All posts by teetsmic

Primary vs Secondary Characteristics of the State

Before this class I had never actually thought about how state authorities emerged, what went into creating a complex society, or how on earth states could be sustained for extend periods of time, especially in antiquity. In learning about the differences between primary and secondary characteristics of states at the beginning of the semester, I had clearly never really thought about such features playing such important parts in the rise and fall of ancient societies. Though secondary sources are very important and provide physical evidence of state emergence, sustenance, and decline, I personally believe that primary characteristics have proven to be more important throughout this course. Don’t get me wrong, I do know the importance of monuments, writing systems, mass production, religion, etc., but the six primary characteristics that make up the core of state societies seems to be the crucial features of these political entities. Urbanization, agriculture, specialization, complex economies, social stratification, and state authority have all had key roles in the linear transition that occurred as cultures moved from simple to complex societies.

Overall, I believe that the intensification of agriculture was the most important process of state emergence. Not only was agriculture important for the obvious reasons of the food production, but it also contributed to other primary characteristics of the state. With intense agriculture came the need to specialized occupation such as making specialized tools for farming and exploiting resources or storage vessel to extend the shelf life of food products. This intensification and specialization of the agricultural process led to complex economies. While some societies were known for their food production, others were successful in craft trades that produced luxurious or exotic goods. Because of the demand of product that couldn’t be obtained locally, large scale interchanges of goods and services eventually created expansive trade networks throughout the ancient world. Because some of these objects came from so far away, one’s ability to acquire these exotic goods contributed to the growing social stratification taking place in different states. State authority was then needed to aid in keeping order of the state, make decisions, and enforce some type of power. The centralization of the state contributed to the rise of urbanization.

Though secondary characteristics tell great stories of the past, can provide a detailed visual of certain aspects of primary characteristics, and are easily identifiable through archaeological remains, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza or Shang Dynasty oracle bones, primary characteristics tell us more about the actual structure and function of the society. Despite the fact the primary characteristics do seem to be slightly more significant in the history of past societies, both have proven to a play significant role in allowing us to peek into the past, learn from ancient states, and potentially better shape our future.

The Inca and Late Andean Expansion

Knowing nothing about the early groups of South America before taking this class, one topic I particularly found interesting over the course of this semester was the Inca and their social structure and means of expansion. This giant empire, lasting only a short period of time, was the only Andean state to unite the Northern and Southern poles of the Andes. This successful unification and outward expansion was mostly due to their particular societal characteristics. To begin with, the Inca ayllu, or kin groups, were intent on ancestral worship and lineage, as well as reciprocity. Also, split inheritance, in which a new king inherits prestige but is required to obtain his own wealth through taxable labor, and mit’a, in which citizens perform mandatory public service as tribute to the state, allowed the Inca too become the largest Andean empire. Each unit of tax payers, ranging from 10-10,000, was assigned an administrator to handle local affairs. As kings began to acquire their wealth, they needed to levy more labor. Because many tax payers were already loyal to and worked for the previous king and those associated with him, the new king needed to obtain more taxable land. This required new kings to conquer new territories, leading to great outward expansion and unification of the Andes.

The Inca were also successful due to the early alliances they made in and around the Cuzco Basin. Through these alliances, as well as warfare, labor supply was readily available for tending to agricultural fields and construction work. By consolidating the region and initiating military campaigns, the Inca were able to intensify their agricultural practices as well as expand the polis. Expanding the boundaries of the state also allowed the Inca to establish strong long distance diplomatic relations. This type of expansion and control is comparable to that of the Roman Empire.

It was interesting to me that the people paying tribute to the state in forms of labor were in return gratified by the king. As mentioned earlier, the Inca were a group who believed strongly in reciprocity, therefore, the king was required to entertain and feed the tax payers during their times of labor in return for their contribution to the state. I feel this type of exchange is important for a successful state. Knowing that these tax payers would be compensated for their hard work and tribute, the kings expression of gratitude may have instilled the respect and loyalty of the people and increased the overall morale of the Inca, the more they are rewarded, the more willing they would be to erect more monuments, fix more roads, or tend to the fields as the polis continued to expand, contributing to the states overall success. It is impressive that a group only lasting a few years time would have been such an influential and powerful empire of Andean society.

