled in the Pacific Northwest of the USA
in the late 19th or early 20th Century

Although the invention and use of wheeled vehicles seems to be a most fascinating topic for writers, the sledge actually has some advantages over the wagon or cart, even when used on earth, sand or grass instead of snow. For one thing, the use of carts and wagons is almostdependent upon built roads, and maintaining roads requires a large investment of energy – it is a community, rather than an individual project.

[Fig. 7] In the early 20th Century a Kentucky farmer harvests sorghum cane, using a mule and a sledge. His son may have been a little backward.
Also, until iron wheel rims were invented, wooden cart wheels and axles would not have lasted long if used to carry very heavy loads. Pictures from the time of the pharaohs of Egypt show sturdy sledges being used to carry the large stones from which the pyramids were constructed. These sledges were built from heavy beams, using mortice and tenon joints, like the ones in Geoff's roundhouses. Similar sledges were likely used to carry stones for the stone circles and other megalithic monuments in Europe, either with or without the use of log rollers under the sledges.

According to Wikipedia, “The end of the Younger Dryas has been dated to around 9620BC (11,550 calendar years BP, occurring at 10,000 radiocarbon years BP, a "radiocarbon plateau") by a variety of methods, with mostly consistent results…” The pre-Boreal warming trend that followed the glaciation in Europe made the sledge an ideal vehicle. The British Islands were at the time contiguous with the European mainland, and reindeer herders roamed Doggerland, what is now the Dogger Banks. As the North Sea gradually rose, Doggerland became a land of lakes and marshes. In what was to become England, as in Doggerland, marshes replaced frozen tundra. First birches, then pines, began to grow. Most skis and sled runners in early Scandinavia were made of pine. Use of the sled or sledge might have transferred from snow to mudflats and bogs.

It was into this landscape that the first farmers of England came, very likely bringing draft animals and sledges.
[Fig. 8] Pictograms [right] found on clay tablets in Mesopotamia seem to show the evolution of the cart from the sledge.
The Atlantic climate period, beginning about 6000 BC in England, was the warmest climate in post-glacial times. Mixed forest began to develop and peat bogs began to form. Farmers moved into England, bringing livestock with them, building stockades, timber tracks, and, later, causewayed enclosures. The longhouses at Elsloo and Olszanica were built around 5000 BC. The culture of the early farmers of England was related to that of the Netherlands and Poland, where sleds are known to have been used.
Now we need to take a leap of faith, because it’s hard to find documentation of sleds and sledges in Europe between the time of the dog- or reindeer-drawn sleds of the Mesolithic (6300 BC) and the ox-drawn sledges of the Neolithic (3200 BC). Perhaps the evidence is there, but has been taken for granted.

Animal powered farming
The earliest known evidence of draft animals in Europe is attested at Cucuteni-Trypillian sites in the Ukraine, dated to between 4000 and 2750 BC. Bulls’ heads and oxen are frequent motifs in Trypillian artifacts, and clay models of sledges combined with ox figures are found.
[Fig. 9] Trypillian ox sledge model. The oxen seem to be between the runners. Could such clay models have been used to demonstrate and spread new ideas in technology? Or is this an abstraction of a familiar sight?

The models of ox drawn sledges show the predecessor for the wheeled cart – a wagon-box on sled runners. Thus the inventor of the wheel and axle had something already in mind to which he would attach the assembly.

The ox sledges of the Ukraine were also prototypes for what we think of, in English, as a sleigh, a winter carriage for people. The Trypillia people eventually had domesticated horses and used them with wheeled carts, but they continued to use the sleigh as well, because it was practical in ways that the wheeled vehicle was not. A google search on the terms "peasant sledge" will produce the necessary evidence from history and folk lore.

