Rebirth of Reason


On the Origins of the Trading Syndrome
by A. Robert Malcom

Man is of woman born. Even the most primitive humans are aware of this fact. But often overlooked is the nature of the societal structure that would emerge from this fact, especially at a time in human development in which we had not yet connected the act of sex the birth nine months later. It may well be that it was among the females that the rise of civilization first took place. Archaeological evidence of all the most ancient civilizations show that they were matriarchal in structure. Why and how might this have been so?

For one thing, even among the ape forebears, there was little association of the males with their own offspring and, except for when the females were in heat, little association with the females themselves. Social life, such as it was among them, was largely confined to the females and their childrenonly peripherally were the males involved. Only in times of stress were the males truly the dominant ones.

These conditions were reinforced by the fact that women were chiefly involved with foraging and pottery making and all the other creative activities then being engaged in. As Chance and Jolly pointed out, "the mother/infant relationship is a universal relationship throughout the primates, surpassing in cohesiveness even that of the male cohorts." And as the studies of Jane Goodall have shown, the bond passes beyond the birthing of siblings, and becomes stronger among the more advanced of the primates, the apes. As Irven de Vore points out in Primate Behaviour, "what strikes me ... is the extraordinary degree to which the offspring continue to be attached to the mother well into young adult life. What one finds is not a band or organized group in any monkey sense, but a great many older females surrounded by immature offspringup to as many as four, including young adult males."

When, partly from necessity, the aquatic ape took up an omnivorous approach to eating, a greater emphasis was placed on hunting to obtain food. These hunters, such as they were, were often away in small groups seeking their game—especially after the evolution into hominids, when game roamed the savanna as much as the rivers and lakes. As such, it fell to the females to engage in social organizing, especially as they became the ones most involved in gathering the wild berries, roots, and other forms of vegetation which were the staples of the hominids' diet. With their accumulation of food supplies, creation of the baskets needed to carry and store them, and construction of various means of maintaining the hearth fires and cooking apparatus, it was the females who had the most to gain by formulating the first notions of anything like record keeping. One can imagine their observations of the moon waxing and waning and, eventually, the realization that after nine full moons had passed since the time of heat, there came births.
Note here that most previous writers who studied the hominids of the prehistoric period presumed that all were members of wandering tribes that, if they settled, did so in caves. In some cases, especially those of the northern groups, such was indeed the way. But this did not necessarily apply to all the groups, since caves, while found along the river banks, were not always in great abundance. Besides, the lands were, throughout much of the area, fairly lush and not unpleasant to spend time outdoors in. "Makeshift caves" could also be built by utilizing the skins of some of the game hunted, or by weaving thatched huts, with clay entwined to keep out the rains and provide warmth during the cooler times. Nor was wandering a universal practice either, especially if some of the lands covered contained mineral deposits or other valuable goods near the surface, which could be exploited by staying nearby. Game, if judiciously "pruned," will remain in the same general geographic area, provided their food supply remains somewhat in a constant state; so, moving about need not have been a prerequisite for successful living. In any case, it was among those who did not do so much moving about that much of the creativity in basket-weaving and pottery and hearth building and so forth was developed into skills and crafts.

This was important in establishing the various bondings. I suggest that female bonding most likely was first, as females were far less aggressive in their relations with one another than were the males. There wasn't the issue of dominance either, other than a kind of "show me"-ism which encouraged innovations and, as a consequence, enriched the well-being of the group as well as the individuals responsible for those innovations. It was from these influences that the matriarchal society evolved.

What kind of world were these matriarchal societies? What was it that they would have had to offer as trade to others? Indeed, how was this trading even started?

In answer to this last question, the usual assumption has been that primitive societies would have interacted mainly through raids, a form of taking through which tribes expanded their hunting and foraging territories. But this notion is largely based on the primitive tribes found today (and, being so primitive today, they may be aberrations and not the norm), as well as the kinds of relationships which existed among tribes at the dawn of historic writings. But among the ancient settlements uncovered by archaeological research, raiding was not the dominant means of interaction; plenty of evidence suggests that instead, bartering took place. Bartering is a form of trading, a hedonic response to strangers, and carried out much the same as it was among the members within a particular groupit was an exchange of "value for value," and, because of the likelihood of repeated encounters, was done without coercion (and probably with great shrewdness as well, to judge from todays barterers).                               