Underwater Archaeology of the Croatian Adriatic

Dr. Potrebica’s presentation on the underwater archaeological discoveries off the coast of Croatia was very interesting; it is incredible to think about how much of the worlds history is hidden under the Adriatic Sea. The Croatian Adriatic is home to more that 400 sites, 200 of which are shipwrecks, and all of these contain links to the ancient and more recent past. One thing that amazed me about the material culture found in the Adriatic was that of the bronze statue of Apoxyomeno, also known as “The Scraper”, discovered at Losinj by Renne Wouters, a Belgian tourist on a quest to photograph fish. This Roman Bronze statue is believed to have been a copy of Lysippos’ (a sculptor courted to Alexander the Great) famous bronze sculpture that had been also copied in marble. Because there was no evidence of a shipwreck in the area in which the sculpture was found, it is believed that the ship originally carrying the piece had at one point taken on some type of distress, causing the crew to toss the heaviest items overboard to make it back to shore. Researchers have also discovered a mouse nest within the sculpture, suggesting it was abandoned or neglected on land before its final abandonment out to sea. It seems strange to me that a bronze copy of such a well known or prized piece, prized enough to warrant a copy made of marble as well, would be basically thrown out.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that through these underwater sites, researchers can better understand Roman maritime trade routes from the east and the west which ended up in the Adriatic. The archaeological remains of these maritime complexes help paint a better picture of what, how much of, when, how, and where different products were being shipped. Many shipping vessels such as amphora have been found at the bottom of the Adriatic, along with oil lamps, kitchen course ware, etc. I recently read an article for another class by an MSU Packaging alum about the ancient transport of amphoras. They are designed to be easily moved around as well as easy to stack and store. They were also lined with a glaze so they would not leak their contents and the strong clay material used in the making of these amphora was helpful in preventing breakage during transit because they were intended to be reused. This makes them the perfect vessel for shipping and handling (below is a link to the article). Due to the fact that these ceramic containers were designed to withstand the ware and tare that comes with being shipped on rough seas, it it understandable why they have stood the test of time under the sea. Because these vessel were in fact made to be packed in tightly on top of one another in large quantities, it is easier to understand why great numbers of amphora were found stacked up in rows beneath the Adriatic. Many of these amphora were stamped or carved with identification markers that allowed people to know where the vessel came from, where it was going, what it contained, or how much it weighed.

I was also glad Dr. Potrebica brought up some of the ship and plane wrecks from WWI and WWII that were also found under the sea. Many people focus only on the ancient past in areas near the Adriatic, but I was interested in some of the things he had to say about 19th and 20th century wrecks found off the coast of Croatia. These types of remains found through underwater archaeology can help reshape our recent past which is just as important to learn from as the ancient past. There is so much more that can be learned from what lies under the sea through underwater archaeology (in addition to the Little Mermaid), allowing us to put together the pieces of the past.

Mortuary Practices of China

As I was reading chapter 11, Evolution of Complex Societies in China, I was interested in the mortuary practices of China and their similarities to those of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. For example, archaeologists have found burials at the Bambo village of the Yangshaoo period with the presence and absence of grave goods indicating some form of social differentiation. In particual, the barial of a male was found to have been accompanied by mosaics depicting images of a dragon and a tiger along with three other individuals who were possibly, like in the tradition of the Egyptians, escorts or attendents for the after life. Researchers beleive this man may have been a ritualistic specialist of some sort making him of a higher status in the village a was also prominent in the Near East. I think it is interesting that two place that seem so far a part could have the such similar mortuary practices. Very similar to those found in Egypt, archaeologists have discovered monumental building at Angang that were surrounded by tons of human and animal sacrifical burials, a tradition that dates back to the time of Egyptian Pharaoh Hor-aha in which thirty six human burials were found and two royal lions were thought to have been the earliest known example of human sacrifice and also had clear evidence of social inequality. Lavished burial good such as solar boats being buried with Egyptian pharohs to take them to the fter life are very similar to the chariots found at Hsiao-T’un in China. Also found at this site were hundred of people, and many animals. This idea of taking literally everything with them to the after world is very similar to the practices observed in ancient Mesopotamia at the royal graves of Ur. A Chinese monument that has always caught my interest is the terracotta army that was uncovered in Emperor Shih Hiang-ti’s mortuary site. A project comparable to those of the Great Pyramids at Giza, the mausolieum for the emperor took over 700,000 people build over 39 years. Archaeologists have uncovered 8,000 terracotta soldiers buried at the site equiped with wood, bronze, and bamboo weapons. Recently, Archaeology Magazine posted on facebook about over 200 five piece bronze crossbow triggers and bow tips being found to have been constructed specifically for the terracotta army. With no signs of any actual use, these weapons, along with the soldiers they belonged to would have probably served as the protectors of the emperor or the entire empire in the after world. It is amazing to me that all these mortuary practices are very similar to those of other ancient civilizations and it is pretty amazing that such different types of people could have so much in common. I guess the real question is are these different groups actually all that different in the grand scheme of things?

Catalhoyok and plaster

As I was going through this weeks readings, I was very interested in the changes that began to take place in the social context of village life. The Anatolian site of Catalhoyok in the Urfa region of Mesopotamia has been found to be one of the most advanced centers of neolithic culture. This contemporary peasant culture, having a population of about 4,000-6,000, is much larger than other sites of this era. Decorated with art works depicting images of naturalistic themes focused particularly on fertility and death, about 40 shrines have been found at this site suggesting some type of cult following. Like the other 158 structures found at this site, the Catalhoyok shrines were found to have been rectangular rooms constructed of shaped mud with plastered walls and floors.

