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Ancient Households of the Americas

Ancient Households of the Americas: Conceptualizing What Households Do

John G. Douglass
Nancy Gonlin
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Households of the Americas
    Book Description:

    In Ancient Households of the Americas archaeologists investigate the fundamental role of household production in ancient, colonial, and contemporary households. Several different cultures-Iroquois, Coosa, Anasazi, Hohokam, San Agustín, Wankarani, Formative Gulf Coast Mexico, and Formative, Classic, Colonial, and contemporary Maya-are analyzed through the lens of household archaeology in concrete, data-driven case studies. The text is divided into three sections: Section I examines the spatial and social organization and context of household production; Section II looks at the role and results of households as primary producers; and Section III investigates the role of, and interplay among, households in their greater political and socioeconomic communities. In the past few decades, household archaeology has made substantial contributions to our understanding and explanation of the past through the documentation of the household as a social unit-whether small or large, rural or urban, commoner or elite. These case studies from a broad swath of the Americas make Ancient Households of the Americas extremely valuable for continuing the comparative interdisciplinary study of households.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-174-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    John Douglass and Nan Gonlin
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. ONE The Household as Analytical Unit: Case Studies from the Americas
    (pp. 1-44)

    The study of that small, but universal, component of society, the household, is now a global pursuit. Scientists who work in all parts of the world are addressing diverse research concerns for various times and places (see, e.g., Beck 2007; Carballo 2011; Christie and Sarro 2006; Falconer 1994; Fortier et al. 1989; Hendon 2010; Holschlag 1975; Kramer 1979, 1982; MacEachern, Archer, and Garvin 1989; Schwarz 2009; Stanish 1989). Household archaeology, however, is a relatively new field, coming of age in only the past few decades. While household studies in archaeology certainly go back much further than the mid-1980s (e.g., Flannery...

  8. Section I: Household Production Organization:: Spatial and Social Contexts in the Past and Present

    • TWO Occupation Span and the Organization of Residential Activities: A Cross-Cultural Model and Case Study from the Mesa Verde Region
      (pp. 47-78)

      The anthropological study of households was revitalized during the 1980s when researchers began to examine household organization from a behavioral perspective (Netting, Wilk, and Arnould 1984a; see also Douglass and Gonlin, this volume). Archaeology was well equipped to meet the challenge posed by this emphasis on what households do. There was a long tradition of identifying and interpreting activity areas at archaeological sites, and a robust method and theory for undertaking these studies had developed as a result of this intense scrutiny (c.f. Binford 1976, 1981; Kent 1984, 1987, 1990a; Schiffer 1972, 1975, 1976, 1987). These factors combined to produce...

    • THREE Production and Consumption in the Countryside: A Case Study from the Late Classic Maya Rural Commoner Households at Copán, Honduras
      (pp. 79-116)

      Producer households are the backbone of agrarian societies and make up the bulk of the domestic economy, an observation that holds through time and space.¹ Anthropologists routinely investigate the nature of production, its organization, what goods or services are produced and by whom, and whether the domestic income is supplemented with extra-household production. These questions reflect a cross-cultural interest in what Hirth (2009b) calls “housework” and can be answered in both archaeological and ethnographic contexts (e.g., Robin 2003; Wilk 1991). The perspective of household archaeology offers a way to explore these issues through the material expressions of cultural practices.


    • FOUR Iroquoian Households: A Mohawk Longhouse at Otstungo, New York
      (pp. 117-140)
      DEAN R. SNOW

      In the seventeenth century the Mohawks were the easternmost of five Iroquois nations strung in an east-west line across what is now the state of New York. West of them resided the Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, from east to west. They were the five nations of the League of the Iroquois, a weak confederation of former enemies who had found a way to put aside their aggression toward each other and redirect it collectively toward other native nations of the Northeast. Current evidence indicates that the League emerged sometime in the years AD 1590–1605 (Kuhn and Sempowski 2001)....

    • FIVE Activity Areas and Households in the Late Mississippian Southeast United States: Who Did What Where?
      (pp. 141-162)

      The topics of household archaeology, activity area analysis, and gender research are combined here to explore production at the household level. Prehistoric Late Mississippian households in the southeast United States comprised men, women, and children performing activities within and around their domestic structures. Outside of the much-debated realm of specialized production of elite or status items, the majority of activities that occurred at the household level were arguably involved in production for domestic needs and consumption. It has been argued, however, that looking at households as “black boxes” hides the contributions of individuals within them (Wilk 1990). It becomes important...

    • SIX The Social Evolution of Potters’ Households in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico, 1965–1997
      (pp. 163-188)

      This chapter provides two answers to the question, What do households do? First, their members participate in craft activities, and second, the social composition of these craft households evolves and changes through time. One type of craft activity that households practice is pottery making, but what happens to potters’ households through time? How do they change? To answer these questions, I will trace the changes in the composition and location of potters’ households in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico, between 1965 and 1997. By describing these changes, I hope to provide some insight into the processes that affect the organization of potters’...

    • SEVEN Pots and Agriculture: Anasazi Rural Household Production, Long House Valley, Northern Arizona
      (pp. 189-218)

      Household ceramic production is of keen interest to scholars, both in prehistory and in contemporary contexts (D. Arnold 1985, this volume; P. Arnold 1991; Bernardini 2000; Cordell 1997; González Fernández, this volume; Hagstrum 2001; Hill 1994; Mills and Crown 1995; Roux 2003; Spielmann, Mobley-Tanaka, and Potter 2006; Wiewall, this volume). Key interests in the American Southwest include questions related to the initial use of ceramics, trade and interaction, social identity, and the organization of production. This chapter focuses on the last topic, the organization of production, through the investigation of AZ-J-28-32 (NN), a small, rural Anasazi household group occupied during...

