Bronze Age trade routes (on land)
Decoys and destinations
When we start staring at maps for clues about old Trade Routes, especially ones that go in straight lines, it’s very easy for wishful thinking to set in, and we start clutching at straws. Look, that phone box is on the line!
So the kind of qualitative questions that bother us are:
- how wide can a line be?
- what kind of places are cause and what kind are effect?
- why are so many old-places in the West and why are there a lot less in the East?
For example, if the line is one metre wide the degree of precision becomes extraordinarily demanding. If it's one kilometre wide, e voila, it's a sweeping brush that covers everything in its path. (Cue arguments about how wide the line can be to be statistically valid)
Next - causes and effects
If you say you want to start from strategic point A (let's say a megalithic hilltop near Penzance) and go to a strategic point B (err, some other significant hill top some way east of Penzance), well of course you've got to cross streams and rivers. Do it enough times and you will do the obvious to avoid getting thirsty with wet feet at the same time. Like build fords and bridges, and tap natural springs to make wells and watering troughs. The fact that these fords, bridges, All Saints/ Michael churches, etc appear later close to the trade route is an effect, not a cause of the trade route. Think how sandwich and coffee shops spring up on commuter routes, or how come service stations are positioned where they are.
How can you tell the difference between cause and effect thousands of years later? For that, I think we can apply Reverse Engineering. When in the 1950's the demand came about for a new communications and trade infrastructure (motorways), the M-routes had to do several key things.
- join important places
- not go through major residential areas
- use land that was otherwise low-cost or marginal
- include the provision of enclosures for rest-areas, overnight parking etc
Pre-Roman routes (travelling between hilltop enclosures across high ground, away from valleys and towns) do all of these things. For this very reason, I suggest to people that they should consider all the large hilltop enclosures as the Bronze Age equivalent of motorway service stations.
Next : Egyptians in Britain?