It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


The World's Oldest Trade

page: 1

log in


posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 05:10 AM
At the edge of the Nile valley near the village of Nazlet Khater, Egypt, we find eight pre-historic (which is what we like to call the history that was before the history) archaeological sites. Most of the sites are associated with intermittent mining activities beginning 40,000 years ago.

Of the eight, the best known is Nazlet Khater 2 (NK2), which contained an early modern human burial.

“NK2 is the purposeful burial of a subadult male in a supine position, found at the summit of a hill some 250 meters (825 feet) from the closest quarry. The skeleton is nearly complete, although the lower portion of his body is not as well-preserved as the upper. Electron spin resonance on tooth enamel dates this burial to 38,000 years BP, and some evidence directly associates this burial to the mining activities at NK4.”

“Skeletal examination of the bones in the 1980s indicated that the man was not Neanderthal, but rather an early modern human who stood approximately 165 centimeters (65 inches) tall and had very strong arms. The examination also concluded that the man had sustained considerable damage to his vertebra throughout his life, suggesting to researchers that he had worked in the mines for most of his life.”

Let's take that last statement under consideration. The man worked in the mines for most of his life. What does that tell us? It tells us this was a professional miner. He wasn't just there to extract stones for making himself tools. This was his trade. It means there was a complex social framework built up around the mine. If there are miners, then there are other trades as well. Tool makers, artisans, etc, and some type of economy built up around the activity.

The man's back was worn out. This gives us an idea that this was hard work, and it wasn't fast money. Why would somebody work hard during difficult conditions in a quarry all his life, if he had the choice of doing something else? One answer could be that he was poor and had to work there, another that he was a slave. In any case it implies that there was a social order that imposed hard labor on parts of the population, and that means a structured social hierarchy.

The historical value of a quarry site is in what anthropologist Elisabeth Bloxam has listed as four data elements: the resource itself (that is, the raw material); the production remains (tools, spoil and discarded products); the logistics (what it takes to get the raw material out of the quarry); and the social infrastructure (the organization of people required to use the quarry, make the objects and transport them away). She argues that quarries should be seen as complexes, fitting into a dynamic landscape where tradition, ancestry, memory, symbolism and information about territorial ownership coexist.*

We're talking 36 000 years BC, and suddenly we're far away from the traditional view of stone age man as hunter gatherer nomads, cave-dwelling, roaming the landscapes in chase of migrating prey. In fact, it is Paleolithic man (2.6 million years ago – 8,000 BC) behaving as Neolithic man, (4,500 to 2,000 BC), skipping the Mesolithic era (10,000 to 5000 BC).

Now, let's go from Egypt to Europe, and stay more or less in the same time frame.

The (in paleolithic circles) famous lion man has recently been proved to be as old as 40 000 years. This anthropomorphic figurine is only one of many found to show for Paleolithic man's craftsmanship.

According to the British Museum's curator Jill Cook, some of these works are masterpieces that took hundreds of hours to produce. This indicates that we're talking about professional artists, and a society wealthy and advanced enough to sustain them.

“The works even suggest a nascent art world, she argues – professionals occupying a particular place in society, entrusted with the work of creating art. "Some of the things we have from digs are a bit rubbish; some of them almost look like apprentice pieces. But the best things are masterpieces and would have taken hundreds of hours to produce."
In one Pyrenean cave, where a number of delicate carvings of horses' heads were found – boldly likened by Cook to the equine sculptures on the Parthenon frieze – was an area where carvings had clearly been produced over a period of time, like an "atelier", said Cook. The skill and time required to make the works suggest that "this was a society that valued their producers".

Once again we see a world with an organized, developed society and a complex social structure, and it is not local, but found in Africa/Middle East up to northern Europe and probably in Asia as well.

A world-wide developed society 40 000 years ago. Fragments from this era handed down to us seem to indicate so. Comments, inputs, ideas, criticism, anyone?

