The Big Exchange Project


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"Aim of the project
Large-scale raw material exchange systems connect production from source to demand in adistant location, regardless of whether this demand is for the supply of abundant goods,such as small tools, or for a few highly valued diplomatic gifts. What happens between thesource and the find spots is a matter of interpretation: a wide variety of motivations, formsof exchange and differently interlocked regional economic networks of limited reach are tobe assumed, whose interactions result in highly complex systems (Brughmans 2022).

This project explicitly does not reconstruct complete economic or social networks, butrather seeks and measures key parameters, some of which are also known from the field of socialnetwork analysis. Those parameters can then be followed through time and space where theyindicate changes and represent economic and social trajectories. Here, we introduce the projectvia a case study and invite broad collaboration on providing a platform for joint work.In the project, however, the analysis is based simply on sources and the find spots related tothem. For strictly analytical purposes, this connection is assumed. The aim is not to mapentire exchange systems nor to follow individual production stages or exchange steps—thethin, often heterogeneous data structure makes this impossible in most cases.Within network science, those relations that connect source to find spot by a directed relationship are conceptualised as bimodal (Wasserman & Faust 2019). In combining these spatial and chronological distributions of different raw materials’ interdependencies,interchangeability and economic side effects become visible. Within the project, some ofthe most important examples of outstanding, large-scale exchange networks in prehistoryare assembled (Figures 1 & 2). Data collection is currently being expanded to Africa andAsia. The project focuses on how the simultaneous distributions of different commoditieswere related to the actors’ more or less limited access to resources; in doing so, fundamentalquestions of social inequality and power relations are addressed."

Great maps and graphics.

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