The Origins of Entrepreneurship and the Market Process

An Archaeological Assessment of Competitive Feasting, Trade, and Social Cooperation

Human cooperation has been the focus of many disciplines of soical science. While people have lived in small, mobile groups for the majority of our existence (over 150,000 years) the sudden development of more complex societies in the Holocene (about 11,000 years ago) is a fascinating phenomenon. The first archaeological evidence of people meeting in large groups is represented through feasting traditions worldwide. I argue that competitive feasting represents one of the first mechanisms in which individuals could gain special social status through trade and cooperation. This chapter explores evidence for feasting traditions in Anatolia (now Turkey), among the Bronze Age Celts (now northern Europe), and Toyah Phase (now Texas) as case studies. In all of these examples, the first evidence for long-distance trade in the area is limited to non-functional or ceremonial goods, with evidence that these goods played a crucial role in gatherings of large numbers of people. Although these examples are removed in time and space, all three transitions to more complex social organizations occur in times of population increase and therefore increased competition over subsistence resources. The social differentiation afforded by feasting, emerging from more egalitarian forms of social organization, only succeeds because the host of the feast can fulfill their own desires as well as that of their guests. Motivation for competitive feasting spurred long-distance trade for exotic, luxury items as well as for the creation of special foods. It has been convincingly argued that special cooking technologies, such as fermentation and the use of pottery, developed in response to feasting traditions. Feasting socio-complexes may have led to the domestication of important cereal crops, such as wheat, barley, and maize. These fundamental changes in human society are reflected in the first evidence for social ranking, private property, and long-distance trade--in other words, this transition marks the first evidence for entrepreneurship and the pillars of the market process.