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Abstract

Ongoing debates over the significance of specialized production in ancient political economies frequently hinge on questions of whether elites or commoners controlled craft manufactures and whether the material or ideological import of these production processes was more significant in deciding power contests. Though long recognized, such queries were traditionally answered in relatively straightforward economic terms. Recently, these time-honored approaches have been questioned. An ever increasing number of authors are promoting varied takes on the causal linkages between political forms and processes, on the one hand, and patterns of production, distribution, and use of craft goods, on the other. The literature generated by these discussions is extensive, vibrant, and often confusing. Rather than trying to synthesize all reports and essays dealing with specialized manufacture, this paper highlights general interpretive trends that underlie and structure current debates. The concluding section offers suggestions for how studies of relations among crafts, power, and social heterogeneity might be pursued profitably in the future.
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Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2004 ( C
2004)
Modeling the Roles of Craft Production
in Ancient Political Economies
Edward M. Schortman1,2and Patricia A. Urban1
Ongoing debates over the significance of specialized production in ancient po-
litical economies frequently hinge on questions of whether elites or commoners
controlled craft manufactures and whether the material or ideological import
of these production processes was more significant in deciding power contests.
Though long recognized, such queries were traditionally answered in relatively
straightforward economic terms. Recently, these time-honored approaches have
been questioned. An ever increasing number of authors are promoting varied takes
on the causal linkages between political forms and processes, on the one hand,
and patterns of production, distribution, and use of craft goods, on the other. The
literature generated by these discussions is extensive, vibrant, and often confusing.
Rather than trying to synthesize all reports and essays dealing with specialized
manufacture, this paper highlights general interpretive trends that underlie and
structure current debates. The concluding section offers suggestions for how stud-
ies of relations among crafts, power, and social heterogeneity might be pursued
profitably in the future.
KEY WORDS: craft production; political economy; power; specialized manufacture.
INTRODUCTION
The significance of craft production in the genesis and functioning of an-
cient sociopolitical structures has been one of the most hotly debated topics in
archaeology over the last two decades. Issues of power, agency, resistance to dom-
ination, and the cultural significance of daily practice that are so pervasive in the
archaeological literature all converge in discussions of specialized manufacture.
1Anthropology Department, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.
2To whom correspondence should be addressed at Anthropology Department, Kenyon College,
Gambier, