Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Travel, Trade and inter-Cultural Exchange

Reviewing and continuing from my last post, and still based on David Anthony's work The Horse, the Wheel and Language, we can explore a bit deeper into the economic activity along the route taken by the Bactrians from the steppe region north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea to a settlement that became a kingdom in Bactria at the foot of the Pamir mountains along the Amu Darya.

By 3,500 B.C., trade routes were being blazed by early traders that instigated the movement toward the global village in which we live today.  Material goods were carried by the merchants and were acquired by different settlements, even different cultures, along the length of the route.  This development makes it much more difficult to assign the artifacts discovered in excavated ancient sites to one culture rather than the other.  But if a group of sites yield great amounts of a certain type of goods and the technology for making those goods is also found on the site, it is assumed that the complex of settlements using that type of goods to a great extent were in close cultural association.  They constitute an ethnic group with similar if not identical beliefs, rituals, societal organization and burial customs.

This is my brief explanation of how the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex is identified.  After all, the people in those regions left no written records until much later in their history.  The buildings, housewares, ritual objects and personal accessories were buried in the ruins of a community or in the ancient burial grounds.  However, we remind ourselves that the trade route even at this time allowed the exchange of material goods and language, and from a shared language come the metaphysical assumptions rooted in the language.   These exchanges -- at least of the material goods -- were happening in places as distant from each other as Ur in Chaldea, Bogazkoy in Anatolia, Mohenjo Doro in the Indus Valley Bactria along the Amu Darya and Kashgar in Western China.

The Bactria-Margiana culture became influential in the Bronze Age, beginning around 2,000 - 2,500 B.C., through the tin trade.  Tin mines were active in Anatolia and in the foothills of the Pamir mountains, an offshoot from the West end of the Himalayas.  The mine lay between Bactria and Kashgar, just over the Pamir in what is now the northwest region of China.  Naturally, merchants followed the even more ancient path of the migrating people of the Neolithic through the mountain pass and then the tin was passed along to various cultures within the huge geographic area now known as China.

Tin was a desired commodity because it is a necessary ingredient of true bronze and it was bronze that made tools tough enough and sharp enough to work stone into ritual vessels, personal ornaments that both decorated the household or person and stored wealth and therefore could be exchanged for other necessities.  Bronze tools and weapons empowered the user in work and in hunting or fighting.  Bronze tools held a point and a sharp edge longer than the former copper tools had done.  Bronze as well as copper could be cast in stone molds to form small copper and bronze seals or ritual and household vessels.
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Jade workers in settlements along the eastern part of this trade route were no doubt eager to turn in their bamboo, stone and bone tools for bronze tools.  Here is a jade item at least several centuries old, if not a few thousand, on which you can see what I think are the irregular diagonal traces of a hand saw that was not totally abraded to a smooth surface.  Granted the saw could have been an iron or steel saw if the piece is only several hundred years old.

My next blog entry will continue this brief and casual review of the cultural background and the influence of the ancient Bactria-Margiana people. 

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