Bogucki (1993) argued convincingly that the cattle in the Neolithic farming economy of Europe included oxen by 3500 BC, noting evidence at Bronocice in SE Poland (ca 3500--3000 BC) that, of the cattle bones that could be sexed, the bones of castrated males (oxen) accounted for 20%. Although actual wagons have not been found there, a pottery vessel from Bronocice shows a depiction of a wheeled wagon. A part of Bogucki’s argument that animals were used for draft in Neolithic Europe:
Almost no societies keep livestock which can potentially yield secondary products and traction only for their meat. The return on this 'investment' can come in a variety of currencies: security, prestige, wealth, dowry, alliances, secondary animal products and -- ultimately -- meat."

Cattle are unique among these species in their strength, which can be harnessed and converted into animal traction. In discussions of the SPR [secondary products revolution], animal traction is rightly treated as another secondary product, alongside milk and wool. Yet there is a crucial distinction. Meat, milk and wool are raw materials for food and clothing, for which the animal converts nutrient energy into a material, a relatively inefficient process by the time that the humans use these materials. Animal traction, in concentrating and exploiting nutrient energy, replaces human labour directly and expands what humans can do. The energy return to humans from animal traction follows a different pathway, suggesting that the relationship between humans and animals used for traction will also be different, even if the latter are ultimately consumed at the end of their useful lives".

Where does this leave cattle? Cattle simply do not make sense as an investment for meat alone or only as insurance against agricultural deficits, particularly in an agricultural system in which the household was the primary productive unit. Cattle take almost 4 years to reach their optimal meat weight. Cows and draught oxen have productive lives up to a decade. For a Neolithic household, the investment made in a cow, bull or ox would have had a different character and purpose from that made in a sheep, goat or pig, Cattle would have been for the long term, to be liquidated only when their value began to decline or in emergency".

“The emergence of animal traction in the 4th millennium BC would have provided the missing element which made male cattle valuable beyond their 4th birthday. The birth of a male calf promised a long productive life, rather than a passing windfall of meat four years hence.”

I believe it is likely that oxen were used as draft animals with plows and sledges both before and after the wheel and axle assemblage was known. Oxen, cattle, horses, donkeys, and mules are still being used with sledges in many parts of the world today.

Threshing with Sledges
Anderson’s (1997) work on the history of the threshing sled provides support for this contention. According to a Wikipedia article,
[Fig. 10] Threshing sledge of the Near East, artist unknown

Patricia C. Anderson … discovered archaeological remains that demonstrate the existence of threshing-boards at least 8,000 years old in the Near East and Balkans. The artefacts are lithic flakes and, above all obsidian or flint blades, recognizable through the type of microscopic wear that it has.”

A threshing board is a type of sled or sledge made of a heavy board or boards turned up at the front end and studded on the underside with sharp bits of obsidian or metal. Pulled in circles over harvested cereal crops spread on a threshing floor, the device will separate the grain from its husks and straw.

Although a threshing board could be weighted with stones and pulled by humans, the earliest depictions show it being pulled by draft animals. To add weight to the sled, the driver often would ride on it while it was in use. Traditional threshing sledges were made with flint chips and used in Corsica into the 20th Century. In Latin a threshing sledge is a tribulum, from which comes the English word tribulation, often used in the King James Bible.
[Fig.11 ] These traditional threshing boards show the construction and the underside, studded with bits of obsidian.
Threshing boards or sledges appear on sandstone tablets from the mid-4th Millenium BC in Kish, and in cuneiform clay tablets from around 3000 BC. A pre-Sargonic text from southern Mesopotamia, DP 75, records a list of material goods presented by Lugalanda, governor of Lugash, to his son Ur-tarsirsira, when the latter’s wife, Ninenishe, was buried, according to Steinkeller, quoted by Potts (1997), the valued items interred with Ninenishe included a boxwood threshing sledge, a team of she-mules, and a slave girl, along with many personal and household items.

