Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Stamp Seals in the Political Economy of South Asia's Earliest Cities
by Green, Adam S., Ph.D., New York University, 2015, 840; 3740739
Abstract (Summary)

Stamp seals are a hallmark of the Harappan civilization (2600-1900 B.C.), the context in which the earliest cities of South Asia emerged. These small stone objects typically have intaglio engravings on the front and raised perforated bosses on the back. Harappans used stamp seals to display and reproduce imagery and writing that played an important role in social interaction. Stamp seals could be used to create impressions in clay, which could then be affixed to containers or doors to control access to goods. As such, Harappan stamp seals were probably essential to establishing and transforming relationships of possession, which would have made them indispensable to the economic activities of corporate groups, people who share common possessions. Stamp seals could have helped distinguish corporate groups, or bind them together in reciprocal relations. Their role in interaction across social boundaries makes stamp seals critical to understanding the Harappan civilization’s political economy.

In this dissertation, I find that within Harappan cities, separate groups of related carvers were associated with separate groups of related seal users. Over time, some groups of carvers disassociated from specific groups of seal users, likely forming their own specialized corporate groups. These findings result from a high resolution methodology aimed at reconstructing key milestones in the social lives of seals. I draw upon experimental replication and microtopographic analysis to reconstruct the chaînes opératoire of specific objects. These operational sequences result from the interplay between a carver’s actions and choices she shared with related carvers. Using this approach, I determine that over 18 separate groups of related carvers contributed to my study sample of 185 engravings. A synthetic reconstruction of the sample’s archaeological context using geographic information systems (GIS) complements these findings by revealing that groups of related carvers tended to be incorporated with groups of related seal users, but this configuration was dynamic. These data contribute to my evaluation of a theory of corporate specialization, which posits that corporate groups in the Harappan civilization initially incorporated different kinds of artisans, but over time artisans developed their own specialized corporate groups. I find that control over the production and use of stamp seals was widely distributed within the Harappan civilization’s political economy, which contributes to our understanding of the Harappan civilization’s heterarchical, consensual political order.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wright, Rita P.
Commitee: Crabtree, Pam, MicIntosh, Roderick, Pittman, Holly, White, Randall
School: New York University
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 77/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Cultural anthropology, History
Keywords: Archaeology, Corporate groups, Early states and civilizations, Indus civilization, Technology, Urbanism
Publication Number: 3740739
ISBN: 978-1-339-32853-9
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