Categories Anthropology

4.1 Chiefdom

The Chiefdom: A third stage of pre-state organization, the chiefdom, first appeared in the Near East around 7,500 B.P. Chiefdoms were probably theocracies, with the ruler or a member of his family serving as a high religious official. For the first time, the position of leader existed apart from the person who occupied. That is, his power came not from his personality, butfrom his position or role as leader. When a chief died, the role was filled by someone from a particular line of descent.

No longer were all family groups or lineages of equal rank. There is further evidence that some kin groups may have owned the best farm land or enjoyedother marks of status. Perhaps the best evidence that certain groups enjoyed higher status from birth is the discovery of the remains of children who had been buried much more elaborately than most other people at the time. At La Venta, Mexico,  about 800 B.C., children were buried with jade articles in basalt- columned tombs. These children, having died so young, could not have achieved a status worthy of such attention. Their status had to be inherited.

Chiefdoms were characterized by large villages, among which some craft specialization existed. Some villages in the Near East, for example, worked only on pottery; others produced large amounts of copper goods. In Mesoamerica, some villages made magnetite mirrors, while others made shell ornaments. But within each village, there were no groups of people who worked only on these goods. All villagers seem to have worked part-time at crafts as well as at farming. Signs of both activities can be found in the remains of houses whose members were part of a chiefdom.

Chiefdoms exist today in many parts of Africa, as well as in South Pacific Islands such as Fiji and Tahiti. Until they were disturbed by Europeans, the Hawaians and the Kwakiutl and Nootka of the Pacific Northwest were also chiefdoms.

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