Comments on Out of the Past - Video 1
Important things to have noticed:
Seasonality of residence: Different plant and animal resources are abundant at different times of year. Scotty Mac Neish in the Tehuacan Valley in Mexico. (See Box 5.4 on page 182)
As population densities increase and food becomes scarce, humans will exploit less-desirable or less-preferred starvation foods (kinda like eating that stale left-over pasta when you're really hungry). Typically, these are grasses (most other foods have already been eaten). Grasses are typically "camp-followers"...they are the first plants to grow on disturbed land, like campsites ...and burned areas and plowed fields! To make these plants more productive, humans will encourage their growth through weeding and disturbing the soil. Typically, the seeds of these plants are easily dried and stored. Therefore, early humans could further encourage their growth by planting some of their stored seeds. Eventually, as the humans are more likely to favor the individual plants that produce the most and largest seeds, these varieties become the most common. This is the origin of agriculture!
Agriculture has several significant advantages over hunting and gathering:
Storage: as mentioned previously, the seeds, typically grains, will keep for a long time when dry. Therefore, they can be stored for long periods of time. If food is stored, you no longer have to move to where wild resources are abundant. Also, as pottery which, while excellent for long-term storage, is heavy and fragile, you are less likely to remain highly mobile. Thus, agriculture led to sedentism: permanent settlements.
High Productivity: more calories can be obtained from a smaller area than in most hunting and gathering environments. Therefore, more people can live together in the same settlement. This becomes more mandatory as overpopulation forces people to live with each other. However, high productivity also means that there is so much food, not everybody has to farm or hunt. Some people can become craft specialists that provide the community with higher quality goods, like pottery, stone tools, buildings, artwork, etc. than would be otherwise available. However, high productivity also allows other non-farmers to be supported.
Once agriculture develops, social inequality becomes more likely...some land is more productive that other land. Those who farm the most productive land grow and store more food. Those on less productive land may need to borrow from them during bad seasons. Therefore, one segment of the population can exert power over another segment. This is probably how the king of Copan achieved power...where is the Main Group on Copan located? Right! On the best farmland!
However, resources other than land are also required for farming. Irrigation systems are complex and require a cooperative effort to build and maintain. Often, a centralized authority will supervise the distribution of water and the maintenance of its system of delivery. Because water is often more limited than farmland, those who manage the water have control over those who need it. This might be how Teotihuacan in central Mexico was able to achieve dominance over its neighboring communities.
Along with high population density, increased value of natural resources, specialization, and central control comes warfare : social expansion.
The next several chapters build on the concept that culture operates as a system, a network of inter-related components, such as social organization, politics, beliefs, settlement patterns, and economics. Once again, economies are the kind of thing that archaeologists like to examine simply because the material-based data we recover are conducive to its study. These data tend to focus on such economic activities as technology, subsistence, and exchange practices. The economic subsystem, in turn, is made up of several different components:
Production and Acquisition: the subsystem by which goods and materials are obtained or created. This subsystem, in turn, is made up of three inter-related components:
Environment: ultimate source, and major limiting factor, of cultural lifestyles. Simply, everything that is available in the culture's universe. Rarely exploited uniformly.
Technology: the tools used to exploit the environment; determines exactly what and how much of the environment will be exploited. Significant method of overcoming limitations imposed by the environment. However, it does not do this uniformly. Consequently, much of the differentiation we see within a culture (with regards to environment) is a product of the available technology. (limitation imposed on Maya at KJ by lack of metalworking, wheel, animal labor, plow) (limited at sheep rock by lack of metal or obsidian) Most archeological data can be applied to defining technology.
Subsistence: the way a society makes a living. Useful for predicting other aspects of the society as well as environment and technology. Two kinds:
- exploitation of wild plants
- exploitation of domestic plants
Division of Labor: the way labor is organized; can affect the total rate of production. Every culture has task specialists who focus on a discrete set of activities (even if only divided by age and gender): this is a very significant aspect of culture because it means the amount of information a culture can manipulate is much greater than if every person had to know every detail. Can be very difficult to discern archaeologically. Maybe through burial associations, but usually, ethnographic analogy with other similar societies must be employed, especially in less-complex societies. As specialization becomes more focused, it becomes more definable.
