In “The Hearth” we were introduced to four unique cultures and locations that gave insight into the way in which social organization can vary from place to place. The majority of the sites that were discussed were in a similar geographic location of Mexico and Central America (Ceren, Copan, and Teotihuacan), but the fourth site was on a different continent. That of course being Pompeii in Italy. While there is some overlap to be found in come of the societies, I believe that a large takeaway from this video is how these sites are examples of the different of societal classifications.
It begins with what I believe was likely an early tribe group in Ceren. This site appears to be a settled site as there were thatched-roof houses and artifacts such as stored food and pottery that would indicate that the people living there had been around for sometime. That being said, the small number of structures found has me to believe that it wasn’t a very large group just yet. The video then transitions to Copan which is not very far away in distance and also a Mayan civilization . It was found that the basic structure type and layout was similar between these two Central American locations, but in Copan, everything was much larger and more expanded upon. This includes the social organization which was much larger than the more nuclear family-esqu Copan. In Copan there were different buildings for sleeping, cooking, and storing foods, and all around more jobs that needed to be done around the house. Because of this, a larger family is basically necessary and the Copan lived in extended families.
The next location discussed was Teotihuacan. Today, the site is covered in cactus and corn fields, but there are still artifacts littered across the ground on the surface. Underneath that surface, it was stated that Teotihuacan had an urban grid that was as deliberate as Manhattan. Additionally, 125,000 people had once occupied the site. This makes me believe that we are know looking at a Chiefdom. This idea is reinforced in “The Hearth” when they show that there was some sort of kin-based ranking/hereditary leadership. Based on the observation of genetic traits and the location of a hole in the eye socket of many skeletons found in a burial site at La Ventilla, it was theorized that there was a related set of males that made up the leadership of Teotihuacan. These men were buried with nicer artifacts underneath a central courtyard structure implying that there was some sort of religious ancestor worship going on. Teotihuacan also had signs of specialization and large houses to store surplus goods that were produced. There seemed to be lots of signs of a budding marketplace and economy.
Finally, Pompeii was discussed. The video brings up the fact that there were a large number of tiny shops next to enormous mansions. By the end of this section, it seemed to be implied that this could have been the wealthy elites’ homes and there next door slave quarters. In Pompeii there were signs of a wealthy elite, an army, slaves, and specialized workers. This seems to be a clear indication that Pompeii was indeed a State. It was said that there were many political practices in place at the time which is another indicator of a State type of social organization. They also had a large surplus of material which was pointed out by calling the empty jugs “coke cans of the ancient world”.
It seems that most of the information that was used to talk about these different societies was artifact analysis and settlement patterns. While this does give a rather intriguing insight, we have learned that it does not quite tell the entire story. It likely works better for sites like Ceren and Pompeii which were covered in volcanic ash and largely preserved completely, but for the other two sites, it wasn’t quite as easy. They did not go into detail whether or not any written records were used or if they did any more detailed work on what type of diets these cultures had. For the latter, all that was discussed was stored food found. I think it would be very interesting to look more into this and maybe even try to see what the animal environment may have been. Especially in the two volcanic areas.