[Fig. 12 ] Impression found in Turkey, made with a cylinder seal
At Arslantepe-Malatya in central Turkey, in an archaeological layer dated by dendochronology to 3374 BC, an impression of a cylinder seal showing a threshing sledge was found. The main figure is seated on a chair or throne on the sled under a shade made of cloth, while a walking person drives the donkey or mule pulling the sled. A wall painting at the same site shows a similar scene, where a seated figure rides on a sledge drawn by a pair of oxen.

The Wikipedia article states,

In that era, the threshing-board was a sophisticated and expensive implement, built by specialized artisans, using pieces of flint or obsidian; in the case of Lower Mesopotamia, these were imported from far away: in the alluvial plateau of Sumer, as in all south of Mesopotamia, it was impossible to find stone, not even a pebble.”
The clear importance of sledges in ancient Egypt is worthy of explanation. Sledges served important ceremonial functions as well as being used to haul stone blocks for building. Decorated tekenus (ceremonial sledges) are shown in ancient paintings being used to carry the sarcophagi in funeral processions. In some instances, the sarcophagus itself was made with runners.
[Fig. 13 ] Threshing with an ox and sledge in modern times, Middle East

One of the most important of the early Egyptian gods of the afterlife was Seker, a deity who in later years came to be assimilated into the more well-known god Osiris. According to Wikipedia, Seker was:

“the deification of the act of separating the Ba and Ka from the Ha, roughly the separation of soul from the body, after death.” [author's note: like the Grim Reaper]

Seker was a sun-god, but also a power of darkness, so he came to be identified with the night sun. His kingdom was the sandy desert to the west of Cairo, so his sacred bark or boat, known as the Seker boat or Hennu boat, was depicted as being moved on a sledge (like a ship on the way to its launching). The Seker boat represented the second half of the sun's daily journey, through the Underworld. At times the boat was identified with Seker himself.

In the Pyramid Texts of Unas (PT 214, 138c) one of the steps the deceased had to take, after leaving his property to his heir and purifying himself, was:

You will descend on ropes of bronze, in the arms of Horus as his name is ‘Being in the Hennu bark.’ ” “On the holiday of the god Seker, a stone—possibly a representation of the god—was put on the Hennu boat and pulled with a sled over the fields, while people followed it wearing garlands of onions.”

The sledge icon in the funeral rites of Egypt may be representative of this Seker/Hennu boat, which will carry the deceased through the Underworld. A huge cemetery in the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, Sakkara, is named for Seker.
Twilight technology
Internet sources are strangely lacking on the more recent history of the sleigh in Russia, Poland and Scandinavia, except for an amusing description of an antique sleigh on an Internet auction;
Russian sledge with wicker body. There are place for passengers and for driver. Was drawled by one horse but on the holidays like Maslenitsa or wedding ceremonies sledge were drawled with three richly decorated horses, into the body of sledge a bright fabric and furs were put. This sledges are made such a way that from the side they look like a swan. Skid are made of bent oak. The body is made from wicked branches. Sledge are after conservation so it could be exhibit in wet place. Sledge in Russia since the 9 century were the favorite kind of transport. Till the 18 century Russian tsars and clergy made turn-out only on sledge because it was honorable. Till the Peter the Great times because of the bad conditions of road people in cities used sledge till beginning of summer. And in the North regions where are plenty of bogs peasants used sledge during the hole year till the beginning of 20 century.” [Fig. 14 above ]
[Fig. 15 ] The Russian troika is pulled by three horses.

Now with these multiple uses made of the sledge in all the places touched by the Neolithic Revolution, it seems likely that the farmers of Olszanica, so near to Bronocice, used both draft animals and sledges.

[Fig. 16] Carved wooden sledge from Scandinavia
The essential design of four sledges or sleighs found in the Oseburg Viking ship burial (ca AD 835) is like sleighs used today. The Viking sleighs are richly carved, lending credence to the idea that sleighs and sledges were highly valued.
I think your “cart shed” was very likely a place to store the family sleigh, or possibly a variety of sledges for different purposes, some probably carved and painted, as befits such important items.
Postscript by Geoff Carter.