  9. Section II: Households as Primary Producers:: Implications for Domestic Organization

    • EIGHT Hohokam Household organization, Sedentism, and Irrigation in the Sonoran desert, Arizona
      (pp. 221-268)

      Studies of Hohokam households have most often focused on identifying and describing them as elements of the distinctive social structure that emerged in the low desert areas of the Southwest. Such studies have generally taken a static view that emphasizes continuity through time and space. Recent anthropological theories, however, take a more dynamic view of household structure and organization, linking changes to processes such as increased agricultural dependency and sedentism (Flannery 1972; Netting 1990; Wilk and Rathje 1982). According to these theories, agricultural dependence influences the degree of sedentism, the makeup of the units of production, and the systems of...

    • NINE Understanding Households on Their Own Terms: Investigations on Household Sizes, Production, and Longevity at K’axob, Belize
      (pp. 269-298)

      This chapter applies the ethnographic model by Wilk and Netting (1984) of household economic organization, which predicts how households will internally organize production given differences in household sizes, to an archaeological study of household variability at K’axob, Belize. In presenting this study, I will discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of defining prehistoric households in terms of what their members do, that is, as the union of the overlapping activity spheres of production, distribution, transmission, reproduction and coresidence (Wilk and Netting 1984). I argue that before archaeologists reconstruct these activity spheres, they should first question how households coordinated basic...

    • TEN Late Classic Period Terrace Agriculture in the Lowland Maya Area: Modeling the Organization of Terrace Agricultural Activity
      (pp. 299-322)

      The subject of this chapter is the organization of Late Classic period (ca. AD 550–800) ancient lowland Maya terrace agricultural activity. Agricultural terraces are embankments, typically constructed of stone but at times made of wood or augmented by living plants, placed perpendicular to hill slopes or drainages for the purpose of conserving or catching soil and catching or channeling runoff. Terraces are beneficial to agriculture because they create areas of wetter and deeper soils that are more conducive to plant growth (Beach et al. 2002:379; Donkin 1979:2; Kunen 2001:326; Treacy and Denevan 1994:95; Turner 1983). Terraces also allow greater...

  10. Section III: Inter- and Intrahousehold Organization of Production:: Households and Communities

    • ELEVEN Fluctuating Community Organization: Formation and Dissolution of Multifamily Corporate Groups at La Joya, Veracruz, Mexico
      (pp. 325-352)

      In many Formative Mesoamerican communities multifamily corporate groups emerged following the transition to sedentism (Flannery 2002). When surface remains of artifacts and architecture are detectable, aspects of social organization can be inferred. However, in some regions, recovering evidence of household and community organization is difficult because of the perishable nature of houses and the fact that archaeological deposits are deeply buried. For this reason we know little about household or community organization of Formative southern Gulf Coast societies. This chapter investigates community organization at the Formative village of La Joya, Veracruz, Mexico, by determining the conditions that produced nuclear family...

    • TWELVE Relationships among Households in the Prehispanic Community of Mesitas in San Agustín, Colombia
      (pp. 353-380)

      In the Alto Magdalena region, in southwestern Colombia, the development of communities at the core of small polities back to around 1000 BC have been traced in regional settlement-pattern surveys. Since that time, groups of households began to cluster together around places that were to become the central mounded funerary sites of the San Agustín chiefdoms during the regional Classic period (AD 1–900). What were the interrelationships among households within such central communities? What kinds of forces shaped and held together these communities while they became the central places of Classic period chiefdoms?

      This chapter describes the reconstruction of...

    • THIRTEEN Interhousehold versus Intracommunity Comparisons: Incipient Socioeconomic Complexity at Jachakala, Bolivia
      (pp. 381-406)

      Most prehistoric agro-pastoral households farmed, herded domesticated animals, witnessed or perhaps hosted rituals, produced and consumed trade goods, and made a variety of utilitarian implements. This range of activities made up the domestic economy, which can be divided into production (control of food and craft goods, subsuming farming, herding, storage, processing, and manufacturing), service (payments rendered to elites for their support or for community-level functions within the context of a fully developed political economy), and distribution activities (control of resources circulating through interhousehold, intersite, or interregional exchange networks) (Hirth 1996:209).

      Access to a range of resources, such as land, kin-based...

    • FOURTEEN Arrobas, Fanegas, and Mantas: Identifying Continuity and Change in Early Colonial Maya Household Production
      (pp. 407-436)

      In 1546 the Yucatán peninsula was officially deemed conquered and claimed for the Spanish Crown (Chamberlain 1948). On the Yucatán peninsula, there were no rich mineral resources that resulted in the Spanish appropriating land; therefore, the Maya were able to maintain control of the means of production. Instead, the Spanish colonists appropriated Yucatec Maya household labor and their products through state-imposed rules of economic exchange in the mechanisms of encomienda, ecclesiastical taxation, and repartimiento (Clendinnen 1987; Farriss 1984; Hunt 1974; Patch 1993; Restall 1997). The colonial economy was built upon the preestablished Maya elite tribute system that revolved around agriculture,...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 437-438)
  12. Index
    (pp. 439-448)