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Bonus Blog

Primary Characteristics vs. Secondary Characterisitcs

By Charles Wilson

Whenever we are examining an ancient state, there are two sets of characteristics that we are looking at: primary and secondary characteristics.  Primary characteristics tend to be the very basics that are found in all ancient states in some shape or form. These include urban settlement, intensive agriculture, a set of specialized occupations within the state, a complex economy, and a system of social classes. Secondary characteristics are specific qualities that are unique to that particular state, such as writing, state religion, art, monumental public works and a system of taxation. Both are important both to the ancient states and to those studying them, so it is very difficult for me to answer to pick one over the other. Ultimately, it depends on our answer “more important to whom?”

If we are asking which is more important to those who actually lived in the ancient state, the primary characteristics were more important. Human beings are very social beings and found, like many other animals, that living with others increased their chances of not only surviving but thriving. Much like with a pack of wolves, leaders eventually rose from the group, eventually creating a social hierarchy. As time passes and the population grew, alternative food sources were sought out to feed everyone, which eventually (not over night) became a complex form of agriculture. With a new food source that requires more time and energy than hunting, permanent (or at least seasonal) settlement which eventually leads to urban cities. From these settlements, there are ideas that are being exchanged (particularly of beauty or practicality) which eventually leads to artifacts not associated solely with agriculture (such as jewelry, ritual objects, clothing, etc); as the greater community not only accepts these artifacts but desires them, specialized jobs emerged. Trade systems are created in order to gain raw materials that are not found in that particular environment.

While secondary characteristics were still important to the people who lived in these ancient states (especially state religion and a system of taxation), they were not as important as the primary ones. While it would still be a heavy blow to the state if one of the secondary characteristics failed, it would not necessarily lead to collapse as much as if one or more of the primary ones did. As important as a system of taxation would be for the state, it would not necessarily be as disastrous as if their system of agriculture failed (as we have seen happen towards the end of multiple states in the past such as the Egyptians and the Mississippians). A disruption in wealth is a lot easier to solve than famine is. So why did I not pick the Primary characteristics over the Secondary ones? For one simple reason: while they may not have been as important to the past citizens of the ancient states we are studying, they are very important for those who are studying them in the present.  Without the Secondary Characteristics, it would be very difficult to study multiple states in great detail because all states would essentially be the same (in other words, Archaeology would become a fairly boring gig). While the similarities between different states are indeed important, it is the differences in things like art or ideology that make each of these states unique and interesting to study in the first place. It also makes it easy to see how the state become more…complex (proper term?) by observing artwork and architecture  from earlier periods of the state’s history to those found in later periods (heck, at times it is HOW we can come up with a time line for that state).

So, to summarize everything up, both characteristics are very important not only to those who lived in the ancient states themselves but for those who study them as well; which one is more important depends entirely on the individual’s perspective on the issue.

Intensive Agriculture as the Gateway to the State.

I am inclined to think that of the 6 primary characteristics of a state, intensive agriculture is one of the most important. It allows for the other 5 characteristics to happen. Intensive agriculture leads to finding ways to increase the carrying capacity of the land, and allows for less people to be involved in food production leaving them open for specialization. With extra food and swanky new luxury goods made possible by specialization, the state can trade with other states for their products building a complex economy. This complex economy then gives rise to marked social stratification. With extra income and a competitive market, some people are bound to make more money and have more excess than others. This marked social stratification either creates or enforces the authority of the state. With the complex economy and a shift in focus from food production to other occupations, people naturally flock to a central location more suitable than the country for trading. This creates a dense urban population.

Two of the four classic theories for the development of Ancient States involve intensive agriculture. One theory hypothesizes that irrigation (a technique of intensive agriculture) is what allows for the development of an ancient state because carrying capacity of the land is increased and more food can support a denser population. However, this turns into an chicken and the egg argument when considering the theory that warfare caused by reaching or surpassing carrying capacity developed leaders and is the cause of the formation of a state. Carrying capacity may be increased by intensive agriculture but it attracts a denser population which could lead to warfare over new lands which will then use intensive agriculture to increase the carrying capacity of those new lands and it could go on until the state’s inevitable collapse. Or, lands could be conquered by warfare which then develops into a state. The leaders created have time to figure out better ways to use the land and so they develop intensive agriculture and it goes on until the inevitable collapse. Either way, intensive agriculture is present.

Another theory states that agricultural diversity leads to long distance trade. One state might have something that another state needs. They both use intensive agriculture to get the most out of their land and use that for trading. V. Gordon Childe believed that urbanism led to the development of the ancient state. That this dense population has enough people that they can start specializing. I doubt you could support such a population without intensive agriculture, however.

For all these reasons, I think that intensive agriculture is probably one of the most important characteristics of an ancient state. I don’t think it is required, I know it isn’t required but it seems to be a pretty common practice among ancient states. States have even collapsed over a bad harvest. We don’t really need writing, but everyone always needs food.

Don’t go to Machu Picchu

On Monday, the site of Machu Picchu was mentioned briefly as an estate built by the Pachacuti Inca (1438-1471). I had never known the exact use of Machu Picchu or that it was at one point thought to be the last refuge of the Inca during the Spanish invasion. After looking into the history of Machu Picchu, I have learned that though it is considered a royal estate, it was also used for religious purposes. There is lots of evidence to suggest that half the city was used for religious ceremonies and worship. The god that seems to be worshiped the most at this site was the sun god, Inti (who was also discussed Monday). It would make sense that a royal estate would include quite a bit of religious imagery related to this particular deity because the first “great Inca” was considered the son of Inti. This would have made Pachacuti related to that God as well. Because it was typical in this society to treat past rulers as still living, it makes even more sense that a large portion of the royal estate would be devoted to Inti (a relative to each “still living” ruler of the Inca.). The complex also included a residential section for the non-elites who worked in the city. There was a certain amount of agriculture to be cared for as well as all the other activities required for the maintenance and continual care required of a royal estate.

The city was only in use for about 100 years. It is thought that environmental factors might have contributed to the abandonment of the city (this area is very prone to earth quakes), but it is also theorized that the population at Machu Picchu was decimated by small pox brought over by the Spanish. This is interesting considering that Machu Picchu never actually seemed to be visited by the Spanish (it was never looted or defaced in the way the Spanish did to other Incan sites). This suggests that people who had come into contact with the Spanish then infected the population at Machu Picchi without ever informing the Spanish of the city’s existence.

Though the site was said to be discovered in the early 1900’s, there is evidence suggesting that the site was discovered in the late 1800’s and had been visited by non-native Peruvians multiple times before its “discovery” by Bingham. Bingham discovered the site by being led there by a Quechua boy. Actually, Machu Picchu was still being inhabited partially by some of the Quechua people at this time. He then stole many artifacts across the Bolivian border which he then took to Yale university. A long drawn out battle took place over Yale’s right to keep these artifacts and this only ended in the 2000’s when Yale agreed to give back the artifacts under the condition that they could still study them.

The current threat to Machu Picchu is not so much environmental anymore. The main threat is tourism. It is the most popular tourist destination in Peru. Though heavy restrictions have been placed on visitation, Machu Picchu continues to be one of the most threatened historical sites.

The moral of the story: Machu Picchu is an important site because it was overlooked by non-natives for so long. Now that people are going there in the thousands every year, the site is once again threatened. Don’t go to Machu Picchu.

Aztec Mythology and Social Inequality

Both professor Wartrall and the text attest to the highly stratified nature of Aztec culture.  A divine king ruled over the empire and under him were nobles called pillitin.  The vast majority of the Aztecs were arranged into clans, called capulli, that consisted of several lineages represented by a leader, or calpule, whom directly communicated with the imperial government on their behalf.  The capullis and their members were also ranked from those that attained prestige through exceptional service to landless peasants and slaves.  As has been a common trend in ancient societies, religion was used to legitimize authority and explain natural phenomenon.

This framework of power is apparent in the Aztec Creation myth(s).  According to legend, due to conflict among themselves, it took the gods five attempts to create the world.  Whether destruction was caused by wind, flood, or gigantic jaguar, a creator god had to sacrifice himself to become the Sun. The minor deity,  Nanauatl, did so, however he remained stationary in the sky.  The other gods realized that they needed to sacrifice themselves to keep the sun moving and darkness at bay.  The Serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, then, retrieved human bones of previous worlds from the underworld, however, he tripped and broke the bones into different sizes.  After spilling his own blood over these bones, humans of different sizes were created and expected to blood-let or perform human sacrifice.  These practices would provide nourishment and support to  the  Sun deities Huitzilopochtli and Tonatiuh, name given to Nanauatl, to keep the Sun in motion and battle against darkness and destruction.