I will confess some degree of disappointment when I realised that the wide doors could not be for a cart, just a sledge then; It was one of those “. . .the coffin turned out not to be gold, but only silver after all . .” archaeology moments!
It strange how snobby we can get about technology. But it is time to take sledges seriously!
[Fig.17 ] Passengers taking a sledge seriously

I think it is important consider sledges, powered by draught animals as a separate adaptation of animal domestication, quite distinct from wheeled carts and wagons. After all, what is a plough but a badly functioning sledge runner!
Anyone who has worked in farming will know that the repetitive daily tasks offer plenty of opportunity to contemplate efficiencies. In a European mixed farming context, separating domesticated animals, kept for meat and dairy, from their use in some form of traction, appears almost counter-intuitive.

While sledges are simple and intuitive, we soon encounter one the deeper truths of archaeology; most of the past is invisible to us, and evidence for material culture based on wood is frustratingly rare.

The use of sledges for threshing is interesting technology, and, for me, perhaps the most significant point Martha raises. It is vital, as archaeologists, we ask some basic questions that arise from other assertions; if a culture grew wheat, how cultivated and processed?
I simply don’t know whether threshing boards are represented in lithic assemblages, or even whether this has been considered.

However, for structural archaeologists studying buildings, crop processing must be regarded as an important potential function. The further north agriculture spread, the less the weather could be relied upon, and buildings would become more important for processes like threshing and winnowing.

In terms of Olszanica Longhouse 6, I am now more than happy to apply the term 'sledge shed' to the these spaces. The width of the door still seems to implies use of two draught animals, probably oxen. So if we assume sledges drawn by single animals at an earlier date, our wide entrance may imply the introduction of some form of double yoke.
Thanks to Martha for this thought provoking research.

Sources and further reading

Sleds, sledges and sleighs references:
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Anderson, P.C. (1997): History of Harvesting and Threshing Techniques for Cereals in the Prehistoric Near East, http://www.bioversityinternational.org/publications/Web_version/47/ch08.htm (accessed 11/7/09)
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Illustrations [after]:
[1] Tennessee mountain sled: Tennessee State Library & Archives
[2] Crew with a loaded sled, Minnesota:
http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/troufs/Buffalo/images/pf019223.jpg (accessed 11/13/09)
[3] Irish slypes and slide cars: Evans (1957, 2000)
[4] Slide-car with peat-kish, Glens of Antrim: Evans (1957, 2000) figs 59&59
[5] Boat sled:http://www.flickr.com/photos/urville_djasim/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://www.flickr.com/photos/urville_djasim/3604956938/]
[6] Loggers with horse-drawn sled carrying cut logs, location unknown, probably Pacific Northwest, n.d. University of Washington Libraries, http://content.lib.washington.edu/index.html (accessed 11/13/09)
[7] Kentucky cane sled: Library of Congress
[8] Sumerian development of the wheel: James and Thorpe (1994)
[9]the Trypillia ox sled model
[10] Diego Rivera, The Threshing Sledge:
[11] After; Bottom of threshing-board: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshing-board (accessed 11/7/09) and Top of threshing-board, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threshing-board (accessed 11/7/09)
[12] Cylinder Seal impression showing threshing with a sledge, Arslantepe-Malatya (Turkey), 4th millennium B.C,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cilindro-sello_trillo.png (accessed 11/7/09)
[13] Threshing at Heliopolis-1884.jpg,
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Threshing_at_Heliopolis-1884.jpg (accessed 11/7/09)
[14]The wicker sleigh from the Larusse auction:
[15] Traditional troika: About.com,
http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/russia/ss/russianculture_7.htm (accessed 11/13/09)
[16] Carved Russian Sleigh: Library of Congress
[17] .Spike Milligan Transports of delight. Penguin ISBN 0140040560


Anonymous said...
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DDeden said...

