Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The Obsidian Trade in the Near East, 14,000 to 6500 BC

Posted by Fredsvenn on December 19, 2012

Obsidian, a black volcanic glass, was first recognized by Colin Renfrew and his colleagues J.E. Dixon and J.R. Cann in the 1960s as a uniquely sensitive indicator of prehistoric trade, both because of the great desirability of this material before the use of metals, and also because the trace-elements it contains are usually diagnostic of individual sources. Work on Near Eastern obsidian in the Neolithic period has been a particular focus of interest, and a summary of current results has been published by M.-C. Cauvin et al., L’obsidienne au Proche et Moyen Orient: du volcan à l’outil (Oxford: BAR Int. Ser. 738), from which the information in the following maps has been extracted. They indicate a remarkable story, from limited circulation (though still over impressive distances) by late-Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, to its increasing use by the first farming communities – initially distributed along a few axial routes but then flowing through a more reticulated network. The maps are particularly useful since they indicate the flows of material from two major source-areas, initially separate but increasingly inter-penetrating. (Obsidian from other sources, e.g. around Lake Van and in the Transcaucasus, is not shown).

The Obsidian Trade in the Near East, 14,000 to 6500 BC

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