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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).
How an ancient object, artefact or commodity has moved over vast distances from one region to another, crossed major seas or travelled by land over extensive territories, has occupied and intrigued scholars in many disciplines over the years (Sabloff and Lamberg-Karlovsky 1975; Kristiansen et al. 2018). This subject becomes even more intriguing knowing that no textual evidence can give us a hint or a glimpse how this was organized. Since the beginning of modern humans in the Palaeolithic, migration and mobility have driven demographic expansion and the movement of material culture. At the same time, social interaction and intermarriage between groups constituted a basic institutional pattern among modern humans to prevent inbreeding, as demonstrated by ancient DNA (Sikora et al. 2017). New genetic evidence provides insights into patterns of human mobility and genetic admixture. However, the onset of trade and exchange as an institutionalized activity is still not well understood. The challenge increases once we move back in time before any written sources can inform us. How did pre-modern/pre-state societies organize themselves to engage in long-distance exchange? How did such societies communicate? How did such societies foster conditions and/or social institutions that facilitated long-distance exchange? Can the rise of social complexity be connected to long-distance exchange? Exactly how far did traders, raiders and visitors travel in prehistory and how were there distant exchanges organized? All of these questions can be boiled down to two basic questions: when and under what circumstances did trade become institutionalized in pre-state societies, and what forms did such institutionalization take?