Just Archaeology- 12

I own a DVD titled The First Merchants which talks about ancient international trade. it might be part o f the Secrets of an Empire series, but  I do not know.  The narrator began with a general overview of the past and trade making the remark that it was originally thought that the ancient people only traded for necessities  and when the Uruburun shipwreck was discovered, that train of thought had to be revised. Here is a link to its contents


Too long of a list to place here but the amount of luxury items found on board forced archaeologists to change their mind about the past and international trade. The narrator wen ton about how difficult it was to trace the ownership of the craft because of its supposed multi-ports of call, which is a very good possibility BUT it could also be a ship that went to one harbor and traded for all those items and was on its way home with its treasure when it was sunk.

It is hard to say because we do not know the extent of the nations who owned and operated shipping lines. We know of the Minoans and the Phoenicians but other nations had to have their own cargo ships for they were actively trading as well.We know that Israel traded with Lebanon and other countries so those nations had to have their own fleets to handle their needs.

But after a while the DVD made a big point about the discovery of cocaine in the tissue of Egyptian mummies and that set of a long discussion on drugs and how they were traded. It was mentioned that opium was a major drug in demand for its pain killing effects  The narrator or archaeologists interviewed did not really come to any real conclusion about this find except to say that it was controversial. They did not say if there was both a legal and illegal drug trade in those times.

For me I was reminded of the problem with morphine which has both a legal and illegal trade. Legally doctors and hospitals bought the drug from legal outlets for use to hinder pain in their patients. Illegally, many of those patients then became hooked on morphine’s effects and sought to continue their use of the drug from those suppliers who made a huge mark up on their product.

I submit that the ancient world had its share of illegal drug cartels just like the modern world and that the many long perilous trips through the jungles were made by such people seeking to evade capture by the authorities who were looking to minimize the drug problem in their respective countries. it is hard to say as records are lost and such people would not keep records of their illegal adventures.

The ancient people were just as human as we are so it stands to reason that they would not like pain and wanted relief from suffering or they enjoyed the  ‘getting high’ experience and would take measures to obtain opium or other drugs at any risk or cost. Another controversial discovery was made when those Egyptian mummy tissues were examined. They tested positive for both cocaine and nicotine.

These are New World drugs and it was thought that they did not make their way east till the 16th or 127th century when North & South America were ‘discovered’ by Europeans. Having traces of cocaine in the mummies is not a surprise as even the most drug free American has exposure to cocaine via their money. But nicotine is a different story and this raised more than a few hackles when the discoverer wrote her paper on the issue.

No one thought that the Egyptians had access to that plant. The discovery came as a complete surprise but then I am not surprised as I believe that the ancients were far more exploring than most archaeologists and scholars give them credit. I highly doubt that international trade was restricted to the Med. Sea as some scholars claim.

I also doubt their claim that the sailors hugged the coastlines of the Med. Sea and were far more capable of sailing their vessels than archaeologists say. I can say this because I know that at least 2 Romans ships were wrecked of f the coast of Brazil roughly 2,000 years ago. Just because archaeologists only find a few small boats does it mean that ancient nations did not have larger and better ships at their disposal. Their absence from the archaeological and historical records just means that either all the vessels were destroyed at some point or one has not been found yet.

One of the things that made me a little upset at the DVD makers was their description of the ancient elite. They would say that the elite would gain power by controlling trade and what items were imported or exported, and so on. Then they were saying how the elite separated themselves from lower classes by their ownership of luxury items.

Of course, the archaeologists and narrator were sounding like they were presenting some new and important information about the past. Instead, they were describing exactly what takes place in the modern world, demonstrating that the ancient world was not much different from the one we live in today. Shipping companies and governments control what is imported or exported, not all the items brought into the country make it to the retail or wholesale shelves but are diverted to private collections or personal use of the modern elite and their families.

They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In my research I have found that the modern world is not different from the ancient one and that the ancients behaved in the same manner as modern people. They were both corrupt and honest, taking advantage of people’s weaknesses or making deals that benefited all.

In all of this was a short discussion on ancient money. Now they are not sure who first invented money but some people credit the Greeks while others credit the Lydians, who were minting money long before the 6th century BC. The interviewed archaeologists believed that the barter system was used throughout the world and was exclusively in the supposed pre-money era of history.

I hesitate to agree with that view as the barter system was probably used in official and unofficial means, but that money was still used throughout history. If a person discovered that they did not have enough money on them to purchase an item they liked, they probably struck a trade deal, just like we do today. I do not think that the barter system was the only way for people to purchase different items.

I also do not agree, at this time, with the idea that grain was used as money. Maybe in some instances it was bartered but I do not see it officially sanctioned as legal tender. Food was abundant in those times except when there was famine and people would realize that money would not do them any good in those lean periods so they used what they could–food. But that is just my perspective. I just do not like archaeologists making such declarations based upon minute amounts of evidence or misunderstood translations of historical activities.

If you can get your hands on the DVD it is quite good regardless and provides a lot of information about the topic of international trade. What it does do specifically is to demonstrate that the ancient people operated under a system of supply and demand along with practical trading for necessities, just like today. Ancient people’s desires dictated what they wanted to buy and greed was not far from their personalities. Nor was selfishness or spoiledness.

This demand influenced the importer and exporter for they were interested in making money not going out of business– just like today.

The more we discover about the ancient world, the more we see that nothing is new under the sun. Drug problems are not new, nor is the pursuit of earthly treasure. Plus we see business acts in the same way as it does today. The ancients did more than eat, work and pray– an idea that many archaeologists try to force upon the modern world.