Researchers Investigate The Spread Of Weighing Systems Across Western Eurasia 4,000 Years Ago

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Researchers Investigate The Spread Of Weighing Systems Across Western Eurasia 4,000 Years Ago

According to a study, Bronze Age merchants had a self-regulating market that allowed them to trade goods across Europe using common weight systems.

It meant a trader 4,000 years ago could travel from ancient Mesopotamia to the Aegean and from there on to Central Europe without having to change their own set of weights because similar systems were in use.

Stone balance weights with weight marks from the Bronze Age tell settlement of Arslantepe (Malatya, Turkey). The weights were found grouped together on the floor of a private house of phase VI D1

Researchers say this is evidence of a global network regulating itself from the bottom-up because there was no international authority that could have regulated the accuracy of weight systems over such a wide territory and long time span.

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In Europe, beyond the Aegean, centralised authorities did not even exist at the time.

It meant merchants could use a unit of value in the age before coins and bills that allowed them to interact freely, establish profitable partnerships and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by long-distance trade, the study said.

It was led by researchers from the University of Göttingen in Germany. 

Examples of Western Eurasian balance weights of the Bronze Age. A: Spool-shaped weights from Tiryns, Greece (L Rahmstorf). B: Cubic weights from Dholavira, India (E Ascalone). C: Duck-shaped weights from Susa, Iran (E Ascalone). D: flat block weights from Lipari, Italy (N Ialongo)

‘It is now possible to prove the long-held hypothesis that free entrepreneurship was already a primary driver of the world economy even as early as the Bronze Age,’ said Professor Lorenz Rahmstorf.

His colleague, Dr Nicola Ialongo, added: ‘The idea of a self-regulating market existing some 4,000 years ago puts a new perspective on the global economy of the modern era.

‘Try to imagine all the international institutions that currently regulate our modern world economy: is global trade possible thanks to these institutions, or in spite of them?’ 

The type of weighing scales a Bronze Age merchant would have carried with her when moving from one market to another to trade: suspended replica bone balance scale with flax strings and leather pouches, holding two replica weights in equilibrium

The research also showed that if information flow in Eurasia trade was free enough to support a common weight system, it was likely to be sufficient to react to local price fluctuations. 

To determine how different units of weight emerged in different regions, researchers compared all the weight systems in use between Western Europe and the Indus Valley from 3,000-1,000 BC. 

Analysis of 2,274 balance weights from 127 sites revealed that, with the exception of those from the Indus Valley, new and very similar units of weight appeared in a gradual spread west of Mesopotamia. 

Diffusion of weighing technology in Western Eurasia (c. 3000-1000 BCE)

To find out if the gradual formation of these systems could be due to propagation of error from a single weight system, the researchers modelled the creation of 100 new units. 

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Taking into account factors such as measurement error, the simulation supported a single origin between Mesopotamia and Europe. It also showed that the Indus Valley probably developed an independent weight system.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


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