Social Evolution

I realize that the idea of social evolution has been abused and misused over time; however, I agree with the general concept.  I see how, throughout time and place, humankind has transitioned from a nomadic life style, to one of a more settled agricultural way of life.  Maybe it’s true that this linear perception of human history does not allow for the minutiae of variation to exist and thrive but this is exactly the “evolution” that I see occurring in the Nile Valley.

They transitioned slowly from a sparse set of traveling groups, into a more settled agricultural community with social stratification.  We can see the differences between elite and non elite through many avenues; most interesting to me were the grave goods, or lack of grave goods, that were buried with each.  Over time we see these groups of people creating a complex state with bureaucracy and means of production.  They begin to keep records and hold specialized jobs.

I have always found state formation to be interesting.  There is an assumption that each state has a group of homogeneous people who want the state to exist as it does.  Throughout history, however, we learn that this concept is often not true.  I think that states would operate more smoothly if this was the case; they would acquire more legitimacy from the citizens.  People would be adequately represented and more pleased with their means of government.  However, this is often impossible to accomplish because so many groups come together in the same areas, as was the case with the Nile Valley.

The last thing I wanted to comment on was the archaeologist’s recreation of the capital, Memphis.  I found it very interesting that, while the archaeological evidence from the city was very little, they were able to recreate and hypothesize certain things from the surrounding cemeteries.  The information that they theorized from these excavations is really quite specific and I find it fascinating that they could acquire so much information from cemeteries.  Also, my curiosity is peaked and I wish we could excavate Memphis, in spite of the “impenetrable silts” (Kohler, 13).

~Cristina M. Cao

2 thoughts on “Social Evolution

  1. I think that you see this simplified linear “evolution” in the case of the Nile Valley because the archaeological evidence of the “minutiae of variation” would be very rare, difficult to find intact, and completely under-represented and thus perhaps completely overlooked even if we were to find it. In order to come up with broad theories of cultures based on archaeological evidence, it is exactly these types of variations that get ignored. So, I do not think that the Nile Valley necessarily supports the theory of social evolution, so much as it is that our ideas of the Nile Valley fall victim to the theory of social evolution.
    I found the elite and non-elite grave goods interesting as well. Especially when Kohler points out that “prestige” goods were sometimes found in non-elite graves. I wonder why these graves were not seen as elite if they held these goods, or why these items are considered “prestige” if they were found in non-elite graves. It seems like there is (quite unsurprisingly) a far more gradual continuum of “prestige” and “elite” than we have been speaking of so far in this class.
    Do you think that the ancient Egyptian state had legitimation from its citizens? Or just their obedience (at least enough of it to maintain a unified state)?

  2. After more thought about this, I agree with you. I dont think that Egyptian culture and society followed a social evolution, but that we apply the social evolution theory and make the society and culture fit it. It is easy to ignore things that dont fit into a linear path or pattern. Human minds see the patterns more than the pieces that fall outside of it.

    I have been doing research on predynastic mortuary practices and I have seen that there is tons of variation. There was no linear, easy-to-follow pattern that progresses from simple to complex. Instead there is a helter-skelter of different positions, postures, grave goods, locations, practices, etc. There are some patterns, for example, Flinders Petrie would not have been able to create a relatively accurate time line using pottery if there was no pattern at all. However, for the most part, I see more variation than anything else.

    I believe that this variation results from many different groups of people coming together in the same space in order to share the resources offered by the Nile Valley. Over time, I believe these people became more homogenous due to intermixing. This is not a simple pattern progressing into something more complex, in fact, it almost seems like the opposite; complex, to simple, to complex again. It is a waxing and waning cycle and even within these “patterns” there are exceptions and variations.

    ~ Cristina M. Cao

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