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Chapter Four - Bronze Age Long-Distance Exchange, Secret Societies, Rock Art, and the Supra Regional Interaction Hypothesis

from Part I - Exchange and Social Evolution: Forms of Trade in Egalitarian, Transegalitarian, and Chiefdom Societies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 August 2022

Johan Ling
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Richard J. Chacon
Winhrop University, South Carolina
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This chapter posits the processes that favored the rise of ranked polities in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age. We put forth the Supra Regional Interaction Hypothesis to explain how elite households were able to consolidate political power through their involvement in boat building, timber extraction, long-distance exchange, and raiding for slaves with the goal of financing trading expeditions to secure coveted metals. These elite households were organized into supra regional political sodalities that controlled political power, surplus production, debt, exchange, feasts, and warfare as well as ritual and religious means. We hypothesize that this sodality functioned as types of “secret society” as described by Hayden (2018). Thus, in order secure boats for long-distance exchange of metals and other exotica, the said political sodalities established trade confederacies, alliances, and colonies between rich agro-pastoral regions (more coercive) and regions rich in timber (more cooperative) – the latter ones famous for its rock art. They established transregional networks that linked and controlled interaction and exchange between regions with varied forms of environments and social organizations, spanning from more coercive to cooperative social settings (Feinman 2017). In doing so, they could control labour, raw materials, skills, and surplus production over large areas. Moreover, we theorize that aggrandizing households sponsoring boat building and timber extraction also reaped many benefits stemming from the capturing of slaves. We also claim that the rock was made and controlled by members of “secret societies” and that the abundance of rock art sites in more cooperative timber-rich regions should be seen as an outcome of political/ritual interactions with elites from more coercive areas (Figure 4.1).

Trade before Civilization
Long Distance Exchange and the Rise of Social Complexity
, pp. 53 - 74
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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