That is quite a thorough review! (I too learned something new about threshing.) It sure seems sensible that the wide entryways could have been for a sled/sledge/sleigh. Enjoyed the 'tour'.

Geoff Carter said...

Martha did a good job, it does make you think.

Incidentally, there is some nice model sledges associated with the Neolithic Tripolye culture in Rumania, [west of Trypillian culture]. [Clark G., Piggott S., 1965, Prehistoric Societies, fig. 68,p 234.]

anna keleher said...

I enjoyed this research on sledges. I am an artist discovering creativity/ prehistoric ecologies through contemporary experimental practice.

I once found an old threshing board with flints still in it on a rubbish heap outside a tiny Spanish village. I didn't pick it up but finding it has really shaped the way I think about the movement of cultures. The memory of the sled is everywhere to be seen. I made a sled for my mobile phone, see photo on my Geopark artists blog.
Anna Keleher.com

Geoff Carter said...

Thanks for the comment, Martha did all the work. Threshing sledges are very much a forgotten technology, seldom considered by archaeologists, I did not know they were still in use in recent times.
BTW. I like your photos; you have a good eye for an image.

Paul from Sledges Shop said...

Wow, fascinating article.And I thought sledges were just for the snow.

Geoff Carter said...

Thanks Paul,
Martha's article really opened my eyes, I think, like many archaeologists, I had overlooked the utilitarian aspects, and sheer practical simplicity of sledges.

Anonymous said...

a bit of think-linking:

key(way), ski, keel, wheel
wedge; papyrus-collecting cane-canoe/rush-raft/sedge-sledge, (suph/tsuf/chufa/kufa), kufa also name for Iraqi roundboats)

cutter from caestr, sledge from slash of cane & mud, mud of Nile is very 'greasy'

Geoff Carter said...

Thanks Anon,
Very interesting observation, is a sledge a boat for land?

DDeden said...


I've been looking at pulled vehicles, sled(ge), cart, plow, boat, trying to see if they were all pulled by dogs before larger beasts were domesticated.

Yes, a pulq is a land/snow boat

Geoff Carter said...

Hi DDeden
Interesting project, dogs might enjoy it !

From my archaeological point of view; Sled [and Boat] yes, no reason why not.
However, I view plough / cart are part of the 'package' along with cattle [oxen]; I cannot see a time when there was a need for ploughing when we had not oxen [& people] to do it.
I think in areas where there no draught animals, crops tend to be dug in manually.

DDeden said...

Interestingly the Egyptian word for sledge = TM, while the Eskimo word for dogsled = komaTiM and the Cree word for sled dog = aTiMwa

(Also: Egyptian TSM/tesem = dog)

see 1st photo & note on TM:

Oddly, the pulk(u) (Finnish) sledboat fits with Tigris R. qupha (bowlboat/coracle), different from aTiM.

DDeden said...

Does tekenu mean sacrificial victim or ceremonial sledge?

Geoff Carter said...

Martha wrote the text, so I can't comment on tekenus.
[As a Dyslexic Language definately something I leave to others].
I do see a difference in technology between sledges as a pair of runners, and boats or others forms with a material stretched over a frame.
Neolithic Tigris has hides and bitumen, which may have developed a more organic covering.

Intriguing idea about the ancient use of dog sleds...

DDeden said...

Per Greg Reeder, Egyptologist, a tekenu was a shaman (shem priest) who went into a trance to visit the spirit world to prepare the deceased for entry & mummification.

http://www.egyptology.com/reeder/enigma/tekenu1.html (click on pic)

So there is an element of transportation involved, I don't know if the sled represented that. (Eskimo shaman also took virtual 'journeys'.)

TM/atim sledge (from travois?) with runners/skis [assoc. w/ Amer. snow-shoes (from basketed sandal)]


pulku/cuph sledboat with rounded bottom [assoc. w/ Euro. snow-skis/bone-skates]

Geoff Carter said...

I wonder if there is a root for slip, slide, or scate as a verb?

DDeden said...

