Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bronze Age Long Distance Trade In Europe

Dienekes' Anthropology blog notes three papers showing imports of early Nordic Bronze Age metals from as far as Cyprus, in exchange for amber making its way as far as the Mycenaean Greeks. 

Maju, in turn, gives these papers a more critical analysis looking at them in a wider archaeological context in light of additional data points.  He emphasizes the likely intermediate role played by Iberians in these long trade connections (perhaps as the hub with the Scandinavian and Eastern Mediterranean connections as the ends of spokes of the network).  He notes the problems with a chronology that gives the Nordic Bronze Age a Mycenaean source (the Nordic Bronze age begins two hundred years before the Nordic Bronze Age and this part of the link is thinner than the abstracts to the papers would suggest). 

Maju also tempers the implications of the papers suggesting that the Minoans did not engage in East-West trade in the Mediterranean and that this connections was made for the first time by the Mycenaeans, even though it does appear that the Minoans may not have been part of the Eastern Mediterrean-Iberian bronze for Nordic amber trade route that these papers have documented.  He also makes the useful observation that any trade in copper must also have involved trade in tin when the end products traded were bronze artifacts and that the papers are silent about the source of the tin in these artifacts even though they do identify the sources of the copper.

Also, Maju notes the spread culture specific symbols (in particular four interlocking spirals) of not entirely certain cultural origins in this network.  This provide a parallel line of evidence to explain the connections that helps to discriminate between alternative theories concerning the nature of the trade links joining the end points of the Southern Sweden to Greece and Cyprus.  He also notes that important timing of the appearance of Greek cultural influences in Iberia which coincides with the earliest evidence of this pan-European Bronze Age trade network.

While Maju's analysis casts serious doubt on the naive implications of these three papers, his criticism is constructive and does a great deal to illuminate an alternative visions of the way that distant cultures in Bronze Age Europe interacted economically and via cultural contact in this era. 

A naive reading of the three papers could easily lead to my first impression which was that this link might be powerful evidence that the Indo-European Germanic language and peoples are directly derived from the Indo-European Mycenaeans.  These cultures, respectively, are the first attested Indo-European cultures in their respective geographic locations.  Prior to reading these papers, it had not been clear to me, at least, that the first half of the Nordic Bronze Age was culturally (and presumably linguistically) Germanic at all (for the second half of the Nordic Bronze Age this is much more clear).  A first read of the paper suggested, astoundingly, that the Germanic languages might actually be derived from ancient Greek.  Closer inspection, aided by Maju's analysis, has largely dismissed that theory as implausible, and muddied the waters as to whether the early Nordic Bronze Age peoples of Southern Sweden really were Indo-European at all (which is the view with which I had started).  But, these new papers do show that there really was a regular pan-European maritime trade network in existence as far back as 1500 BCE, along the Southern coast of Europe and all of the way up the Atlantic coast to the Baltic Sea.

Maju's Iberio-centric suggestion that copper and tin mines in Iberia may well have formed the principal source of metal production for this trade network and that it may have been its hub (perhaps indeed even providing a source for Plato's legendary account of "Atlantis"), in the end, provides a very credible "forest" level big picture interpretive lens that can explain all of the archaeological data without requiring any unreasonably far fetched assumptions.

In terms of questions of historical linguistics and the associates clash of great prehistoric European civilizations, Maju's read tends to suggest that the Atlantic coast and early Nordic Bronze Age may have been in a Vasconic, rather than Indo-European sphere of influence with Mediterranean influences transmitted via the Atlantic maritime trade routes mediated though the Iberian civilization of that era.  Still, these papers do provide fuel for the conjecture that Bronze Age Indo-European civilizations may have been far more conscious of the cultural counterparts at vast distances from them than had previously been safe to assume.  The world was smaller and better understood, earlier on, than we have given the residents of prehistory credit for.


Grey said...

It's a fascinating thought really. I can imagine a drama series in ten year's time about a Minoan ambassador's journey to Scandinavia with side-tripes to visit famous sites like Stonehenge.

andrew said...

Interesting post on Atlantis as Bell Beaker.