Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Desert Island Gold Watch

There is this belief in archaeology that certain prehistoric peoples just "kind of picked up metallurgy" through an exchange of ideas.  The reality is that mining, reduction and smithing require knowledge and big boy skills, not something gained through osmosis.

You could also ask the guy with fourteen kids how he anneals or hardens certain items, so you could like 'do that too' and take food off his table.  That's sixties archeology, everyone's a bro.
Others, like Gordon Childe, tried to be a little more realistic initially and concede that some population movement is necessary and imagine Beakers solely as traveling smiths who do good needs for the unbathed country souls who are happy for their skills, there, in the remote and cloudy island that no one has ever heard of off the coast of Northern Britain.

A guy standing on a island with a bone in his nose sees and airplane flying overhead and being inspired, immediately begins processing bauxite and tapping rubber trees.  These arguments are repeated with regards to many of the technological changes in the third millennium, lithic production, pottery, whatever.  It kind of reminds me of this.  Funny.

Paul Simon - Desert Island Christmas from Simon and Garfunkel News on Vimeo.


  1. "imagine Beakers as traveling smiths who do good needs for the unbathed country souls who are happy for their skills, there, in the remote and cloudy island that no one has ever heard of off the coast of Northern Britain."

    At the time I'd imagine copper = wealth so I'd have guessed at more of a gold rush scenario than good deeds.

    Initially I'd picture it as people working a copper field on the edge of the farmer range e.g. that valley in the western Pyrenees near the Basques, and then maybe some fishermen from the same region have a seasonal fishing camp up around Ross island and report back they saw copper deposits there and some younger miner sons with no inheritance decide to sail off and set up a mining colony - a limited number of females want to go with them so the miners end up marrying local HG women instead.

    1. Well, my point is that whatever the catalyst for the spread of the culture, metallurgy, as one technological example, pretty much needs to spread through population movement because it is more complex than something easily copied.
      It's kind of like the desert island watch.

  2. I updated the post title to something more appropriate. I also added the word 'solely' to Childe's opinion. I realized I needed to clarify after reading Greg's comment. Thx

  3. First, thank you for this fascinating blog. Your point about the social complexity of early copper technology is valid. If you read Nocete (2008), the description of the manufacturing process at Valencia makes it pretty clear that this was no small, unsophisticated operation. Amzallag has argued it came from the Near East and there's a whole big argument about that. The worse argument I've seen in this context is that Iberian copper emerges at a sophisticated level and therefore must be native, That doesn't make sense. The lady in the video has to firts have an idea what a watch even is.

    But, aside from that, there's also the matter of distribution. The slide show by Lemercier that you posted brings up something about Bell Beaker that is worth noting -- aside from the change in copper application that seem to start with them. Not only do the Bell Beakers seem to enter the south of France from the sea, but they apparently settle in defensive locations. The barbed arrowheads appear in the first phase. And they bring not only new pottery styles and maybe beer, but perhaps the first images of the warrior. Consider that these "warriors" were not conquerers, but cops.

    Distributing copper and beer and other kinds of specialists (hunters, potters?) takes maintaining the idea of a property right in those things. If a stranger peddling copper shows up in a place and expects some kind of payment in return, it may occur to some members of that community that these things can be taken. They don't have to be bought. Far more than pastoralists, gangs of no particular ethnic origin or livelihood has made a living intercepting shipments from manufacturer to consumer. One of the things that's never brought up in the discussion of long-distance trade (or even short-distance trade) is the protection of the trader or the craftsperson. Obviously, you'll want to know your goods will get where they are going and whatever is coming back won't be high-jacked.

    This I think could account for the rise of a military class -- cops not really soldiers -- who would also profit by earning a cut of that trade. I'd suggest it explains a lot of the transformation we're seeing in the 3d Millenium BC in many areas of the Old World and New. Just a last point about your piece on the forts in Iberia. Remember that when the Normans brought "castle warfare" to England, it was not "defensive." Those castles were aggressive, offensive tactics. They were primarily forward attack bases meant to control chunks of territory. Protecting trade routes and traders is a very old occupation that probably has always paid very well. Maybe that is part of what Bell Beaker was about -- a police force that opened up new markets (for beer, copper and nice dinner ware) and than protected them.

    1. I think you raise a very interesting point about highway robbery and I think you are correct that the discussion of trade networks seems to lack in the centrality of security to lives and fortunes. The modern insurance industry was born from similar dynamics and risks.
      But in addition to the security of trading interests, there may have also been the desire to 'protect' the concerns of producers and their ilke. I have used the term 'cartel' to describe the economics of scarce commodities in the third mil. Though primitive, economically it makes the most sense for the scale of production of these industries leading to the Bronze Age.

      I think you make a good point about the rise of militarization being tied to economics. Thanks for commenting!