It relates in various ways:
pottery bottlery boatery slithery glaze/clay/glued/glide/slide/sledge/slough/slip/ski:ff/ship/skate/scarp/scalp (cutting+sliding=shaving)

pulku is (either/both) pull or bowl (and possibly root of politic), but derives from earlier mongolu (Congo pygmy dome hut) as does wheel (PIE) kweklo & circle (Chinese) gulu. Its all connected!

Not sure about atim/TM links though, possibly tram(ple)/trail; very likely (dog/horse)TeaM(ster).

DDeden said...

By the way, I'm wondering if postholes (initially to secure dome huts in my opinion) became solar alignments and thus the origin of calenders. (Mayan calender tsolkin = socket)

Geoff Carter said...

While I am out of my depth in linguistics, I have views about posts.
Generally, Posts denote rigid frame architecture, while stakes denote flexible woven structures,[big baskets] these are distinct separate and different technologies.
[See Kennedy & Carter Forthcoming !].
Quite happy with sockets - permanent holes in which markers can be placed and removed, a good way of plotting things.

Martha said...

Enjoyed the comments. I think the Inuit and Cree words might well be linked. If the Egyptian and Inuit words are connected, sledges do go way back in prehistory!

In my thinking, the "idea" for sledges and sleds is very much connected with boats and snow. They are boats for land. They float, slip and slide across snow, sand or mud the way a boat floats across water. We know that the aboriginal people reached Australia by boat or raft some 40K years ago, but we have never seen a boat or raft from that time. Sleds may go that far back as well.

We should keep in mind that everything was more labor-intensive in the past. Thus lumber, once cut, would be reused as many times as possible, and would eventually end up on the log heap for the fire, which is probably one reason so few wooden artifacts survive.

It just occurred to me while re-reading the article that the "elk" carved on sledges and sleds in the past may have been reindeer. I believe the term "elk" in Europe denotes what we in America would call a "moose." Mature caribou antlers are sometimes spatulate, similar to those of a moose. (See the picture at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caribou.jpg.


DDeden said...


I meant earliest postholes were simply where flexible branches/saplings/poles were jabbed or "drilled" into soft soil to anchor them as they were woven (triangularly) into a dome form. Structural rigidity only occurred when the dome frame was finished. This long precedes rigid post/beam building and also long precedes use of stakes to hold tensional materials (skin/cloth/rope).

DDeden said...


I think pulku = pull cup(ha), and ari/ati/anji/ambuli/mobili = (thing) puller/mover.

I fuse them into *pul-qu-pha-ari-golu = kom-ati-m = m-ari-anu (Hittite chariot teams?) derived from a woven dome/bowl (pitched or greased-skinned) coracle pulled by ari ridgeback dogs over deep sloughs or punted by poles in shallows. c-ari-bou

Geoff Carter said...

Sorry, I was just being a bit overzealous about terminology - stakes and posts being distinct different things.

DDeden said...

I found a word for threshing sled, I think Egyptian, dogen (with a small u above the g).

The shaggy Tibetan 'terrier' was called the dokhi apso(dog), related to the Maltese kelb tal fennek dog.

In old English a dog was docga ("dow-ja"), in Turkish kopek, in Russian soтобогган and (Canadian)Mi'kmaq: tepaqan.

In Turkish, a sled = kizakbaka, similar to tobaggan , a dog sled = köpek kızağı, a threshing sled = döven (also for beat/flail)

DDeden said...

the 3rd & 4th sentences of my message got a bit scrambled.

dog (Old Eng) docga
dog (Russian) sobaka
dog (Turkish) kopek
dog (Tibet) dokhi apso

sled (Mi'kmaq) tepaqan/tobagan

thresh sled (Turkish) doven
thresh sled (Egypt?) dogen

Geoff Carter said...

So, the next question is how do we understand the use and domestication of dogs as sled pullers?
i.e. How long have we been using Huskies?
. .. and how do you detect this archaeologically?

