Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Barter tokens of the Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture

The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture is probably the most fascinating Neolithic culture of Europe. It existed from around 5500 BC - 2750 BC. They built massive settlements that served as prototypes for cities, some of which grew to an immense size of 15,000 people. They are fascinating because of a number of reasons, including their religious curiosities, their giant cities, their pottery and sculptures, their use of the earlier Vinča symbols and their barter tokens. We'll cover a couple of these items on the blog shortly, but for now we'll focus on the barter tokens.

There are about 3000 sites of Cucuteni-Trypillian inhabitation across Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. This has provided an immense amount of artifacts. Some of the most prevalent artifacts are these barter tokens. The exact usage of the barter tokens is unknown, but it is presumed that they started out as tools to keep count of things in storage. Basically, if the typical Cucuteni-Trypillian farmer had 200 lbs of wheat to trade he could carry around these barter tokens to represent he had 200 lbs of wheat to trade with people. Carrying a number of tokens would have been easier than carrying the wheat and so he would trade 10 lbs of wheat for say a vase or decorative textile for his wife and instead of giving the aforementioned 10 lbs of wheat up front he'd give his trading partner a token. That token would later be exchanged for the actual wheat. This made trading a whole lot easier for the Cucutenit-Trypillian.

All of those 3000 sites indicate a shared cultural heritage, but not a a formalized country or empire. Each site was probably something like a city-state, in that they were independent from all of the others. But, each "city" was about 3-4 km apart from one another and this allowed for extensive trade routs. By making trading easier for people, the various "cities" were able to prosper. This innovation and lack of government insight explains the longevity of the society. Current politicians would do well to see the effectiveness in letting businesses do what they're best at. Current politics aside though, these barter tokens show an evolution in business. Eventually things like barter tokens would transform into currency and we'd end up with the system we have today, which is working super. Just ask the Greeks...

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