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The Political Economy and Metal Trade in Bronze Age Europe: Understanding Regional Variability in Terms of Comparative Advantages and Articulations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2017

Timothy Earle*
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, USA
Johan Ling*
Affiliation:
Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Claes Uhnér*
Affiliation:
Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Zofia Stos-Gale*
Affiliation:
Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Lene Melheim*
Affiliation:
Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Abstract

In the second millennium cal BC, a new metal conquered Europe: the alloy of copper and tin that improved the quality of tools and weapons. This development, we argue, initiated a framework for a new political economy. We explore how a political economy approach may help understand the European Bronze Age by focussing on regional comparative advantages in long-distance trade and resulting bottlenecks in commodity flows. Links existed in commodity chains, where obligated labour and ownership of resources helped mobilize surpluses, thus creating potential for social segments to control the production and flows of critical goods. The political economy of Bronze Age Europe would thus represent a transformation in how would-be leaders mobilized resources to support their political ends. The long-distance trade in metals and other commodities created a shift from local group ownership towards increasingly individual strategies to obtain wealth from macro-regional trade. We construct our argument to make sense of available data, but recognize that our model's primary purpose is to structure future research to test the model.

Au cours du 2e millénaire av. J.-C. un nouveau métal conquérait l'Europe: l'alliage du cuivre et de l'étain, qui améliorait la qualité des outils et des armes. Nous soutenons ici que ce développement instaurait un cadre pour une nouvelle économie politique et nous examinons comment une approche fondée sur l'économie politique peut nous permettre de mieux comprendre l'Âge du Bronze européen, en mettant l'accent sur les avantages comparatifs régionaux lors des échanges à longue distance et sur les goulets d'étranglement des flux de marchandises qui en résultent. Il existait des liens dans les filières des produits de base, où le travail forcé et la possession des ressources aidaient à réaliser des excédents, permettant ainsi à des segments de la société de contrôler la production et les flux de produits essentiels. l'économie politique de l'Europe pendant l'Âge du Bronze décrirait donc un changement dans la manière avec laquelle des leaders potentiels mobilisaient des ressources pour soutenir leurs fins politiques. Les échanges à longue distance de métaux et autres marchandises ont déclenché un changement allant de la propriété collective locale vers des stratégies de plus en plus individuelles afin de produire de la richesse à partir du commerce macro-régional. Avec nos arguments nous cherchons à interpréter les données disponibles, mais nous admettons que le principal objectif de notre modèle est de structurer la recherche future afin de pouvoir le mettre à l'épreuve. Translation by Isabelle Gerges

Im zweiten Jahrtausend v. Chr. trat ein neues Metall seinen Siegeszug durch Europa an: die Legierung von Kupfer und Zinn, die die Qualität von Werkzeugen und Waffen verbesserte. Diese Entwicklung, so vermuten wir, stieß die Entwicklung eines Netzwerkes für eine neue politische Ökonomie an. Wir untersuchen, wie der Ansatz der politischen Ökonomie dabei helfen kann, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung regionaler vergleichender Nutzeffekte beim Fernhandel und daraus resultierender Engpässe bei Warenströmen die europäische Bronzezeit zu verstehen. Es existierten Verbindungen bei den Güterketten, bei denen Arbeitsverpflichtungen und Eigentum an den Ressourcen dabei halfen, Überschuss zu erwirtschaften – und dadurch ein Potential für soziale Segmentierung schufen, das die Kontrolle der Produktion und Verteilung von wesentlichen Gütern gewährleistete. Die politische Ökonomie der europäischen Bronzezeit spiegelt demnach einen Übergang wider, bei dem die angehenden Oberhäupter Ressourcen mobilisierten, um ihre politischen Ziele zu unterstützen. Der Fernhandel von Metallen und anderen Waren ermöglichte einen Sprung vom lokalen Gruppenbesitz hin zu vermehrt individuellen Strategien, um aus dem makroregionalen Handel Reichtum zu erzielen. Wir entwickeln unsere Beweisführung, um bereits vorhandene Daten deuten zu können, sind uns jedoch bewusst, dass das vorrangige Ziel unseres Modells die Struktur zukünftiger Forschung ist, um seine Gültigkeit zu testen. Translation by Heiner Schwarzberg

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Copyright © 2015 the European Association of Archaeologists 

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