Is Globalization New?

Textiles and Trade in Andean Antiquity

Globalization has nothing to do with antiquity, or does it?

The urgency of globalization's contemporary warps and wefts - increased efficiency in transportation, enhanced movements of people and goods across social boundaries, the rapid spread of ideas across regions, and so on - can blind us to its antecedents. Mired in the daily blur of news about a world compressed in time and space, we tend to think of globalization as an exclusively contemporary, and even futuristic, phenomenon bringing heretofore separated, even isolated, people and cultures into increasing contact and collision.

Time and again, in all parts of the ancient world, people pushed to and beyond the edges of their known horizons. Expanding networks of power, trade, transportation, and belief bound people and ideas together in new economic, communications, and political systems. Inasmuch as these processes extended to and beyond the edges of then-known worlds, they represent early forms of globalization, parallel to modern processes.

As such systems emerged and expanded they shattered and reformulated existing individual, cultural, social, and political identities, restructured economies, redrew political borders, and reconfigured alliances - all patterns woven in the past, not just the present. Eventually, all of these networks collapsed, raising the question whether globalization's antecedents also forecast the future of today's interconnected world.

The textiles exhibited here, some more than 2,200 years old, represent three such cycles of ancient globalization in the Andean regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.