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MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE REPRODUCTION OF SOCIAL COMPLEXITY: A LITHIC EXAMPLE FROM THE PERUVIAN FORMATIVE

JOAN MARGARET GERO, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

My dissertation focuses on the active role that material culture plays in the formulation, reproduction and modification of early complex societies. I reject the usual archaeological notion that cultural items are passive reflections of behavior and argue, instead, for their active agency in cultural process. In order to understand more clearly the dynamic interaction of material culture with a social context, I have identified a set of eight properties of material items which seem to play particularly important roles in such economic and political areas as maintaining inter- and intra- group boundaries, delimiting access to critical resources, and solidifying social identities (all areas especially relevant to the Formative period). Each of the eight isolated properties of material items is posited as an axis describing the range of variability, so that any specific item can be located on any axis with respect to the full range of variation, but also relative to other items which might be in use in the same cultural context. By assessing items with regard to these eight axes of variability, it becomes possible to predict how effective any class of material items would be in its ability to transmit cultural information and to affect, thereby, the social order.^ In the following chapters, this framework is applied to an excavated sample of lithic materials from the highland Peru Formative site of Huaricoto. The flake stone tools and biface assemblages from Huaricoto are inspected specifically to assess their positions on the eight posited axes of variability and are found, in general, to exhibit different information transmitting potentials in the flake tool and biface classes. The limited ability of flake tools to affect the social order is discussed and explained.^ In its conclusions, this study examines the general sensitivity of lithics to the function of mediating social information in Formative society. Referring back to the same axes of variability, I suggest that what I term "co-evolutionary" relationships may exist between different classes of material items, where the adoption or elaboration of one class of material items may affect how other classes of items are produced and used. Co-evolutionary relationships may also explain why, in social rather than in technological terms, the appearance of certain classes of material culture is favored under certain socio-cultural circumstances.^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Archaeology

Recommended Citation

JOAN MARGARET GERO, "MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE REPRODUCTION OF SOCIAL COMPLEXITY: A LITHIC EXAMPLE FROM THE PERUVIAN FORMATIVE" (January 1, 1983). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8317466.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8317466

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