Initially interested in the actual type of cult practices that took place at Catalhoyok, I attempted to do a little research on the site and came across an article that directed my attention elsewhere, and that would be toward the subject of plaster and farming. Originally published in Science, Michael Balter’s “Did Plaster Hold Neolithic Society Together?” shed light on the inhabitants lifestyle compared to the environment they lived in. Catalhoyok is located in the middle of a marshland, a location that would make it very difficult if not impossible to successfully participate in agricultural practices. Throughout most of history, farmers have looked for rich land to farm that would allow them to live in close proximity to their crop fields and animals, it seems that at Catalhoyok that is not the case. Researchers have found that cereals consumed at this site that would need an abundant about of wheat and barley would have been impossible to grow in the wetland settlement. Instead, these resources would have needed to have been grown in a dry environment that could only be found as close as about 12 km away. Also found many kilometers away were the origins of oak and juniper trees that were used at Catalhoyok for fuel and construction. Archaeological evidence suggests that their animals, such as sheepgoats, were also tended to outside of the settlement. So the question here is why would a group of people settle so far away from agriculturally suited land?

Scholars suggest that the settlement of Catalhoyok may not have been occupied for economical reasons but for the lime-rich clay that these people used to cover their walls and floor that were found to be decorated with paintings and engravings. It is thought that these repeated images of fertility and death, scene of hunting, and other religious beliefs depicted in clay are what held these people together. The plaster was such an important part of their settlement that annual applications were made to each dwelling to preserve their structures and create fresh images and special care was taken to platforms in which bodies of family members were found to have buried under, also decorated in paint and engravings. As a group, these people traveled great distances to grow, tend, and collect large amounts of resources at a time that were needed to survive in order to live in the marshlands where their plastered house stood. There is also evidence of the use of reeds to make baskets and rope that would have aided in the transportation of such a large quantity of items over a rather long distance.

Some researchers believe that not all of the members of this settlement lived at Catalhoyok year round; perhaps some lived off in tents near the fields tending to their crops and animals. Though there isn’t exactly any real concrete evidence of this, there is great evidence of settlement that valued the rich clay that surrounded them and they artwork that was created on it, the plaster held not only the structures together, but the culture as well. Catalhoyok was clearly an important location for the settlement of these people, why else would a culture go so far out of their way to farm and collect resources just to live a marsh? It is very interesting that these people chose their settlement based on the type of materials that would heighten their religious and cultural believes over the economic stability of a local farming town. Here, material wealth is not nearly as important as spiritual wealth.

Ancient Casualties: Ruined artifacts during times of unrest

I came across an article a few weeks ago, “Car bomb explodes outside of Cairo”, and it kind of made me think about certain threats that can be unforseen to archaeological data. The article talks about a car bomb that exploded outside of the Museum of Islamic Art and the Egyptian National Library and Archives, causing great damage to the buildings and destroyed ancient artifacts and manuscripts. Killing at least 4 and injuring over 70, the bomb was targeting the Egyptian Police Headquarters which took most of the damage but Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim described the event as “a huge loss” for not only the people of Egypt but the entire world.

So this article had me thinking about how none of the material culture of the past is really ever safe and it is a little unsettling to me. Despite the fact that archaeologists, preservationist, etc, spend their entire careers trying to preserve the past by spending thousands if not millions of dollars on safely storing these pieces of the past, one person’s actions can completely destroy thousands of years of history in a heartbeart. The past is already threatened by looters and vandalism but times of unrest also leave the remains of the worlds rich past very vulnerable. For example, when the U.S. first invaded Iraq, the U.S. leveled the ancient site of Babylon and damaged a great portion of an ancient theater in order to turn it into a military camp. This site was disturbed exclusively because of the war. Then there is The Great Sphyx of Giza that was supposedly used as target practice by Napoleon’s regime causing the nose to fall off (even if it is just missing because an angry peasant actually chopped it off) but either way these types of stories of target practice and abuse during times of unrest have been told about many sites or artifacts throughout history. The Parthenon is another example of destruction during war times when the Ottoman Turks accidentally blew it up while storing their gun power there (oops). I think it is a little scary that the artifacts/sites we are currently protecting could be blown up or vandalized in a blink of an eye, especially during times of war. Institutions housing such irriplacable artifacts such as the British Museum would be a devastating loss if someone decided to target it in someway; hundreds of thousands of pieces of material culture from places some can only dream of would be lost forever.

So how do we stop these incidents from happening? Higher security? Protection laws and acts? But how do you stop a car bomb that blew up half a block away and still took out a chunk of a museum that wasn’t even the target? Imagine if next time it is the target, how much archaeological data and artifacts will we lose then? The thought of it is pretty unsettling.