Perspectives from ancient history, ethnography and archaeology: Innovation – acquisition of raw materials – social change: models and concepts

Gift, redistribution and market. Exchange mechanisms in prehistoric economies

Exchange and trade were important aspects of the social and economic life of prehistoric communities. Examples include the European Spondylus network during the Late Neolithic, the tin trade in the Bronze Age, or the Mediterranean imports during the Hallstatt period.

Scholars have distinguished between gift exchange, also referred to as reciprocity, redistribution and market exchange, and between socially embedded exchange and market trade. Whereas gift exchange mainly occurred between symmetrical groups to reproduce their social relationships, redistribution is characterized by a centre, which reallocates the produced commodities. Distinct features of a market transaction are the forces of supply and demand and the development of equivalents.
The key issue of the study is to work out the differences between these modes of exchange and to investigate whether gift exchange and redistribution can be explained with neoclassical or institutional economic theory, and whether every exchange is in fact characterized by its social circumstances.
The aims of this diachronic study are to deal with different theoretical principles, to describe various exchange mechanisms on the basis of the archaeological sources, and to consider the social effects . The analysis of individual artefact types and provenance studies are also of prime importance.


Prof. Dr. Tobias Kienlin / Universität zu Köln

Prof. Dr. Linda-Marie Günther / Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum


Ruhr-Universität Bochum


2011 - 2014