DDeden said...

Just noticed the similarity between tobaggan and sobaka(Rus dog), clearly the same root, probably same as doc(a?)ga(Eng dog) which seems close to dokhi(Tib).

Here's a note I wrote elsewhere:
•Canids: dogs, coyotes and wolves.
•All dogs and coyotes have a recursive jaw, only the Tibetan wolf shares this trait.
•All wolves have a tail gland (for pheromone scent trail) that is not in dogs. Dogs have up-curled tails, wolves keep their tails down.
•Wolves have annual estrus, primitive dogs share this (Basenji, Ridgeback, Austl dingo, American dingo), other dogs don't.
8ka dogs and pigs (China) were kept/cooped as food sources, fed mostly grain-farm refuse and thus evolved multiplied amylase enzyme
production (as did humans, for starch consumption), this is not found in wolves, dingos or huskies.
•Tibetan wolves live on Himalayan
mountains, which extend easterly to the Cambodian Cardamom Mtn range, which extends south to the (S/D)amrei (elephant) Mtn/hills which extend offshore to PhuQuoc island (called 99 peaks), where woven bowlboat corracles are used in shallows offshore for fishing and nocturnal squid (with a
torchlamp set on a tripod above the coracle, like a tipi skeleton, possibly the original
sailing vessel, note similarity of tipi/tibet/steep/tepe/depth).
•Oldest dog fossils 31-33ka (Altai, Siberia & Belgium, Europe), and possibly Malaya Siya in Siberia 35ka.
•Papua, Australia, Borneo lacked dogs until about 5ka, while Cambodia had dogs at a much earlier date. "Dog-people" went
north (China, India, Amerind, etc.).

Geoff Carter said...

Are you suggesting himalayas between N India / South China as the origin of domestic canines?
Also how do they make the skin of traditional coracles in Indonesia?

DDeden said...

As I see it, probably a pack of Tibetan wolves about 130ka arrived at Phu Quoc island (just south of Kampot town, Cambodia) from the Himalayas, and became an isolated sub-species, which over time lost the tail gland (no more long distance daily territoreal jaunts where scent is deposited by both urine and tail brushing against low vegetation). By the time humans arrived by about 40ka, the wolf-dogs had become a bit like dodo birds, naive & friendly, even at maturity (unlike tamed wild wolves).
I haven't seen any Indonesian coracles, just dugout canoes. In Tibet, they cover the willow frame with a buttered yak skin; in North Dakota, the Mandan used a willow frame covered with a bison bull pelt (they also used this 'bull boat' to cover their chimney hole on cold winter nights); in India, they weave hexagonal frame of bamboo then paint pitch on the hull (also in Vietnam & Phu Quoc island).

Geoff Carter said...

Thanks, that is interesting; Indian Coracles appear to follow Mesopotamian tradition; the use of buffalo is
significant, as this is not a domestic animal.

DDeden said...

AmerIndian Mandan coracles used bison=wisent hides.

Some (East) Indians raise semi-domestic buffalo to milk (it is greenish-white), I don't know for certain if their hides are used in coracles, but the ones I've seen in India are hexagonal woven bamboo with pitch (like Vietnam), not hides. In Iraq (cattle?) & Tibet (buttered yak) hides are used.

I was very surprised to see a photo of a hex. woven coracle in Brazil used by natives, as well as a hex. woven canopy on a long canoe. I don't know if that was truly indigeonous, if so, it might indicate a continuous tradition that I haven't seen anywhere in the new world.

I consider both bear-skin and mammoth hides to have been plausibly used (for boats and huts) in the temperate/polar realm, like the eskimo walrus-split-hide umiak boat.

Geoff Carter said...

Most interesting; I must admit I thought that coracles might be a Neolithic - clearly that was not the case.
One interesting snippet; in the account of the Caesar's Civil War, his forces in Spain, without wood for a bridge, build coracles, in the manner he had seen in Britain.

