Series on Currency: The basics of Trade

A huddle of multiple rocks and minerals from around the world, of varying shapes and colors.
Note: Our rock collection was used as currency of love; every trip I took, I always brought Meghan back the one I thought was really pretty. We now have hundreds of rocks. I am a penguin.

Introduction

We typically focus on historical recipes, but we decided that we need to do a separate series – archaeological knowledge. The first run is going to be on Currency; with multiple parts explaining its context within different time periods, regions and impacts.

Currency, Money, Mula, Duckets; whether you like it or not, is a part of our lives. There isn’t much you can get these days without it. However, paper or coin money hasn’t always been what we used for goods or services. In this multi-part series, I will focus on what cultures used to purchase food and food preparation goods. When possible, I will provide how much food may have cost, but this won’t always be possible due to the lack of records on it or the lack of currency, as we know it. 

Nevertheless, before we get into the cultures that we have looked at so far, I would like to look at trading in pre-history. For context, pre-history is before recored history. Meaning, that we have the archeological record to guide what we know about trade. 

Trade – A market for shiny things!

A close-up photo of rose quartz

Trade is something that can be difficult to identify in the archeological record. Since we do not have any written record or at the very least, a time machine; it is difficult to know if items that were been found hundreds of kilometers from their site of origin. That is to say, rocks that are not geologically present in one area being found at sites where the rock cannot have originated, were brought to their new location by someone who believed the rock was beautiful and wanted to carry it with them or if the rock got there by means of trade. This lack of context makes it difficult to identify if it was a trade of a rock from the individuals home for the new shiny rock or traded for food. 

Why do I want that rock?

A close-up of a blue-colored rock

So, let’s start with why we would trade. The simple answer to that is many of the same reasons we trade today. You have a shiny rock and I want that shiny rock. After we have established that I want that rock, we have a couple of options before us. 

  • The first and easiest option is I offer you something I believe would be of value to you. 
  • The second and much more complicated option; I take the rock from you by force, but this would lead to a whole host of other problems that neither of us want, especially because I may not come out on top and I will never get my shiny rock. 
  • Therefore, I decide that I am going to pick up a rock off the ground and offer that as trade for your rock. This probably won’t work for you because this rock is abundant in the area you live in. You would much prefer something that isn’t available in your geographical location. So you ask for a shell necklace I am wearing and we agree that is a fair trade. 

How much do you want for that rock?

A close-up photo of a pink/black quartz

This is an act that many of us more than likely went through when we were young children and money didn’t have any real meaning or value to us. We would think that we where richer than anyone has ever been when we are given $10 and you fully believe that you could buy the moon with that amount of money. However,  one day you’ll grow up and find out that $10 won’t buy you much of anything and there is no possible way that it will be enough to purchase the moon even if it where available to purchased (See attempts to buy/sell parts of moon)… 

Sorry I blacked out there for a minute. I am not bitter at all about my inability to purchase the biggest, shiniest rock, that I have ever seen. 

Getting back on track; there is evidence of exchange in the archeological record, in the sense of a barter system, going back for as long as humans have coveted items that can’t found were they live. 

Conclusion

In the following weeks, I will go in-depth with the history of exchange and trade. Starting with the Paleolithic and moving on to the societies and cultures that we have been looking at. I hope you enjoy this series, and any future ones of my Archaeological Knowledge.

Part 2 – Upper Paleolithic and Currency

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