*”Forgotten People and Places: New Perspectives on the Social Context of Ancient Stone Quarrying in Egypt”, Elizabeth Bloxam. General Anthropology, Volume 18, Issue 1, pages 1–6, Spring 2011
edit on 4-2-2013 by Heliocentric because: a world of dew, and within every dewdrop a world of struggle

+1 more 
posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 05:40 AM
Funny, I thought prostitution was the oldest trade.

Interesting read though and I'll return to read more later.


posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 06:06 AM
reply to post by nerbot

That was my first impression too, I fully expected a thread about concubines

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 06:52 AM
reply to post by nerbot

I'm sure prostitutes were around, they just didn't leave any tools behind, or...

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 07:23 AM
excellent thread! sadly i dont have time to provide links, but will include enough info for those intersted to find it etc..

...the stone age was more organised that many would realise - the equivilant of factories and industrial centres existed, no doubt about it..

in the lake district in england for example, on "the pike o'stickle" peak, there is a neolithic greenstone axe factory (of the ground, rather than knapped variety)

there are of course flint mines (eg grimes graves, also a large one in poland that i know of)
interestingly, flint from this very same mine in poland was widely traded due to it beautiful "banded" pattern - just google-image "polish banded flint" for a visual treat - examples have been found hundreds of miles away in the uk.

also danish flint workers used to rough out handaxes in flint, then load them into hide boats and export them, when they would be ground or knapped into their final form - sunken boats complete with cargo have been recovered..

SnF btw

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 07:28 AM
reply to post by Heliocentric

Fascinating stuff, but I am not sure if I agree with your conclusions about there being complex social structures, or at least more complex than what is usually described in hunter/gatherer societies..

Even though his work as a miner would have been backbreaking it doesn't have to implicate that it was forced labor, or that he did it out of sheer poverty.
If what he dragged out of the mine was considered to be of value it might just have been a choice of occupation. Perhaps he wasn't a very good hunter, and this was his way of contributing to his tribe.

Yesterday I read an article about a fisher who had to retire early because his body was destroyed after a decade of work, but he loved fishing and didn't wish to do anything else. Granted, he wasn't the richest fella, but I doubt anybody forced him to do it, or that he would love it any less even if he had a better job.

I still think the traditional view of human history holds up fine.
edit on 06/06/12 by Mads1987 because: (no reason given)

edit on 06/06/12 by Mads1987 because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 07:59 AM
reply to post by Heliocentric

Certainly we know that trade was taking place, almost from the word go, and that decoration, or decorative art was important. Shells, whether as a waste product from food, or as a commodity, were used to adorn the bodies of the dead, as were minerals that produced pigments. By about 40,000 years ago, minerals are believed to have been used by the living the 'beautify' themselves as make-up or other 'treatments', so clearly, the sources, and applications of such, were desirable commodities.

The Lion's Cavern in Swaziland, is the oldest known 'mine' and was a source of haematite and perhaps more significantly, for painting purposes, specularite. Again, make up (though we should presume that it was, at least initially, the men who wore the war-paint, that being the natural order of such things).

It is my opinion, that given nomadic lifestyles, much like the elephants and their 'salt-licks', that these sources were once communal, and free to all, and that the change that we are seeing from around 40,000 years, represents to emergence of ownership and control of such resources, a pattern that grew, and continues to grow, exponentially. The same thing that would later occur with fresh water and mineral springs, and of course precious metals. Why go out hunting when you could just sit in the same spot and have others bring food to you in exchange for your mineral wealth? This would, extend to any craft and the increasing desire to monopolise the base materials, therefore leading to specialisation.

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 08:07 AM
oh man....this means the you tube video about rockwall texas and the hidden, missing, taken away artifacts and skeletons of giants get credence. we're going after the evidence at the site, which is a wall 3 miles by 5 miles rectangular...and someone keeps hiding the news and information, as if to make it "GO AWAY"
even the smithsonian.

