Reconstructing the Social and Ideological Aspects of Culture
Although some archaeological work in the early twentieth century examined the social and ideological aspects of past cultures, these types of studies have only become popular in recent decades. The new or processual archaeology that emerged in the 1960s tended to focus on ecology, but many archaeologists at this time also began to study social systems, attempting to identify social inequality and categorize societies into the classification systems developed by anthropologists. Identity and ideology emerged as a focus in the 1980s, associated with the development of post-processual archaeology. […] In sequence, the remainder of this chapter covers the reconstruction of (i) inequality, (ii) the type of society, (iii) identity of various sorts, and (iv) ideology.
After studying this chapter, students should be able to
- identify the indicators archaeologists use to identify inequality.
- identify and describe the five archaeological categories of societies.
- outline how archaeologists reconstruct identity, including ethnicity and descent groups.
- describe the archaeological indicators of ideology, including ritual, mortuary practices, and art.
- explain the practices of cannibalism and trepanation and what they infer about ideology.
- define all the glossary terms found in the chapter.
ascribed – Predetermined by birth. (p.189)
band – A type of society characterized by relatively small groups (usually less than 50) that act autonomously, are egalitarian, and have a subsistence based on generalized foraging. (p.188)
Big Man – One kind of village leader in tribal societies, with no real power or authority. Also called Head Man. (p.189)
bureaucracy – Full-time government workers, characteristic of state-level societies. (p.190)
capa cocha – An Inka religious ritual involving child sacrifice at high altitudes. (p.199)
chief – The leader of a chiefdom, with real power and authority. (p.189)
chiefdom – A type of society characterized by populations ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands, marked social inequality, subsistence based on horticulture, and formal positions of leadership. (p.188)
cognitive archaeology – Archaeology that focuses on ideology; also known as archaeology of the mind. (p.197)
deity – A god. (p.197)
descent group – People who trace their common lineal descent from a real or mythological ancestor, including lineages and clans. (p.193)
empire – A special kind of political system that is territorially expansive, with one state exerting control over other states, chiefdoms, tribes, and bands. (p.188)
ethnic group – People who share, or once shared, a common language, history, and territory, with members who have a self-conscious identification with the group. (p.192)
ethnic marker – Artifacts, features, or other material remains that are indicative of particular ethnic groups. (p.192)
exogamous – Marrying someone from outside one’s own group. (p.188)
foramen magnum – The hole at the base of the skull through which the spinal cord passes to connect to the brain. (p.203)
fresco – Decorative painting on a plastered surface. (p.198)
Head Man – One kind of village leader in tribal societies, with no real power or authority. Also called Big Man. (p.189)
iconography – Forms of art and writing that are thought to symbolically represent ideology. (p.190)
ochre – A naturally occurring mineral pigment, usually red and often used in ritual and for color in paints or dyes. (p.199)
ofuro – A Japanese bathhouse, constructed with a large hearth made from brick or stone, on top of which was placed a tub with a metal bottom and wooden sides. A building surrounded the tub. (p.183)
prestige goods – Items that are more a function of high status than practical utility; also known as luxury items. Prestige goods may also include raw materials in short supply. (p.187)
religious ritual – Formalized, repetitive acts associated with religious beliefs. (p.197)
segmentary society – A type of society characterized by slight social inequality, subsistence usually based on pastoralism and/or horticulture, and populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand spread among many villages. Also known as a tribe. (p.188)
state – A type of society characterized by all or most of the following: large populations, cities, bureaucracies, monumental architecture, writing, and armies. (p.188)
stelae – An upright stone, often inscribed; common in both Egypt and Mesoamerica. (p.189)
stratification – A system of social inequality involving classes, such as lower, middle, or upper class. (p.186)
transegalitarian – A term used to describe societies transitioning between egalitarianism and distinct social inequality. (p.186)
trephination – Removing a piece of bone from the skull of a living person; also known as trepanation. (p.192)
tribe – An intermediate category of society falling between egalitarian foragers and ranked or fully stratified societies, with the beginnings of formal leadership and subsistence usually based on horticulture and/or pastoralism. Exhibits populations between a few hundred and a few thousand, spread among many villages. (p.188)
Venus figurines – Small (about 4½ inches or 11 centimeters on average) figures made from stone, clay, and antler, usually depicting women. Found in Europe and dating to between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. (p. 202)
Children in Archaeology
Baxter, Jane Eva. 2005. The Archaeology of Childhood. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.
Baxter, Jane Eva. 2007. “A Different Way of Seeing: Casting Children as Cultural Actors in Archaeological Interpretations.” Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
Baxter, Jane Eva. 2008. "Archaeology of Childhood" Annual Review of Anthropology 37: 159–75.
Baxter, Jane Eva. 2019 The Archaeology of American Childhood and Adolescence Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Archaeology of Pirates
Skowronek, Russell K., and Charles R. Ewen, eds. 2006. X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Ewen, Charles R., and Russell K. Skowronek, eds. 2016. Pieces of Eight: More Archaeology of Piracy. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Insoll, Timothy, ed. 2011. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion. New York: Oxford.
Venus figurines. Descriptions of several Venus figures to accompany a museum exhibit.
What Can Diet Tell Us About Social Relations? is a four-minute animated video focusing on using diet to make inferences about social relations in prehistoric South America.
What Do Bones Say About Beliefs? is a four-minute animated video focusing on human remains in archaeological sites in Serbia. The video focuses on the treatment of the dead as reflected in the bones.
Archaeological Sites Mentioned in the Chapter
Each of the following sites is on the list of World Heritage Sites maintained by UNESCO, except Capa Cocha Burials. The links lead to the descriptions, which include photos and the rationale for its designation as a World Heritage Site. Where the official UNESCO designation differs from the name in the chapter, the UNESCO description is provided in parentheses.