There are two aspects of this myth that potentially utilize religion to legitimate social structure and the outcomes associated with it.  One is how Quetzalcoatl’s actions resulted in people varying in size.  There is documented and archaeological proof that elites had a better diet than lower class people.  This most likely resulted in larger, healthier members of the upper class.  Therefore, mythology may have been used to legitimize malnutrition caused by social inequity.  Finally, those chosen for sacrifice were mostly peasants and slaves from lower capulli.  With little to live for and a looming concern of having nothing but darkness in the afterlife, the honor and comfortable existence promised to the sacrificed must have seemed like a desirable alternative to strife.  If the sheer carnage and imposed power associated with sacrifice did not prevent upheaval, then this mindset potentially kept the masses at bay.

Importance of sacifice

Aztec religion


Early Intermediate Highland State: The Wari

Student Blog Post #4: The Wari

Today in class we discussed the emergence of the first Highland States during the Early intermediate time period in South America. In particular in class we focused on the Highland state of Tiwanaku, but we did not discuss the emergence of the highland state called the Wari.

The Wari state was located in the North Western coastal area of the Southern and emerged/ became prominent in the time period of (700 AD -1100 AD). This culture, also known as Huari, apparently had one unique factor that made them stand apart from Tiwanaku… that factor was that they were believed to have been the first culture to use military force to conquer the surrounding civilizations to expand their power and control over the highlands and coast of Modern day Peru. The Wari (Huari) reigned for 400 years, between 600 and 1000 CE, as the largest and most-dominant culture in the Andes until the rise of the Inca centuries later.  Also interestingly enough, apparently the Wari forced other cultures to subdue to them by forbidding any further practice of traditions that were not affiliated with the Wari culture.

The architecture of the Wari consisted of large rectangular shaped buildings that were laid out in strict grid patterns that less resembled most of today’s city block structures. It was also thought that they Wari were impeccable organizers, developers, urban planners, and constructors because they rebuilt on top of old settlements left by earlier civilizations- making them even more grand and prominent.  Probably one of the most known and best preserved remnants, besides the Wari Ruins, are the recently discovered Northern Wari ruins near the city of Chiclayo. These remains are from an entire prehistoric city. The discovery was made by Cesar Soriano in December of 2008. The ruins provided the first evidence of Wari influence found in Northern Peru. The site was remarkably well preserved- probably due to the arid conditions of the desert. The site had evidence of human sacrifice, with special spots set aside and a pile of bones at the bottom of a cliff.

Unfortunately though, it seems that there is little evidence to suggest was the Wari administrative organization was life. Even with this said, the Wari were known for their expansion and for their distinctive administrative centers. It is important to note that these administrative centers were different from the architecture of Tiwanaku. The Wari did not appear to have a type or form of written record, which contributes to the lack of knowledge about the details of the Wari administrative structure. This IS evidence for significant social stratification though, which is indicative of a complex socio-political hierarchy.

Response to Sophisticated Sanitation

This post is very insightful, with very good details. I liked how you gave us a overall view first then break down the introduction into pieces to show the in depth history that caused the city planning at Mohenjo-Daro. I also loved how you compared class lecture and readings. It shows that you have an pretty good understanding of the class material and the reading.  I guess that I am unclear on the Great Bath Building. Where did the fresh water come from when they had so many problems with the sanitation? That was very odd to me.  I think you raise a very interesting question, what were they using before the system had exited? I’m sure that everyone can come up with something to explain that or maybe that’s something that we haven’t went over, but thinking about how it may have been, I can only imagine how sick people might have been from the old system, whatever that was.

I do also wonder why it took so long for a sanitation system to be made. Humans have always found some how to do some things and I think that sewers had to be some thing that was on a list on things that had to be done. It seems that some years ago there were things that were made that to this day, we have no idea how they were made, but I feel that the system took way to long to become replicated, especially since the sanitation system was still in Mohenjo-Daro.

Ai Weiwei (Contemporary Chinese Artist)

Ai Weiwei is a well known activist and artist who lives currently in China. (Last time I checked, the Chinese government had revoked his passport.) One of the art projects he is most well known for is his destruction of ancient Chinese cultural artifacts. The most famous of these works is a photo series of Ai Weiwei dropping an urn from the Han dynasty that was thousands of years old. This is considered a crime in China as it is illegal to destroy cultural artifacts over there. Many were outraged by this willful destruction of an ancient artifact. In response to this Ai Weiwei said, that ancient ceramics such as the Han dynasty urn, “was industry then and is industry now” (translation). Basically, it appears he doesn’t think that time alone makes something valuable. If it wasn’t valuable then, then it isn’t worth getting upset over now. It has been said (perhaps by Ai Weiwei himself), that his photo series is actually more valuable than the urn itself was. It sold for something like 50,000 pounds.  He uses the destruction of the artifacts as a political criticism of China. I think it can also be seen as a statement against the image of China and the ability for these artifacts (and the image) to be marketed to the rest of the world. Ai Wei Wei has been very concerned with the way that China presents itself to the rest of the world in their media. For example, when an earthquake killed a couple thousand children and it was suspected that the cause was shoddy construction on the part of the government, they refused to publish the names of those who died. Ai Weiwei started an art project that collected the names of all the victims and posted them on his website.Where media is censured to such an extent, doing that type of project can be very dangerous. When the Olympics took place in China, Ai Weiwei was asked to create a large art piece to be displayed at the games. He agreed but later spoke out against the Chinese Olympics, citing that the image they showed to the rest of the world was not the real China, only what the Chinese wanted to be seen as. People were pushed out of their neighborhoods for the games barring the regular community from having any involvement with the event. Basically, people were displaced from their homes for the sake of China’s image. Of course, I don’t know anything about this personally. I have never been to China and I do not ever watch the Olympics. This is all things that I have seen and heard about Ai Weiwei and his political messages and his methods for expressing them. On Monday when it was mentioned that China has thousands of these artifacts and that it was easy to buy them illegally off the black market, it made me think of Ai Weiwei and his outright destruction of them. Is it alright that Ai Weiwei destroyed ancient artifacts for modern art? Or is it “an act of self-indulgent barbarism, akin to book burning”? Is it better or worse than selling artifacts on the black market?

Here is an article on the exhibit. It’s where all my quotes came from. It also includes pictures of the art piece itself. Personally, I am a fan of his and I definitely think he is worth checking out.

The nessesity of a surplus to complex societies.

It seems based on the readings about the rise of Mesopotamia as well as the lecture this morning that ancient states were heavily dependent on there being a surplus of resources. We already learned that intensive agriculture is one of the necessary traits of an ancient state and this is because it increases the carrying capacity of a piece of land. This allows for enough food to be made by a smaller number of specialized farmers so there can be specialization in other types of work. Places of water are very important to this because they allow for irrigation. When Egypt underwent a climate change, it forced the people to move closer to the river. Eventually, they figured out that they could grow large amounts of food. This was more successful than each individual hunting and gathering. It could also support a larger amount of people. Birth rates must have increased and the surplus must have attracted other people to the area.

In Mesopotamia, some of this urbanization is even thought to have been forced. Patterns in Prehistory states, “…Adams, argues that early Mesopotamian urbanization may have been imposed on a rural populace by a small, politically conscious superstratum that was motivated by military and economic interests,” (Wenke, 348). However, this indicates a chicken and the egg type of conundrum. Complex economy comes out of complex society and so does political and military organization. How could there even be political leaders, let alone ones with the power to enforce mandatory immigration? It seems as if urbanization is one of the first steps of a society becoming complex (more people are needed to build irrigation canals, which then support more and more people). To me, this indicates that there was already some time of infrastructure in place that then began forcibly sucking up rural people from around the area.

As agriculture becomes more intensive, the surplus increases. This then requires some handling. Who takes care of the surplus? Who is in charge of distributing it? I think it just started out as a specialized profession like any other but the importance of food was so great that the position became glorified. The person who distributed the surplus might have found a way to restrict access to it, thereby increasing his importance. Whoever has control over the surplus, has the power in an ancient state.

This explains the ability of ancient states to grow but ti also explains their eventual collapse. The reason given today for Egypt’s first collapse was a possible drought. There was no surplus so the centralized state lost a great deal of power. No surplus = no centralized power= no ancient state. When food production becomes more successful, (for example, when the Nile’s drought was over), there becomes more of a surplus. When there is a surplus, people who are in charge of distribution rise to power and the whole cycle continues again.

Of course, this is nor the only reason for the rise and fall of the ancient states but it does prove the necessity of agriculture to civilization. When humans exceed carrying capacity, centralized government breaks down. It begs the question, when will modern states reach that carrying capacity if they haven’t already. When will our first intermediate period begin?