Consumption and Preparation: once the goods or resources have been obtained, it is necessary to process and consume them. Again, this subsystem is made up of several components:
Diet and Food Preparation: While dietary evidence is easy to infer with direct evidence of consumption (such as coprolites or stomach contents), it can also be indirectly inferred if possible food remains are recovered, as at Sheep Rock (maize, deer bone, etc.) or Snow Creek (chia). However, context becomes very important when the species recovered are wild because they may be serving some other purpose (chia pets? :-) . Diet can also be inferred from technology (troughs and scrapers for cacao at KJ; snares at Sheep Rock; lava mortars at Mammoth Junction). Dietary reconstruction is possible through examining the species found, wild/domestic frequencies, butchering marks, charring, and cracking, etc. In addition, chemical analysis of the relative ratios of carbon and nitrogen can tell us about dietary composition with regards to meat/plant intake, and grass/non-grass consumption. This, in turn, can tell us about subsistence activities, such as hunting/gathering practices and seasonality of occupation. However, the hazard of differential preservation must be acknowledged: some materials may no longer remain in archeological record, or at least not in the proportions in which they were used. Ethnographic analogy can be used for dietary reconstruction (such as at Axum-Yeha) as well.
Shelter: Shelters or structures can tell us about a group's mobility as well as the technology they had available. The Maya at KJ were obviously not nomadic hunter/gatherers as evidenced by their very substantial architecture. In contrast, we know those living at Mammoth Junction did not live there year round because of the lack of structures necessary for the winter climate. Sites like Sheep Rock are Snow Creek are exempt from this kind of analysis because the site, itself, provides a substantial shelter. Often, the area delineated by a shelter shows us the division of labor: half will have male activities and half will have female activities. Or sometimes whole residences will be devoted to the specialized production of a single good, as at KJ. These, in turn, will be associated with and elaborate house of an elite.
Household Goods and Personal Items: Many everyday household goods, such as clothing or tools, while they help us reconstruct economic aspects of a culture, are decayed, or differentially preserved. For example, at sheeprock, much of that cordage was used for snares and nets, some of which we found. However, just because is was not found in earlier periods does not mean it wasn't used...cordage was not a Late Woodland invention! How do we know it was used earlier? Cord-stamped pottery in the Middle Woodland, and netsinkers from the Transitional. Similarly, artifacts like spindle-whorls can infer textiles, even if no other evidence is found.
Distribution: Once goods are procured or produced, they may be used by the producer, or exchanged or traded for different goods produced by a different specialist. Three different varieties of exchange:
- reciprocity: usually the result of a social or ceremonial relationship; often, similar goods are exchanged for the sake of maintaining a trading contact. Mutual support: if the going gets rough, trading partner can help out; insurance policy.
- redistribution: much more organized; involves goods being collected or concentrated by centralized individual or agency and then being distributed to constituents at some level. At KJ, cacao was imported, and then probably given to nobles or elites to maintain their support. Obsidian blades may have been redistributed as well since only 50% of the assemblages from surrounding villages had them. In our society, "trickle-down" economics an example: wealth is concentrated and then disbursed (theoretically) from there.
- market exchange: goods are exchanged through barter or other means according to supply and demand.
Identification of trade in the archaeological record is important because, as I mentioned when talking diffusion during the last lecture, as goods are exchanged, so are ideas. Thus, through reconstructing the movement of goods between societies, we can get some understanding for the movement of ideas, as well. However, as with the movement of ideas, there can be confusion regarding migration: are the people moving, or only their goods and materials? This is difficult to answer and depends on other factors: what is the level of mobility of the population? Nomadic hunter-gatherers are more likely to travel around and pick up stuff along the way than sedentary farmers who would have to trade for it. For example, the debitage (sawdust) from stone tools can be examined to determine if a tool was being manufactured, or merely resharpened. Trade would usually involve materials because a mobile group could always revisit a source. Thus, mobile groups make tools at sources while trading groups make tools in remote locations. At Sheep rock, resharpening was common during mobile phases while tool-making was more common during sedentary phases. What is the nature of the material involved? Is it a manufactured good, raw material, or food? What is its distribution? A dense concentration of exotic material is more likely the result of direct procurement. An even distribution is probably from trade.
In addition, trade can also tell us about social structure: are only certain people trading for certain things? This would show specialization or elite access.