Author Archives: Richelle Valkema

Bonus Blog: Richelle Valkema

Of the primary and secondary characteristics of a “civilization” (Ancient State), I think three of the most important are a complex economy, social stratification, and a strong state authority.  The reason I picked these three instead of just one is because I don’t really believe you can have any one of them without the others, they kind of go together.

Complex Economy: large-scale interchanges of goods and services.

Having a complex economy is an important characteristic because having a complex economy means that the state is organized and capable.  In order to have a complex economy, you must have job specialization and social stratification under close watch of a strong state authority or the state won’t be able to grow and improve or sustain its current population or wealth.  When a complex economy has emerged, it is safe to assume that the secondary characteristic of the mass production of goods has already begun to start because one area must have a reliable flow of one good to trade with another area that has a reliable flow of a different good.

Stratification: marked social stratification (social classes); ranked hereditary status.

I am not placing these three traits in any particular order except for the order in which they appear in my notes because it would be impossible to put one down and say that it started before the others.  Job specialization probably wouldn’t have occurred as quickly as it did if it were not for the social stratification occurring; however, stratification would have no purpose if there wasn’t profit to be made through a complex economy or status to achieve within a strong state authority.  So there is obviously a lot of duality through these traits as they must have begun occurring at a similar time.  Stratification is important, in my opinion, because it marked an end to the traditional egalitarian societies and brought about the beginning of how all states work now today.  No matter if the stratification is between a group of elders and the people of which they give guidance or a group of wealthy men who own most of the global wealth and have the power to end global hunger, stratification is emphasized and idealized as important and natural.  This is especially true of the work place as it was in the beginning of state creation when the farmers first started having to give a percentage of their profits to elite in order for resource distribution.  Stratification is an important characteristic of an ancient state and a modern state because it ensures that there will always be a hierarchy that keeps people at a lower status and doing the dirty and more exhausting work for less profit with a small chance of moving up: keeps the wealthy wealthy and the poor poor.

State Authority: state system of decision-making (power) and ability to enforce decision (authority).

It is almost too obvious to say that in order for there to be a state then there needs to be a state authority, but that is the case.  If you move from having just a few families who interact with each other to a group of families banding together and sharing resources, then you need someone to be in charge of making sure that the resources are equally distributed.  Because that person is given the power to make the final decision and the authority of having been voted to that position and so able to carry out or enforce their decision on how to distribute the resources, that person has in effect become the state authority.  With that example it must be noted, in order to avoid confusion, that it takes a lot more to identify something as a state such as having urban development with a large population and job specialization which neither of which are present in the example.  I just wanted to simplify how I understand the process of creating elite and eventually an all encompassing state authority.  The state authority owns and influences the complex economy, perpetuates social stratification with just its existence, and allows for the state to become and continue being a state.

I hope that I was clear in my wording and didn’t ramble on too much as it is probably obvious that I enjoy studying structuralist anthropological theorists!

Ancient Egypt: Myths Debunked

I originally began this post by searching for the topic I wanted to write about for the last blog post: whether or not Egyptians were buried with food.  I was curious because during class our professor kept reiterating the fact that the pottery inside the tombs/graves/pyramids were unused, non-domestic pieces.  So what about the food?  Didn’t the dead also need nourishment with their pottery?

Some sites such as wikipedia confirmed that the Egyptians were in fact buried with food, but I stumbled upon a site that was attempting to debunk what they called Ancient Egypt’s top ten myths (http://listverse.com/2011/08/29/top-10-myths-about-ancient-egypt/).  After reading through the myths listed, I realized that a much better topic would be to take one or two of the myths and to find relevant current information on it that would relate to this week’s class discussions.

Some of these myths we have discussed in this class as well as in a previous class I took on Ancient Egypt such as the burial of slaves with the pharaohs.  In class, we briefly brought up the topic of how the tomb of the pharaoh Horus in the Abydos Necropolis had several graves in parallel lines behind next to it where other bodies and a lion lay.  It was mentioned then over the uncertainty of whether or not those were willing deaths but it was commonly thought that they were all sacrifices who had been strangled to better serve their king in the after life.

Another myth involved whether or not slaves built the pyramids which according to this site’s article they did not.  In a previous class I took with this same professor, our lessons agreed with the falseness of this myth.  According to the site, the builders of the pyramids were buried in tombs near the pyramids and were fed beef which was seen as a luxury food.  Being buried next to the pharaoh was seen as a high honor and neither of these two honors would ever have been bestowed upon a slave.

One myth I hadn’t thought of was the decoration of the pyramids and tombs.  When we say there were artifacts buried with the deceased in tombs, I still imagine that it was great riches.  If the pharaohs had their ships buried in boat graves near their tombs and pyramids then why wouldn’t they have great treasures buried with them as well?  No where in class have we ever discussed great treasures though, and while we might find inscribed walls to be treasure, to the untrained it is worthless.