Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Burial goods and wealth in urban, state societies

I am looking for comparative and conceptual works related to a project of examining burial goods at Teotihuacan for evidence of wealth or status variation. My needs right how are highly specific; they are set out in numbered bullets below. In brief, I would like to find comparative or analogical cases that provide a justification or warrant for using grave goods to monitor wealth or status in state-level societies. I have had trouble finding anything, so perhaps this does not exist, or perhaps I am just looking in the wrong places and readers can point me in the correct direction.

Let me begin with another, parallel, case to illustrate what I am looking for: the relationship of wealth and house size. I have been involved in using the sizes of houses to monitor wealth for many decades, publishing both empirical studies and conceptual works (Kohler and Smith 2018; Olson and Smith 2016; Smith 1975, 1992, 1993, 2014, 2016; Smith et al. 2014) . If you ask how I justify using the size of houses as a measure of wealth, I can provide many citations to ethnographies, ethnoarchaeological studies, and historical and archaeological works. They show that in many or most cases with quantitative data (and within a given society or settlement system), wealthy households (as measured from documentary or other independent evidence) live in bigger houses. There is strong cross-cultural support for this claim, which justifies using house size to measure wealth in the absence of independent wealth data. We will include a list of such studies when our book on wealth variation in archaeology comes out (Kohler and Smith 2018). If your reaction is, "But I can think of exceptions," then you don't get the point. This is a statistical relationship, not an invariant relationship, so of course there are exceptions. If you think that the exceptions invalidate my claim, then either you have dozens of cases I haven't seen, or else you may want to take a statistics class.

Does such evidence exist for burial goods? I don’t want to get involved in arguments about the Binford-Saxe model, the postprocessual critique, or particularistic claims that this or that ethnographic case don't fit the model that burial goods reflect wealth (Ucko 1969). I want some hard comparative evidence so that I can make an empirical judgment about the likely strength of the relationship between burial goods and wealth in urban, state societies. Here is what I want:

  •          Best case: Ethnographic, historical, or archaeological cases (state society, ideally Premodern) with these characteristics:
    • a.   There is a good sample of households of known wealth
    • b.   There are burials with burial goods that can be linked to those households. That is, either the burials are spatially associated with individual houses, or else there is textual data linking households to burials. The wealth measures should be independent of the burials.
    • c.    It would be nice also to have independent data about the extent of wealth and class variation in the society.
  •          Second-best case: Ethnographic, historical, or archaeological cases (state society, ideally Premodern) with these characteristics:
    • a.   There is a good sample of burials with burial goods
    • b.   There is independent data about the extent of wealth and class variation in the society. That is, the burials could be from a cemetery and thus not linked to individual houses or households.
  •          Third-best case: Archaeological studies of a sample of burials with burial goods that use quantitative analysis to reach conclusions about the nature and extent of wealth or class variation in the society.

If you can help me out with citations, please email me!  Thanks.


Kohler, Timothy and Michael E. Smith (editors)
2018 Ten Thousand Years of Inequality: The Archaeology of Wealth Differences. University of Arizona Press (in press), Tucson.

Olson, Jan Marie and Michael E. Smith
2016 Material Expressions of Wealth and Social Class at Aztec-Period Sites in Morelos, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 27 (1): 133-147.

Smith, Michael E.
1975 Temples, Residences, and Artifacts at Classic Teotihuacan. Senior Honors Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University.

1992 Archaeological Research at Aztec-Period Rural Sites in Morelos, Mexico. Volume 1, Excavations and Architecture / Investigaciones arqueológicas en sitios rurales de la época Azteca en Morelos, Tomo 1, excavaciones y arquitectura. Memoirs in Latin American Archaeology, vol. 4. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh.

1993 New World Complex Societies: Recent Economic, Social, and Political Studies. Journal of Archaeological Research 1: 5-41.

2014 Housing in Premodern Cities: Patterns of Social and Spatial Variation. International Journal of Architectural Research 8 (3): 207-222.

2016 Quality of Life and Prosperity in Ancient Households and Communities. In The Oxford Handbook of Historical Ecology and Applied Archaeology (book in press), edited by Christian Isendahl and Daryl Stump. Oxford University Press, New York.

Smith, Michael E., Timothy Dennehy, April Kamp-Whittaker, Emily Colon, and Rebecca Harkness
2014 Quantitative Measures of Wealth Inequality in Ancient Central Mexican Communities. Advances in Archaeological Practice 2 (4): 311-323.

Ucko, Peter J.
1969 Ethnography and Archaeological Interpretation of Funerary Remains. World Archaeology 1 (2): 262-280.

1 comment:

  1. See Carr 1995 JAMT for a broad HRAF overview, focus on section on horizontal status