Aims / Questions

After the crash of the global financial system in 2007 and 2008 and the collapse of entire nations, the society is more and more interested in alternative economic models and new narratives. In particular, current economic developments like resource scarcity, rising inequality, as well as enormous complex economic networks, with all the benefits and disadvantages, have been known since ancient times and long-term solution strategies are necessary. Due to the focus on long-term developments, Archeology can change our perspective to economic systems and situations of crisis and we are able to contribute to modern debates. The objective of the Research Training Group ‘Archeology of Pre-Modern Economies’ is to analyse premodern economic systems and regions with regard to their structure, efficiency, as well as dynamics and their interaction with environmental, political, social, religious, as well as cultural circumstances. This research shall provide stimuli to the solution of modern problems.

Theoretical approaches shall be discussed and their application shall be reviewed with the help of empirical research within different case studies. Furthermore, a diachronic as well as intercultural comparison shall demonstrate common structures, cultural characteristics, and particular developments – due to the character of the research training group, the focus is on the material remains of past societies, but all relevant sources are taken into account.

Research idea and questions

Economy and cultural are in a mutual relationships to each other: On the one hand, every economic behavior is influenced by culture, on the other hand, cultural systems need an economic basis. Furthermore, economic systems interact with the unique physiographically, demographic, socio-political or religious-cognitive circumstances as well as with the economy of neighbouring cultures. In addition, there are structures which are comparable: independent of culture, economy can be characterised as the chain of production, distribution and consumption. Moreover, production can be divided into (1) food production and resource extraction (2) manufacturing sector, and (3) services; likewise (4) exchange and trade and (5) demography matter for a cross-cultural analysis of premodern economic systems. All of these spheres can be analysed with regard to their structure but also in a quantitative way. Within the research training group, three different lines of research are considering premodern economic systems on various levels of scale (e.g. the individual, household, sanctuary, or ‘biggest jointly acting group’). The results are the basis of a cross-cultural and diachronic comparison within the group.

Places of extraction, production or services, different modes of exchange, trade routes or regions of consumptions can be analysed in a structural way. The manifold research questions within the research training group are as follows: Which was the functional relationships between physiographically and man-made environment and what was the influence on the economy? To which extent were economic actions within settlements and their hinterland influenced by the societal and governmental framework? Who was involved into economic processes and what was his/her social position? How did different persons act and communicate in economic fields? Which social and economic networks were evolving? Which techniques were used and how was technological knowledge applied? Was consumption more profane or more ritual-religious? To which extent had consumption a symbolic meaning? Were economic processes influenced by season, everyday life or festival calendar? Can we see any long-term cycles and dynamics? Were there any strategies for a sustainable resource management?

Furthermore, it is possible to record, quantify, and evaluate production, distribution and consumption volumes by means of archaeological sources. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the research training group is particularly dealing with pre-monetary societies or that existing sources make an estimation of monetary value quite difficult. It is therefore essential to use other proxys like hours of work or calorie consumption. Research question concerning these aspects of pre-modern societies are like: How was the agricultural output in comparison to the demography in a region? What was the relevance of the three production sectors and are they comparable concerning the involved labour? What was the scale of production within single settlement or urban centres and is any craft specialisation visible? Which goods were exchanged and which quantities were transported? What significance had mining in comparison to agriculture between the Neolithic and the Medieval Period? How was output influenced by the institutional setting? How was output related to technological progress? Which cultural and social mechanisms influenced consumption quantities of single economic units?

These are all questions, which are of outstanding scientific importance for pre-modern as well as for our recent society. The research illuminates the manifold handling with scare resources and demonstrate alternative ways of solution.