Monday, August 18, 2014

Bead Wampum

Emerging economies : late Neolithic and Copper
Age beads and pendants of the Portuguese
Estremadura, Iowa Research Online, Thomas (2014) [Link]

Fig 116.  Calcite and Slate "Wampum" from Cabeҫo da Arruda I (Thomas, 2014)

I guess the most interesting part of this thesis is the theory that a sort of Bead Monetary system (Wampum) had begun to develop in the Late Neolithic (semi-aka Chalcolithic) Portugal.  This system would have belonged to the slate-plaque, pre-Beaker folk from Portugal.  Here's what Thomas writes:

Considering the batch production of large numbers of identically-sized calcite beads in
Estremadura and slate beads in the Alentejo during this period, like other prestige goods, I
suggest that beads may have also served a monetary function between Late Neolithic and Copper Age groups in coastal and interior regions. This pattern of standardized trade bead production between regional groups, similar to the use of wampum beads as commodity money among chiefdom-scale groups in pre-contact North America (Arnold and Munns 2004; Shell 2013), has numerous ethnographic and archaeological parallels among complex, non-state societies across the world (Francis 1990:47; Kenoyer 2003).

These highly uniform Calcite or Slate beads recovered from collective burials in the region, according to Thomas's theory, would have been used essentially as short payment, like wampam.  They differ from the variable, exotic stones that were used for personal adornment during this period, which probably had real value, but not substitutionary, extrinsic value like money.

Really, it is that imaginary value placed on beads, coins, dollars, credits, debit, etc., that is the diagnostic indicator of a sophisticated economic system.

The development and centralization of the SW Iberian economy in the Late Neolithic and their growing monopolization of water courses and sea lanes is vital to understanding the sudden emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon.

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