DDeden said...

I could be wrong, but the evidence and logic indicate ancient paleo-coracles existed long before longboats, crafted rafts and dugout canoes; which eventually replaced the coracle due to far improved lateral movement as punts, paddles and oars developed. A tripod/tipi top allowed a sheet/skin to function (poorly) as a sail, a yoked dog (pair) could pull it in still deep water but not far.

A bear skin could be a rug or a dome-hut doorway flap (sc-)rolled around a door post or hung from a lintel beam like a flag/banner. That would explain why bear & gate(way) seem to share a ling. root. (arcade/arctos/arets/arch/yr arth). This could have preceded proper tents, sails, vellum and hide-bound coracles.

A crew stranded in the straits of Magellen made & used a coracle in Darwins time.

dustbubble said...

Oldest hint of frame/skin (of whatever nature, animal or arboreal) watercraft in the Isles is still, I think, Trevor Watkins's FV/Beaker burials from Fife
Which are also seen at Corbridge, as you know, and Ferriby. He makes the point that these 'corpse-buckets' are (which is what they are, if they're not boats) in every respect of dimension and lofting, indistinguishable from Welsh coracles, as opposed to the curraghs of The Other Island.

DDeden said...

Ox-hide covered "boat" funeral caskets buried in Tarim Basin China with oar-like (male grave) and punt-like (female grave) grave markers (with tartan-style fabric also found at Urumchi). I think these were oval or row-boat form.

I associate long knives, long boats, rectilinear long houses and head chopping (territoreal punishment) with pigs, dogs and mixed grain (rice, booze etc.), maybe 10ka in East & SE Asia. This culture stage would have replaced/dominated coracle/dome hut camps. I don't find coracles in China, but women in Shianghai would float out to Brit ships in wooden-plank wash-baskets (half-barrel?). [plank ~ flense ~ long blade=planed wood/flesh, vellum screen/script/sail]

DDeden said...

I don't know the etym. of Corbridge, but it may fit this pattern: Corwyc-bridge or Corbie-stepped-(stone?)bridge (corbeled); less likely but possible corbit/orbit(of buzzards/birds)/obit(uary)/corvid=crow=scavenger/coil-curl-coloa(Aztec)-Zoroa(sterian = Parsee) method of corpse recycling setting body for birds/jackals, then perhaps burying the bones in a leather wrap/cup. (Jason & Argonauts saw tree-hung sacks of corpses at Colchis, Georgia).

Squared planked flat-bottom coracles are obviously more recent, older ones tended to roundness.

DDeden said...

sorry, I missed one:
[plank ~ flense ~ long blade=paddle/planed wood/flesh-pelage-filem/film/vellum/skin screen/script/sail]
in reference to using long blades flay/machete/hatchet/machado(Port)/nachat(Yiddish)=flesh knacker(E)/nacatl(Aztec)/Kanaka(Malay-Polynesian Sumba whale flensers). Noah may have had a coracle ark, but Jonah had belly of a whale shark.(liver oil)

DDeden said...

re. "7000 year old LBK longhouse from Olszanica in Poland had 2 wide doors"

I wonder if they watched springtime/autumn "films" thru the doorway... ie. hand puppet shows performed by a hidden showman/shaman behind a greased skin/sheet/screen backlit by a candelabra/qidlic(Eskimo)/tlapa(Aztec)/lumenaura/menora(Hebrew) as I saw the Ramayana in Malaya.

winter: bear pelt/peeled - fur(lap/flap/flag)/drape/warmwrap

spring/fall: greased bear skin-(fur scraped off for pillow fluff)/sheen-shine-sheet-show

summer: burlap/nettle woven bug-netting hung from doorway

Chris said...


I've come across your site while trying to research an old sleigh (in need of serious restoration). Would it be possible to email you a photo to see if you or anyone else can identify it? My email address is (pepres at gmail.com)Many thanks Chris

DDeden said...

Mudflat sledge/skipper