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Trading Patterns, Ancient American

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2533Trading Patterns, Ancient AmericanTrade was widely practiced in all parts of the ancient New World, among societies of all levels of social complexity, from the earliest hunter-gatherers to late prehistoric empires like the Aztec and Inca. But the high costs associated with overland human transport produced a vol-ume of long-distance trade lower than that found in many other ancient societies.The native peoples of the New World exhibited a great diversity of trading patterns before the Eu-ropean invasion. In most ancient American societies, trade and exchange were strongly embedded within social institutions and practices. The long-distance trade identifi ed by archaeologists was typically only one component of wider processes of social interac-tion that included exchanges of ideas and informa-tion, warfare and diplomacy, marriage alliances, and migrations of peoples. Trade assumed an independent commercial status only among the late states of Meso-america (Mexico and northern Central America).Earliest InhabitantsThe timing of the initial migrations to the New World is a topic of considerable debate. Regardless of their actual age, however, the earliest archaeological sites in North and South America provide evidence for a low level of long-distance trade. During this time, known as the Paleoindian period (c. 15,000 BCE–8000 BCE), small bands of hunters and gatherers traded projec-tile points and other tools made of high-quality chert (a variety of silica) and other varieties of stone over moderate distances. The fi nely made and distinctive Clovis spear points were used over much of North America. These objects were made separately in many regions, and their similarities derive from a common technology that points to long-distance interaction throughout North America. Obsidian, a volcanic glass from which extremely sharp cutting tools were made, was fi rst traded in the Paleoindian period. Ob-sidian occurs geologically in only a limited number of mountainous areas in western North America, Mesoamerica, and the Andes. Each source area has a distinctive chemical “fi ngerprint” in the occurrence and quantity of trace elements. When subjected to any of a number of analytical techniques for measur-ing trace elements, an obsidian artifact’s geological place of origin can be traced.In most parts of the New World, the Paleoindian period was followed by the Archaic period (starting c. 8000 BCE and ending at different times in differ-ent areas). This was a time of growing populations, increased reliance upon plant foods, and growing technological sophistication. In Mesoamerica, the Andes, and the Amazon, plants and animals were domesticated at this time. The Archaic period fur-nishes evidence of increasing long-distance trade of stone tools. Although the evidence for trade is clear in the Paleoindian and Archaic periods, the overall volume of exchange was low and people obtained most goods in their local area. Trade was probably organized in what archaeologists call “down-the-line trade,” in which trade goods move through reciprocal exchange from group to group without merchants or long-distance exchange expeditions.From: The Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History, 2nd edition, 2010.by Michael E. Smith2534 • BERKSHIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORLD HISTORYNorth AmericaThe roster of North American long-distance trade goods increased dramatically with the end of the Ar-chaic period to include marine shell, ceramics, and objects made of copper, galena, obsidian, and other types of exotic stone. The frequencies of imported goods were typically much higher than in Paleoindian and Archaic times. Obsidian found at sites in eastern North America and marine shell ornaments at sites far inland show trade over long distances. Several later cultures are noteworthy for high quantities of imported goods. The Hopewell culture of the North American Midwest, for example, is best known for its elaborate public ceremonialism centered on earthen mounds and open plazas. Some Hopewell burials and other offerings contained thousands of ornaments and other fi nely crafted objects, many of which were im-ported from great distances. Imported burial goods include at least ten types of native copper ornaments, fi nely-made stone bifacial tools, obsidian objects, mica mirrors, smoking pipes of clay and stone, ornaments of human bone and bear’s teeth, tools of deer bone, quartz crystal, shell beads, and silver objects.The emphasis on ornaments among the imported goods of the Hopewell and other North American cultures suggests that social factors were more im-portant than strictly economic factors as stimuli for trade. Elaborate ornaments and exotic goods were most likely used in ceremonies and at other public gatherings (before being deposited in offerings) to communicate information about social identity and status. They probably served as sources of prestige for high-ranking individuals. This pattern contin-ued in the most politically complex and spatially expansive North American culture, the Mississippian culture of southeastern and midwestern North America (c. 1000–1550).Archaeological sites of the Mississippian culture are larger and more numerous than those of earlier cultures. The largest Mississippian site—Cahokia—was a true urban center with a substantial popula-tion, monumental architecture, powerful rulers, and various types of craft specialists. Many archaeologists classify Cahokia as an example of the chiefdom form of political organization. Cahokia was located in the American Bottoms (in Illinois, across from St. Louis), the largest expanse of rich alluvial fl oodplain along the Mississippi River. This region had numerous Mis-sissippian settlements, all engaged in agricultural production and many with active craft industries. Exchange was extensive on both the regional level (linking the sites in the American Bottoms area) and the macroregional level, as evidenced by a variety of exotic imported goods found in excavations. Although some utilitarian goods were widely traded—partic-ularly agricultural hoes produced from high-quality chert—most Mississippian trade goods were orna-ments, ritual items, and the raw materials used to Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. • Henry David Th oreau (1817–1862)This Cayuse woman from Oregon wears shell disk earrings, a shell bead choker, and shell


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