Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Saladoid economy and complexity on the Arawakan frontier
by Hardy, Meredith D., Ph.D., The Florida State University, 2008, 338; 3321489
Abstract (Summary)

The study of tribal societies has long been riddled with questions regarding the validity of categorization of levels complexity, and how societal organizational structures change from perceived autonomy to interdependency and centralization. Long regarded as existing in a transitory and evolutionary stage between simple, egalitarian bands and more institutionally complex, hierarchical chiefdoms and states, tribes have traditionally been defined as “bounded groups of culturally similar people,” as autonomous, semi-sedentary or sedentary communities with limited surplus production of subsistence goods. Older presumptions equating complexity with institutionalized social hierarchies were simplistic, and are giving way to new, more dynamic understandings. Egalitarianism is no longer an assumed tribal fact. Social inequality is present in nearly all political forms, and is based not only on the classic definition of control of wealth and status by a few. Inequality of social status and rank is found in the management and control of transportation of prestige and sacred goods, skills in creating prestige and sacred objects that demonstrates control of the supernatural, control of ritual spiritual knowledge, and knowledge of the foreign and distant. By examining political economy, systems of production, exchange, and the locations of places of settlement, interaction, and communication across the landscape we can begin to understand the interconnected relations between all these system components, and begin to view the collective, complex whole.

Regarding the Caribbean region, the early ceramic-making farmer-fishers commonly referred to as Saladoid have been most often described as egalitarian tribes. Until recently, much of the effort by archaeologists focused on the Caribbean region has been concentrated on the development of hierarchical “chiefdom” societies of the Ostionoid period. The majority of these investigations have followed Rouse’s culture-historical models established in the 1930s and continually developed until his death in 2005, based in assumptions of migration and diffusion models. Social change, as evidenced in material culture, was explained as adaptations to external forces, namely environmental settings and arrivals of new cultural groups. Innovation was not considered as potential explanations for socio-political change until the last several decades.

This dissertation is a study of complexity and processes of socio-organizational change, using as a case study systems of socio-political organization and economy of Saladoid era peoples on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. A contextual approach is utilized that builds on both complexity (systems) and practice theories. The potential variability of forms of socio-political organization among so-called tribal communities is discussed, and questions and definitions of complexity are addressed through the examination of old assumptions of Saladoid-Caribbean peoples as simply “egalitarian societies.” It is argued that, archaeologically, the Saladoid peoples demonstrate heterarchy in a variety of socio-organizational forms generated through processes of ethnogenesis; communities may appear to be ranked in a number of different and altering ways, depending on context and changing values, and changes are generated through both internal and external interactions and innovations. As defined by Brumfiel (1995:128), heterarchy is not representative of “a single type of social structure; rather, it is a principle of social organization.” Heterarchy does not assume that economic and political complexity and hierarchy are necessarily bound together.

In particular, the research demonstrates patterns of contact and exchange between island societies by examining the social dynamics and political structures of the peoples of St. Croix within the larger Greater Antilles and northern Leeward Island interaction sphere from the Saladoid (ca. 400 B.C.–A.D. 600) through the Early Ostionoid (ca. A.D. 600–900) periods. These patterns are illustrated through the analysis of settlement patterns and artifacts associated with craft production, namely finely made ceramics, ceremonial and polished stone celts, and carved stone ornaments and beads made of non-local materials.

A model for Saladoid exchange economy is proposed, using theories of practice and complexity and Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) models. It is argued that complexity theory, with a CAS and small worlds approach, can provide a framework for understanding how local interaction and experience, over time, can affect an entire system, and serves as the basis for examining questions of processes of change in socio-political organization. CAS models integrate the traits, properties and interactions of individuals (agents) into explanations of how these interactions result in the emergence or development of system-wide patterns of organization, adaptation, and innovation. These patterns continually emerge and develop, and new components are constantly introduced to the system as others fall off. Complexity incorporates the notion that changes in all evolving systems are based on a multiplicity of causes rather than a single cause or prime mover.

Indexing (document details)
School: The Florida State University
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 69/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology
Keywords: Arawakan, Economy, Frontier, Saladoid, United States Virgin Islands
Publication Number: 3321489
ISBN: 9780549719786
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