THE ROLE OF TRADE

Did external trade contribute to the structure and particular characteristics of Bronze Age states and early civilizations?
We know that the use of copper, tin, lead and arsenic was integral to the Bronze Age social and economic transformation, and that these metals were not available in the alluvial valleys of the river systems we have described in Unit 6. We also know that the elites of the newly-formed states lacked full-fledged military power and administrative organization. They assumed a sacral role, distinguishing themselves from the rest of the populace more by consumption levels (of metal work, exotic stone beads, shell carvings, etc.) and mysterious powers, than by special privileges over land, water sources, mines, or pastures.

Thus there were imperatives to organize the imports of high status-cum-utilitarian things like cedar wood (to Egypt and Sumer from the Lebanon); the turquoise of Sinai to Egypt; jade from the Kunlun Mountains of Central Asia in the case of China; lapis lazuli from north-eastern Afghanistan in the case of Mesopotamia, South Asia and Egypt; or finely cut and polished carnelian beads, but also ivory, gold, lapis lazuli and wood from the Harappan region to Sumer; and cowries from the Pacific coast south of the Yangtze mouths in the case of China. These are only a few instances.

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