The History of Bartering: Still Has A Place Today

Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.

The history of bartering extends back to early human existence. Yet today, bartering still has its place in modern life, as a compliment to money exchange. Barter Tocoma helps organize city bartering.

Although many economists and anthropologists have spent their entire careers documenting and explaining the history and significance of the bartering system the fact of the matter is that bartering is as old as humanity itself. The evidence in prehistory is overwhelming. One of the best documented examples is the exchange between the Anasazi of the American Southwest, especially Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and the Mesoamerican peoples who exchanged everything from turquoise, copper, exotic macaw birds, and the almighty Mesoamerican cacao leaves.

After the development of agriculture and the proliferation of domestic livestock, one of the earliest forms of barter included cattle. As long ago as 9,000 B.C. cows, sheep, camels, and other livestock were used to trade for domesticated grain, vegetables, and plant products.

The problem with bartering is that it takes time to find someone that needs an item that is available to trade and is willing to part with an item or service in return that is needed by the other party. Over time, certain items became desirable by most everyone and these items became easy to barter with and used more like currency unit. Animal skins, salt, weapons, and new technology served as mediums of exchange even though the individual values were still negotiable. This system of barter and trade spread across the world, and it still survives today on some parts of the globe.

One of the first monetary coins was developed out of lumps of silver. These early coins first appeared in ancient Turkey but the techniques were quickly copied and further refined by the Greek, Persian, Macedonian, and later the Roman empires. These coins were made from precious metals such as silver, bronze, and gold, which had an inherent value.

Although rather prolific in ancient times bartering and trading has largely been surpassed by modern monetary exchanges. Yet their roots lie in bartering. However, in recent years bartering has experienced somewhat of resilience in the modern era. Websites such as Craigslist and Meetups include bartering groups and methods of exchange and events such as barter fairs are helping to revitalize this system of exchange.

In today’s times where countries have largely centralized their exchanges through by a defined currency, bartering and other forms of exchange such as time banking and alternative currencies facilitate only a small part of economic transactions, usually within communities. Yet these alternatives to government backed currency are not insignificant. Like any ecosystem, high diversity indicates health and stability of a system. The Occupy Wall Street protests signify a global disatisfaction with the interconnected, international monetary system and the power it has over people. An increase of bartering, along with other alternative forms of exchange can improve the overall economic conditions for individuals, while rendering them a little less dependent on the large scale financial organizations they mistrust. -Kathy Fairchild

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