Have you read part 1? Catch up here before you jump to this one.


When we last left off, I was trying to not be bitter about being able to buy the Moon. Shifting my focus back on currency; now we are going to go way back in time to look at how our ancestors traded. The great thing about looking at what we traded in the past is we can tell what was important to them. But more importantly; we can see how migrational patterns and interaction between groups may have occurred. With this, we’ll start with the Upper Paleolithic (from ~50,000-40,000 years ago to ~10,000 years ago).

Becoming Modern – Upper Paleolithic

A map detailing the migration of Homo sapiens around the globe (Worldhistory.org)

The Upper Paleolithic was a time of hunter gathers and survival. This is about the time that fully modern humans (that is us) first made their way into Europe and Asia. When we arrived in Europe, there was already a cousin living there, Neanderthals. They were well-established on the continent. With this new interaction, there was a mixture of cultures and peoples. In modern humans from Eurasian descent, there is ~1-4% of their genome that has been contributed by Neanderthals. This compared to modern humans living around 40,000 years ago where they show 6-9% of their genome being from Neanderthals. 

Nevertheless, besides the exchanging of genetic materials, we can see the evidence of trading; which is numerous. Before we get started, a quick disclaimer needs to be made: Just because objects found in one geographical area from another geographical area doesn’t necessarily mean that there was trade. This could have been nothing more than something brought to the new area by migration. This maybe the case with the Spisynkaya sites located in middle Don in Russia. Most of the flint used for their tools if from an origin 150-300km away from the site. This can imply that the flint was carried with them when they where migrating. 

Trading through Europe – The Currency of Goods

From our existing evidence, our traditional view of currency was not present during this time, but proof of trade was present. Other sites show a greater possibility of trade, such as sites from Lower Austria. The site of Krems-Hundsteig there are shells that are from the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. The Mediterranean is ~300km from the site, and the Black Sea is ~600km from the site. At Gravettian sites there is evidence that there is evidence of a social network that trade occurred. 

From Gravettian sites in Russia; there are shells from the Black Sea, which is 800-1000km away from the sites. There are even fossils all the way from central Europe which is over 1000km from the sites.

Why would people want these shells or fossils? One answer is to wear them, much as kids living in the Midwest during the early 2000s who wore puka shell necklaces’; even though they lived in the middle of a content and had no source available to them locally. Another reason, is that this would create ties to the people living around them. Meaning, that in times of hardship they maybe able to rely on these trade networks to get resources or materials necessary for survival. 


One of the things you maybe asking yourself right now is “What does any of this have to do with food?!?!?” I feel it is necessary to look at why we traded in the past, to understand how some of the food we eat today came to our plates. Without these early trade networks, we may have never found out what most of the food we eat taste like today.


Over the coming weeks, we will look at trade, currency and the migration of humans. This will help us to establish why some of the dishes we eat from certain cultures don’t contain food that we would associate with them today, such as why when we get to ancient Rome we won’t be eating dishes with tomatoes. Hint: This is because they didn’t have access to them due to being on the other side of the world from where they were first domesticated.  




Jochim, M., 2013. European prehistory. 2nd ed. Buffalo: Springer, p.79.

Jochim, M., 2013. European prehistory. 2nd ed. Buffalo: Springer, p. 89.

M. Cârciumaru, E.-C. Nițu, O. Cîrstina, F. I. Lupu, M. Leu, and A. Nicolae. “Personal Ornaments in the Mid Upper Palaeolithic East of the Carpathians”. 2019. https://journals.openedition.org/paleo/4446

McHugh, Molley. 2019. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/9/19/20868322/puka-shell-necklace-hawaii-noticed-vsco-girls-nostalgia