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General conclusion by

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2017

Christian Buchet
Affiliation:
Catholic University of Paris
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Summary

Three compelling conclusions emerge from the contributions brought together in these four volumes, offering a clear response to our questions. Indeed, engaging in maritime activities, anywhere and in any age, is the single most powerful impetus to create a positive impact on historical trajectories. This is so because the sea acts as (1) the accelerator of political and economic development; (2) the driver of predominance and expansion; (3) the driver of History.

THE SEA: DRIVING FORCE OF POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The archaeological sites at Pinnacle Point in South Africa, Haida Gwaii in British Columbia and On Your Knees Cave on Prince of Wales Island, which offer the oldest known evidence of a subsistence economy based on marine mammals, seals, sea lions, cetaceans, as well as fish, some of them quite large, and shellfish such as mussels and sea snails, illustrate that the sea has always provided coastal populations with a significant source of additional resources. Isotopic remains of a 20-year-old man, dating from 10,300 years ago show a diet made up mainly of food taken from the sea.

The sea is thus a source of food, clothing and primitive currency based on shells, as well as functional and artistic objects. Very early on, through the dynamism of maritime activities, the sea provided a structure for economic sociability among coastal populations, whether in Asia, Europe, Africa or the Americas.

Even more significantly, the sea was the principal vector of trade because it offered an easy means of transport. Indeed, propelling a vessel on the water requires infinitely less energy than land transport. People turned increasingly to the sea, travelling ever further from the coast, to find supplementary food and other necessary products.

Mesopotamian civilisation offers a perfect example of this phenomenon, as far back as the third millennium BC Located in the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia – literally, the land between rivers – was rich in agricultural foodstuffs. However, it was painfully lacking in natural resources. Consequently, populations exploited waterways – rivers and the sea – to find wood for construction, copper and other metals for metalworking, diorite and gabbro for royal statues, lapis lazuli, gold, ivory and more. This rapidly growing trade, controlled by rich and powerful sovereigns, thus enabled the development of irrigation systems and other defences against the floods that threatened cultivated land. An impressive transport fleet was built in an effort to secure trade.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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