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Chapter Summary

  • Societies can roughly be classified into four groups. Mobile hunter-gatherer groups contain fewer than 100 people and lack formal leaders. Segmentary societies rarely number more than a few thousand individuals who are typically settled farmers. Chiefdoms operate on the principle of ranking and thus people have different social status. States preserve many of the features of chiefdoms but rulers have the authority to establish and enforce law.
  • The scale of a society comes from an understanding of that society’s settlement pattern, which can only come from survey.
  • The study of the buildings and other evidence of administration at a center gives valuable information about the social, political, and economic organization of a society, as well as a picture of the life of the ruling elite. Road systems and lower-order administrative centers give further information about the social and political structure. The study of the differences in the treatment accorded to different individuals at death, in both the size and wealth of grave offerings, can reveal the complete range of status distinctions in a society.
  • Other sources can also provide information about social organization. Literate societies leave behind a wealth of written data that can answer many social questions posed by archaeologists. Oral tradition can provide valuable information about even the remote past. Ethnoarchaeology is a fundamental method of approach for social archaeologists since some present-day societies function in similar ways to societies in the past.
  • A personal identity is a general feature of our species but it is not always easy to reconstruct this identity from archaeological remains. The use of purely personal objects in a society tends to correspond with the development of ritual activity and the construction of monumental buildings. Gender has become an important aspect of the archaeological study of identity as it is a social construct involving the sex-related roles of individuals in society.
  • The study of molecular genetics is also a potentially important new field in the investigation of individuals and social groups.

Key Concepts

Establishing the Nature and Scale of the Society

Polity, p.180

Classification of Societies

Mobile hunter-gatherers (bands), p.180
Segmentary societies (tribes), p.181
Chiefdoms, p.181
Early states, p.181

Settlement Patterning

Central Place Theory, p.184
Network analysis, p.185
Site hierarchy, p.186

Further Sources of Information for Social Organization

Analogy, p.186
Written records, pp.187, 190
Decipherment, p.187
Oral tradition, p.190
Ethnoarchaeology, pp.191–93

Ancient Ethnicity and Language

Ethnicity, p.194
Fictitious ethnicities, p.194

Investigating Activities within a Site

Cave sites, p.195
Activity areas, p.195

Investigating Settlements in Sedentary Societies

Settlement study, pp.198–99

The Study of Ranking from Individual Burials

Rank, p.199
Grave-goods, p.199
Achieved status, p.199
Ascribed status, p.199

Collective Works and Communal Action

Building of monuments, pp.200–02

Farming Methods and Craft Specialists

Intensification of Food Production, p.203
Craft specialization, p.203

Identifying Primary Centers

MDSCAL, p.209

Functions of the Center

Abandoned sites, pp.212–13
Occupied sites, pp.213–14

Administration beyond the Primary Center

Artifacts of administration, p.214
Weights and measures, p.214

Investigating Social Ranking

Elite Residences (palaces), p.215
Burials, p.215

Investigating Economic Specialization

Farming, p.217
Taxation and redistribution, p.217

Conflict and Warfare

"The Noble Savage", p.221

Relationships between Centralized Societies

Influence, p.220
Competition, p.222
Emulation, p.222

The Archaeology of the Individual and of Identity

Habitus, p.222
Social inequality, p.223

Investigating Gender and Childhood

Androcentrism, p.225
Goddess devotees, p.227
Gender roles, pp.228–29

Molecular Genetics of Social Groups and Lineages

Y-chromosome, p.231
mtDNA, p.231
Polymorphism, p.231