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 09:20 AM
everything in the OP narrative is consistant with the 'miners' quarrymen' being prisoners and the mining was 'hard labor' punishment.

the art works was the result on idle time, since diaries were not kept, carvings and other pieces of 'art' were the diversion needed for sanity by the prisoners....some prisoners were more accomplished than others...hence the masterpieces from antiquity along side the very primitive statuary.and various other likenesses

there is no foundation to suppose the miner community were either slaves or lower-class grunting workers
they could ery well have been todays equivelent of craftsmen/trades people/ merchants/ and intellectuals that were forced into hard labor for crimes against society,,,even some 38,000 BP

i would guess that during this Pagan, pre religion time... that those who did crimes against others were not executed nor were they exiled to become another group or tribes problem... the offenders were given terms of hard labor as the correct justice system in a land-life dominated by the harsh ice age Nature & environment
edit on 4-2-2013 by St Udio because: (no reason given)

this piece of 'Art'

might just be a representation of the "Warden" in the stone quarry prison camp
carved by one of the prisoner-miners
the Warden as Lion metaphor (king of the jungle) is too obvious

why do we insist of having grunting, stooped and stupid ancestors as the model of humans prior to 6,000 bce
edit on 4-2-2013 by St Udio because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 09:54 AM
reply to post by KilgoreTrout

Back in 2002, a team working at Blombos Cave in South Africa reported finding two 77,000 year old pieces of ochre (one of which is pictured here) etched with what appears to be a deliberate cross-hatched pattern. The findings were published in Science, and I wrote about them at the time. A couple of years later, the same team, led by Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and the University of Bergen in Norway, reported equally old shell beads that may have been used as personal ornaments. Many, although not all, researchers interpreted these finds as evidence of early symbolic behavior and maybe even art. Indeed, the discoveries eventually convinced many scientists that symbolic behavior did not begin during the so-called "Upper Paleolithic creative explosion" in Europe 40,000 years ago but much earlier.

In this week's Science, I report on new finds of etched ochre, some dated 100,000 years old, from Blombos Cave. The work was presented at a meeting in Cape Town in January and is also in press at the Journal of Human Evolution. Here are a few extracts of my report:

To analyze the latest finds, Henshilwood teamed up with Francesco d'Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France and independent ochre expert Ian Watts, who is based in Athens. The trick with ancient ochre is to figure out what early humans were using it for. Many previous studies have concluded that ochre was often ground to make a powder, which could have been used to paint bodies--a form of social identification usually considered symbolic--or for more utilitarian purposes. For example, Lynnette Wadley of Witwatersrand has argued from modern-day experiments that ground ochre could have been used as a kind of glue to haft stone tools into wooden or bone handles.
So Henshilwood and colleagues focused their attention on 13 pieces engraved in ways that seemed inconsistent with grinding alone. Some pieces have lines arranged in apparent fan-shaped or crosshatched designs; others are etched in wavy patterns. Microscopic examination showed that these engravings had been made with a pointed stone tool and a finely controlled hand.

Of the 13 pieces, eight were found at levels reliably dated to about 100,000 years ago. And Henshilwood's team argues that the findings of similar etched pieces at both 77,000 and 100,000 years ago is particularly significant:

... some of the oldest pieces have a crosshatched pattern similar to that of the two original ochre pieces dated to 77,000 years ago. And other researchers have very recently discovered similar crosshatched patterns on a few African stone and bone objects thought to be as old as the new finds, or nearly so. This refutes suggestions that the marks are merely doodles, Henshilwood says, and suggests a 25,000-year tradition of symbolic representation.

I quote a couple of researchers who aren't entirely convinced, on various grounds, that the pieces indicate symbolic behavior. But even if they did, we will probably never know what they really meant to the people who engraved them.

These Shell bead works date from the same era

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2009) — Shell beads newly unearthed from four sites in Morocco confirm early humans were consistently wearing and potentially trading symbolic jewelry as early as 80,000 years ago. These beads add significantly to similar finds dating back as far as 110,000 in Algeria, Morocco, Israel and South Africa, confirming these as the oldest form of personal ornaments. This crucial step towards modern culture is reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

A team of researchers recovered 25 marine shell beads dating back to around 70,000 to 85,000 years ago from sites in Morocco, as part of the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme 'Origin of Man, Language and Languages'. The shells have man-made holes through the centre and some show signs of pigment and prolonged wear, suggesting they were worn as jewelry.

Across all the locations shells were found from a similar time period from the Nassarius genus. That these shells were used similarly across so many sites suggests this was a cultural phenomenon, a shared tradition passed along through cultures over thousands of years. Several of the locations where shells have been found are so far inland that the shells must have been intentionally brought there.

"Either people went to sea and collected them, or more likely marine shell beads helped create and maintain exchange networks between coastal and inland peoples. This shows well-structured human culture that attributed meaning to these things," said Francesco d'Errico, lead author and director of res
edit on 4-2-2013 by Spider879 because: (no reason given)

edit on 4-2-2013 by Spider879 because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 11:38 AM

Originally posted by Heliocentric
reply to post by nerbot
I'm sure prostitutes were around, they just didn't leave any tools behind, or...
or they never got into the kinky stuff back then...

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 11:39 AM

Originally posted by nerbot
Funny, I thought prostitution was the oldest trade.Thanks.
That was my first thought too

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 03:25 PM

Originally posted by Spider879
"Either people went to sea and collected them, or more likely marine shell beads helped create and maintain exchange networks between coastal and inland peoples. This shows well-structured human culture that attributed meaning to these things," said Francesco d'Errico, lead author and director of res

Of course, there is no need to go to sea in order to collect shells, all a person need do is walk along the shoreline, shells of all shapes and sizes are brought in on the tides. That the earliest peoples found them beautiful and wanted to adorn themselves with them, is no surprise...just look inside simple, common mussel shells...they're iridescent and shiny, and appeal to our 'bird' brain. But what is fascinating is the longevity of that fascination, and how deeply embedded it is in our cultures. In the catholic faiths particularly, a shell, is used to pour over the baptismal water, displaying some hints as to the deeper meaning that shells held. And in Jerusalem, archaeological finds of shells made of gold, have indicated to us that the Priest castes may too have adorned themselves with the symbols of shells. So obviously, there was something there, beyond the merely decorative, that the shell signified to our ancestors, something that they clearly associated with rebirth and it is that association that has left a lasting imprint on us culturally.

edit on 4-2-2013 by KilgoreTrout because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 05:15 PM
Great thread, this is the kind of subject where I bookmark this page to my tab and check for updates.

But I slight issue with the title, as I could not find anything within this story that addresses the "oldest trade".
Here I was thinking... alcohol? prostitution?

I believe that early civilizations were much more advanced than we currently know.
But I'm still waiting on the "World's Oldest Trade"

posted on Feb, 4 2013 @ 08:08 PM

My mind was in the wrong lane clicking on this thread.

Awesome stuff anyway! Thanks for a cool thread.

posted on Feb, 7 2013 @ 06:31 AM
reply to post by St Udio

here is an update on the Lion Man sculpture....carved from ancient Mammoth ivory

this article says new, additional fragments of the ivory ststue have been found in the cave

the reconstruction is underway which should make the figurine more complete and possibly taller and even more detailed

the restoration with the blending in of more formerly lost fragments should be complete around Nov 2013
(right around the November '13 time frame of the comet that will outshine the full moon...humm, eerie huh)


Ice Age Lion Man is world’s earliest figurative sculpture

Work carved from mammoth ivory has been redated and 1,000 new fragments discovered—

the article does state that the statuette must have taken over 400 mazn hours to carve...
what better things do prisoners have to do with their spare time than engage themselves in concentrated tasks, like carving pieces of wood/stone/ivory... even some 40,000 years ago as-per the newer estimates of the age of the carving

new topics

top topics


log in