One of many puzzling questions facing archaeologists working in the eastern Mediterranean deals with the organization of trade during the Late Bronze Age (LBA). This is the time of the New Kingdom-the period of Tutankhamun and Ramses—in Egypt, the Hittite empire in Anatolia and parts of the Near East, and the age of the heroes of the Trojan war. Palace archives, treaties inscribed on public monuments, and murals painted on walls testify to extensive economic ties between these powers. Archaeological excavations also provide a glimpse of the types and quantities of trade-items and their distribution. These sources give some indication of the kinds of goods which were exchanged, but the mechanisms by which they changed hands are not at all clear. Mycenaean pottery, for example, was certainly a marketable commodity; great quantities of this distinctive ware were exported to the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Syro-Palestine and, to a lesser extent, Egypt and Anatolia. But the large number of Mycenaean vessels found in these areas is not balanced by a reciprocal quantity of recognizable foreign goods in the Mycenaean world. One hypothesis put forward by archaeologists is that the Mycenaean wares (and the contents within some of them) must have been traded for raw materials, especially copper. But the active participants in this trade remain unidentified: Did Mycenaeans sail east in search of copper, or was it a matter of traders from Cyprus and the Near East voyaging west in search of a market?
Institute of Nautical Archaeology
College Station, Texas
Hirschfeld, N. (1990). Fine tuning: An analysis of bronze age potmarks as clues to maritime trade. INA Newsletter, 17(1), 18-21.