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Weight metrology and its economic and social impact on Bronze Age Europe, West and South Asia

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - WEIGHTANDVALUE (Weight metrology and its economic and social impact on Bronze Age Europe, West and South Asia)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-09-30

The project investigates the emergence of the use of weights and scales, and the economic and societal transformations brought about by this innovation during the Bronze Age in western Eurasia. This period, c. 3000–1000 BC, is sometimes considered as the era in which the first commercial trade emerged within a large geographical sphere. However, the most important evidence in this regard – i.e. weights and scales – have never been investigated systematically with a rigorous methodology. The main focus of the project is to investigate the scale of dissemination and use of weights in the Bronze Age world, by means of an integrated approach using archaeological data, 3D scanning and statistics. The project is concerned, at first, with the identification of these devices in the archaeological record. So far, finds of potential weights are generally not identified, and are either ignored or insufficiently published. The study of balance weights requires specific methodologies, in particular statistical methods in order to extract meaninful information. Since these methods require a particular expertise, research in this field was only rarely attempted. The diversified expertise represented within the project, and the use of specific methods and equipment, enables the researcher team to change the present state of research significantly. Once a sound knowledge of the materials is achieved, the objective of the project is to conceptualize the significant practical and cognitive consequences of the introduction of weight metrology into the economic organization of trade, systems of value and early currency, as well as of individual and societal realities. This will open up the way to new hypotheses and provide a new interpretative framework for the European, West and South Asian early Metal Age. The project therefore contributes to a new understanding of economic history, the origins of a globalized world, the history of currency and cognitive changes in conceptualizations of material value. In this respect the ‚Weight and Value’ project has a relevance for the understanding of the origins of our modern economic world and therefore of our present way of life.
1300 potential weights have been studied so far from twelve different countries (i.e. Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, India, USA). Of these objects, c. 2/3 could already be securely identified as weights. Both, the research trips and the subsequent analysis carried out by the team members and the PI have considerably increased our knowledge of the early use of weighing equipment. The research has generated, so far, a critical mass of new data on balance weights, especially for temperate Europe, Iran and Indus Valley, which substantially change the state of the art.
The application of a rigorous analysis (by means of archaeological and statistical methods) is crucial in order to verify the object’s function. An analytical method was developed for the identification of bullion currencies in prehistoric economies. The research has brought forth substantial advancements in the understanding of pre- and protohistoric economies, providing evidence, among others, for the existence of a pan-European weight system in the Bronze Age, the use of two distinct weight units in 3rd Millennium BC Mesopotamia, for private and public uses, and the existence of metal currencies in Bronze Age Atlantic Europe.
Archaeological data originating from areas included between the Atlantic Facade and the Indus were studied. This allowed to compare developments in very different regions during the Bronze Age. This comparative perspective allows so far to see connections between, for example, the early distribution of weights and the intensity of exchange of precious metals, which were potentially used as weight-regulated artefacts.
The impact of the introduction of weight metrology and early money on the conceptualisation of material value has been discussed and will be further investigated within the project. The existence of Bronze Age merchants and markets is currently debated within the project and will be further considered in the scope of a third workshop („Weights and merchants: the technology of trade“) in 2019.
It is very promising that the collection of data in the first phase of the project has already led to new insights concerning the main objectives of the project. First of all, all contributions have confirmed the expectation stated in the DoA that weighing equipment can be identified in regions between the Atlantic and the Indus, even where none was previously known. So far, these objects have been often ignored or misinterpreted. In addition, further systematic investigations in regions where weights and scales were already extensively studied have led to important new results. For example, the study of very early 3rd millennium BC weights from the Diyala region in eastern Mesopotamia proves the use of the unit of c. 9.1 g, whereas only the unit of c. 8.6 g was known until now. This also suggests connections with western Syria and the Aegean in the Early Bronze Age, where this weight unit was in use. This confirms a suggestion made in the PI’s habilitation work (2012) that weighing technology and specific units spread from a core region in Mesopotamia to the west and as far as the Aegean in the early third millennium BC (most likely as a consequence of indirect trade relations). New results from southern Italy indicate the use of weights by the early second millennium BC. These would represent the earliest weights in Europe (outside of the Aegean). Interestingly, the shapes of the latter are similar to metal weights from Central Europe a few hundred years later. Further weights have been identified in England and very specific gold objects may have functioned as weight-regulated artefacts. The ‘quantally configurated’ artefacts seem to be based on a weight unit which is very well known in the East Mediterranean Bronze Age. Newly identified weights in England were found in trade-related contexts: in shipwrecks transporting raw material of high value, in potential hub sites at coastal zones and in potential marketplaces further inland. All these new results are promising indications that the history of interaction and trade during the Bronze Age will need to be largely rewritten at the end of the project. The objective conceptualisation of material value based on units of weight was apparently a phenomenon common to both literate and illiterate societies during the Bronze Age. The research therefore contributes to a much better understanding of the very early history of trade and those aspects of profit making that lie at the origins of our capitalistic modern world. These studies go considerably beyond the current state of knowledge and their impact in the understanding of societal realities and of the conceptualisations of material value (especially in non-literate societies in Europe and also in parts of Western Asia) has still to be assessed in its full extent.
Since the study of weights and weight-regulated artefacts from Europe has revealed the most surprising results, it was decided to focus especially on this region with more intensity and workforce. Given the promising results the project will especially focus on three larger regions of Europe (1: British Isles, France & Iberia for metal weights and weight-regulated gold torcs and bracelets, 2: Northern Germany, Denmark & Poland for the ‘Kannelurensteine’, 3: Carpathian Basin and Balkan for potential weights and weight-regulated artefacts) with more manpower in the last two years of the project in order to verify the working hypothesis on balance weights and weight-regulated gold objects. Much material from West and South Asia is not (currently) available due to the political situation. It is intended to study additional material from India. Also further data from the east Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Cyprus) will be investigated. In particular, advanced statistical analysis (Cosine Quantogram Analysis and Monte Carlo tests) will be employed to verify the apparent compatibility between the European and Eastern Mediterranean weight systems. Several monographic publications (detailed presentation and interpretation) stemming from the analysis of the data from the various sub-projects are currently in preparation.