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Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Ground Up: What Do You Think Were The Best and Worst Aspects of Life In Complex Society?

I was posed this question(Best and Worst Aspects of Life In Complex Society) in a class called Archaeology of Complex Societies. It took me some time to even formulate an opinion as the amount of complex societies is vast, each one complicated in their own way. Each society and their info- structure, social organization, technology, architecture, and access to resources, is like a set of nested tables. One society was built on the next and others rearranged as societies came together because of warfare or environmental pressures.

 Best: Social Equality

Social equality in Mesopotamia complex society for women was virtually equal for both men and women. Women controlled their fertility and marriage was monogamous. If a divorce was sought by husbands and the wife had provided him sons, he forfeited considerable assets and the wife’s dowry was returned. This fact was seen in Knossos as well, as it was remarkably egalitarian between men and women. Women even had social, economic, and political roles as well. In Egypt, although women could not hold government offices, they could handle finances and the household.

In Peru, there was relatively little evidence to suggest social inequality or hierarchy, as people seem to have participated in collective labor without developing strong differences in access to resources.

Best: Infostructure, Trade and Technology

Nothing impresses me more with the planning and development of cities in complex society. Harappan society experienced urban planning, writing, a uniform system of weights and measures, the potter’s wheel, and a waste water system. Mesopotamia had the first writing to serve as record keeping, Cuneiform, Copper metallurgy, Gold, Smelted alloys (copper and tin), and they invented BEER. The Inka had knots for record keeping and taxation (Kepu) and the Maya, hieroglyphics.

As for trade, long-distance trade has been important in the evolution of many states, including those of Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica. Such exchange does develop eventually in all states, but it can follow rather than precede state formation. Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica controlled food production and distribution, which equals power. These societies regulated trade routes in order to suit to own needs, and sometimes, of their people.

In Habuba Kabira, inhabitants were purchasing their food from neighboring cities, thus, Habuba Kabira was mostly inhabited by Sumerians who were not interested in colonizing the territory, but rather using their river access to transport valuable resources south.

In Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia, with the advent of the hydraulic system, the authorities were beginning to control and maintain water as well as personal and group relations. Why is this good? More water=more food=more people. People are able to exploit new environments. In fact, Mesoamerica had “a wide range of resources available from region to region which encouraged exchange among different groups”.

Worst: Social Inequality

In the Dawenkou culture, grave goods painted a considerable picture of inequality as some were filled with jade, tools, ivory, animal bones, and others, were filled with nothing. In the Harappan urban zones, houses with single rooms “crammed together in tenement-like apartment buildings”. However, there were also no palaces in the five large cities that made up Harappan society, so it’s hard to determine the divide in society exactly.

At Teotihuacan, leaders utilized forced resettlement programs after immigrants from surrounding areas and Cuicuilco, populated the large city after the volcanic destruction. Most of the population (extended family) inhabited compounds and nuclear families often took up residence in “smaller sub-patios “in the larger apartment complexes.

Worst: War and Environmental Impact

Archaeological evidence of violence and warfare in Longshan villages turned up burned abodes and burials containing human sacrifices and several scalped individuals. Located between the arms of the Oaxaca Valley were “unoccupied “buffer” zones that archaeologists believe were border areas between competing, and possibly conflicting, political groups”.

At San Jose Mogote a temple was burned, which archaeologically, indicated an elite family was laying claim to the site and used violence to obtain it. At Burial 2 at Teotihuacan, the presence of predators leads many to believe that this offering refers to prowess in warfare. The human sacrifice had hands tied behind their back and was accompanied by a caged puma and wolf. By C.E. 500, temples at Teotihuacan had been burned and looted, possibly the result of a “violent uprising”.

Final Thought

What is evident is that the peoples of complex societies destroyed the environment to support economy via deforestation, soil exhausting, and erosion. We see this in Mesoamerica, China, Olmec, and Cahokia. Consequently, at the site of Catal Huyuk in Turkey, mounds, or “Tells”, rise high above the landscape, and what lies beneath, is thousands of years of garbage and human waste, polluting the earth. Of course, archaeologists view this in another context, calling it stuff or artifacts.

Regardless of impact on the environment, the only way we can examine the past is by looking at people’s garbage, which is representative of cultures across space and through time.

What Do You Think Were The Best and Worst Aspects of Life In Complex Society?

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