The exchange of raw materials and finished products in a society is an activity that is inextricably bound up with economic, social and political life. The nature of the movement of goods can only be understood if it is seen in relation to the complex and changing framework of society. In early AngloSaxon England small cohesive social units with low population densities and local leaders merged by peaceful and forceful means into larger political agglomerations. At the base of this structure was subsistence. Small, relatively isolated communities would have been extremely vulnerable if crops failed. In such circumstances, alliances with neighbouring groups would have assumed great importance when food was required in emergencies. Such alliances could have been established by such means as offers of reciprocity, payment through gifts of primitive valuables, or marriages between members of groups. In this way, alliance relations between descent groups would simul-taneously have involved economic and social affairs and it would be entirely artificial to try and divorce them. Despite displaying a generalised and largely self-sufficient subsistence economy, precious metals and other valuable goods are known to have moved between such communities, thereby also having a role in the gradual blurring of regional identities. Thus there would have been a degree of craft specialisation at the local level.