View Full Version : Prehistoric Eurasian Trade Routes

08-24-2012, 12:26 AM
[Link (http://www.archatlas.org/Trade/Trade.php?)]

Excellent resource. Covers the trade of Anatolian Obsidian, Lapis Lazuli and the growth of urban centres across West Eurasia.

The zonation of a world system

It is convenient to summarise the different kinds of economic activity and trading relationships described in the above examples in terms of some broad contrasts. After the genesis of urban systems in fourth-millennium Mesopotamia, the surrounding landmass came to be zonally differentiated in relation to the expanding urban communities. Nearby areas were fundamentally transformed by the kinds of activities taking place in the urban heartlands, and more distant regions were only indirectly affected. We may recognise the nature of these differences by regarding the urban heartlands themselves as the core of the system, the surrounding areas which supplied raw materials as their periphery, and the area only indirectly affected (by the spread of technologies, or the provision of small quantities of precious materials) as the margin. Together, these interacting elements make up what historians have come to describe as a world system: an inter-connected set of relationships whose components cannot be understood in isolation from the whole. The zonal labels are not absolute categories, but provide a framework for interpretation – systematising observable contrasts, rather than imposing an abstract theory. As the map of the Roman Empire shows, political entities may encompass both core and peripheral areas; indeed, the notion of "core" and "periphery" operates on several spatial scales, nested in a complex fractal relationship.

These kinds of distinction were first elaborated by historians dealing with the colonial expansion of European populations around the world from the sixteenth century onwards, when military superiority allowed native populations to be exploited and made these regions dependent on the imperial powers or their former colonial offshoots�a situation of relative under-development which has persisted into the post-colonial era. Such stark contrasts rarely obtained in earlier times, and more basic definitions are preferable, which could apply to a wider range of periods and circumstances. The description offered here is an attempt to provide such a formulation.

CORE: The urban area at the centre is characterised by bulk transfer of products, with manufacturing processes in specialised units on a scale which requires the concentration of materials, and the co-ordination of different groups in the cycle of production, distribution and consumption. Those who produce the goods are not necessarily those who will consume them. These long chains of relationships go beyond forms of organisation based on family and kinship.

PERIPHERY: This zone is still characterised by forms of production in which kin groups are important, but the system is geared to produce a surplus of raw materials for export, in return for the kinds of manufactured goods which cannot be produced locally. This export (and the import of desirable commodities) is typically organised by an elite who monopolise the benefits of such external exchange. Facilities are often defended, hence the occurrence of "hillforts" as characteristic types of site. This peripheral status is often a transitional one, as more advanced production techniques can be acquired to substitute locally-made products for expensive imports, and the area may join the wider network of urban communities. Polities within the core may resist this process, and attempt to incorporate the area into a system of territorial control, thereby prolonging its dependency on core facilities; otherwise, the area may achieve political independence and itself take on the characteristics of the core.

MARGIN: Although altered by the spread of technologies initiated in the core, the margin is not directly articulated with it by regular economic exchanges. Hence its structure is not fundamentally affected by the need to produce a surplus for export, although (where they occur) some valuable materials may be mobilised for transmission to consumers elsewhere. There may nevertheless be considerable diversity in the products which circulate within local networks, and a degree of social differentiation as a result of such internal exchanges. Most of these will be organised in units based on kinship, where social obligations are of fundamental importance.

The contrasts from the outer to the inner parts of the system can be summarised as a progressive disembedding of material transactions from kinship ties, as relationships become more indirect and with many steps within the chains linking production to consumption. The scale on which activities are organised progressively increases, as does the variety and organic interdependence of the constituent parts. Since flows of materials unite groups at very different levels of social and political organisation, particular features are found at the borders of zones: in particular, the core may articulate with its periphery by means of specialised trading settlements or "colonies", which may become unnecessary when a further degree of integration has been achieved.

This description does not imply any simple ideological or cultural dependence between the different zones, or any degree of cultural homogenisation; although certain values and consumption practices (e.g. wine-drinking) may spread along routes of contact (and, later on, many world-religions have spread in this way), these are often locally re-interpreted and may be used to construct alternative world-views and cultural patterns. Far from representing a passive "diffusion" of culture, these dialectical encounters have often magnified cultural contrasts – much as today's globalisation is accompanied by renewed nationalism and an emphasis on local roots and origins.

This series of spatial contrasts may be summarised in diagrammatic form in the following series of models, respectively presenting the role of the different zones, their typical settlement patterns and routes, and the social and economic structures which underlie them.


The most glaring observation below is the establishment of trade routes across both West and East Eurasia around 500 B.C., although the two worlds had not connected formally until several centuries later, when the Silk Road was founded by the Han Chinese dynasty and the Parthians of Iran: