Study Says Humans Used Dogs as Currency 2000 Years Ago


There is more trade in the present than ever before. However, it is important to note that trade is one of those things that have been happening since before even our earliest records. Chances are good that interested individuals have heard something about the extensive trade networks that connected the famous civilizations of ancient times. For example, Cornwall and Devon are known to have supplied tin to the Eastern Mediterranean of the Bronze Age, which happened because tin is a scarce metal combined with the much more common copper to create bronze. Similarly, the Silk Road connected China with the Mediterranean world through not one but two routes. One was the land route that went through Central Asia and then the Middle East. The other was the sea route that went to India before proceeding to both Arabia and Egypt. So, just how does man’s best friend, the dog, come into play?

How Does This Work?

Having said this, interested individuals should know that extensive trade networks could exist even without the conditions of the famous civilizations of ancient times. This can be seen in the Amber Road, which connected both the Baltic Sea and the North Sea with the Mediterranean world from at least the 16th century BC. Furthermore, this can be seen in the existence of not one but numerous Salt Roads, which ensured that the precious substance was available wherever humans chose to settle down. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that the trade relationships of prehistoric peoples could be quite a bit more sophisticated than what a lot of us imagine based on our basic expectations. We don’t have a lot of written records for a lot of these trade networks. In part, this is because they often existed in times and places where writing either wasn’t a thing or wasn’t much of a thing. However, it should also be mentioned that even when writing was available, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have managed to inherit a great deal of written information about what was going on. Still, the archaeologists are doing their best to piece together what happened based on the bits and pieces of the past that can be uncovered, which can sometimes be very informative.

For instance, we have very good reason to believe that Siberians were trading dogs about 2,000 years ago with their neighbors, who in turn, were trading with their neighbors and so on and so forth for quite some distance. This is because the local dogs were once homogenous in a genetic sense about 7,000 to 9,500 years ago. However, they started showing signs of genetic influence from dogs from further west at least about 2,000 years ago. Something that coincided with the presence of non-local materials such as glass and metal in the same sites, which served as further evidence of trade with other peoples. Interested individuals might wonder whether this happened through some other means such as, say, outsiders bringing with their dogs with them to settle in Siberia. Said question was specifically ruled out because the local human population didn’t show the same kind of genetic influence from human populations from elsewhere.

Why Did This Happen?

Chances are good that this happened because people found dogs from other places to be useful. Different cultures can have different levels of interest in adopting new technologies as well as other new things of potential interest. However, the fact of the matter is that humans tend to be quite pragmatic in this regard, particularly when there are external pressures such as, say, the need to secure the basic necessities in a not particularly hospitable landscape. Having said that, it is also important to note that such transfers aren’t quite as simple as just everything spreading from population to population in a perfectly evenly-distributed manner. People tend to adopt that which is useful for them, meaning that they are by no means guaranteed to adopt everything that is available to their neighbors. On top of this, people don’t have a perfect understanding into what things will prove useful and what things won’t prove useful in the long run. As such, they are often focused on whether something was useful in a more immediate sense because immediate concerns were more important than hypotheticals that may or may not come to pass.

How Did Money Start Seeing Use Anyways?

Moving on, it is interesting to think about dogs being exchanged in trade. Ancient cultures were quite aware of the fact that human societies didn’t always use money, which makes sense because a lot of them had huge segments of the population that didn’t use money on a regular basis. As such, there were those who thought that money had been preceded by a system of bartering, which turned out to be inaccurate. Certainly, bartering happened, particularly between strangers as well as potential enemies. However, it was more common to see gift economies in which people would give away things without an explicit expectation of exchange. Of course, the ancients were quite capable of keeping track of debts, so those who abused such systems would inevitably see their treatment by other people change accordingly.

Over time, people started making exchanges using things that possessed value. Sometimes, this value was very direct. Examples included both grain and livestock. Other times, this value was less so, as shown by the widespread practice of using beads and cowrie shells. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t too long before commodity money started seeing use. The most famous examples would be valuable metals. However, there were a wide range of other examples as well. Still, metal was particularly popular, which makes sense because metal was durable, portable, and could be divided with relative ease. Besides this, it wasn’t too long before representative money started seeing use as well. In fact, we know that representative money is actually older than coinage because we know that a number of ancient cultures had a practice of issuing certificates of deposit for warehouses that entitled people to a share of the latter’s contents. As such, these were the first form of representative money. For comparison, coinage didn’t start seeing use until Lydia of the late 7th century BC, though it did have earlier forerunners in both the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

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