Jane Jacobs, in The Economy of Cities, postulated a hypothetical development of trading which resulted in a large prehistoric city that, as it turned out, had a parallel in real-life: Catal Huyuk. She posited that the city would develop near a territory on which obsidian was found. In the parts of the world where most experts believe wheat and barley cultures first arose, obsidian was the most important tradable industrial material. While the city was imaginary, she described its economy with a great degree of detail. She theorized that the city would be a customary locale to trade for the black glass, and from which it was supplied to more distant tribes.

Jacobs guessed that this process would have begun around 9,000 B.C., with the establishment of the custom of territorial members trading for the obsidian and becoming the go-between for other more distant traders. By about 8,500 B.C., she figured the city would have a population of about two thousand, a mixture of those who had originally settled it, and most of the obsidian-owning tribe which had moved there because of the trade and the various kinds of works connected with it. A small outlying party still worked at the volcano (where obsidian was obtained) and patrolled it for security.

Jacobs describes the system of trading as follows: "The initiative is taken by the people who want to buy something. Traveling salesmen have not yet appeared on the scene: the traders, rather, regard themselves, and are regarded as, traveling purchasing agents. Undoubtedly, they take trade goods of their own to the place of purchase, but this is used like money to buy whatever it is they came for. Thus, the traders who come to New Obsidian [her name for the city] from greater and greater distances come there purposely to get obsidian, not to get rid of something else. For the most part, the barter goods they bring consist of the ordinary produce of their hunting territories. When the New Obsidian people want special treasures like copper, shells, or pigments that they themselves do not find in their own territory, parties of their own traders go forth to get these things from other settlements. With them they take obsidian, as if it were money."

Note that she hypothesizes that there are other settlements elsewhere that deal in copper, or shells, or some other valued substances, and that these settlements become sort of minor trading centers for obsidian as well, utilizing the obsidian in bartering with hunting tribes in those local areas for their goods and services. Similarly, New Obsidian becomes a "depot" settlement dealing in other rare goods besides obsidian. The economy then is divided into an export/import on the one hand and a production on the other hand, neither division of which is static, that is, unchanging. This means that as older businesses slack off because of others copying or creating something similar, new ones come into being to compensate, perhaps themselves copying popular items found in other settlements, like the ones dealing in copper or shells. Trade routes are established by making exceptions to trespass in order to reach the trading centerand, of course, they always lie on territories which themselves trade at the centers.

Food is obtained from two sources. The first is the original one that those of the respective territories had in their hunting/foraging social structure before the advent of the settlements. The second is imports from foreign hunting territories, food which is traded in barter for obsidian, and is the traditional kind of goods brought by those who do not trade in copper, shells, pigments or other valued treasures. "Wild food of the right kind commands a good exchange," she notes, adding that the right kind is the nonperishable kind. This means primarily live animals and hard seeds. This allows for storage of provisions to cover periods of less than optimal food harvests in the local territories.

Jacobs goes on to describe how these large quantities of live animals and seed are taken care of within the city, and what kinds are favored. Second, third, or fourth generations of animals are kept because they're easier to hold than othersand this gives rise to domestication: sheep in one settlement, goats in another, perhaps cattle in still another, or sows in areas near, say, forests.

Seeds, on the other hand, are all taken, mingled together, and eaten as mixtures. Seeds which are left over after the the winters are used in wild patch seeding, done only because it is a bit easier to gather in those spots than it is to forage scattered locales. It is in this manner that crosses and hybrids arisewhich do not go unobserved. Selection takes place because some patches yield better than others, and are thus more likely to be the seeds left over from next springtime's wild patch seedlings. In time, these grains become noticeably better than the wild seeds gained through barteringand so within the city traders begin to barter these "good" seeds for trinkets or other desired things, thus further encouraging the planting of those grains. It is by this means also that the wheat and barley so often cited as the supposed beginnings of agriculture came into existence, the means by which the discovery of these "shaft separating" types came about, and most likely the means by which these mutations occurred. As Jacobs pointed out, agriculture had to have come after settlements, not before, and settlements came about through hunters trading efforts, and not as consequences of the development of plantable seeds.
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