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The mechanics of the obsidian trade: a suggestion

  • Harriet Crawford

Our knowledge of the obsidian trade makes it an unique phenomenon in the prehistory of the Middle East. We know more about it than about any comparable exchange network. A great deal of work has now been done on the chemical composition of obsidian and on the location of its sources, on quantitative analyses, and on the spatial distribution of the material. The two major areas of supply, Central Anatolia and the area west of Lake Van have been extensively explored and individual sources pinpointed. It has been possible to reconstruct the movement of obsidian to sites as far away as Beidha in South Palestine and to Ali Kosh in South-West Iran. The distances involved are well over 1,600 km as the crow flies. Comparatively little work has been done on the mechanism of the trade, on the processes by which the obsidian changed hands, probably because such processes are difficult and sometimes impossible to determine from the archaeological record. In order to attempt such a task it is necessary to broaden our conceptual basis for studying data bearing on trade. To quote Adams (1974, 241) 'What is needed for this broadening to occur is a much more substantial awareness of ethnohistoric, historic and ethnographic studies of trade.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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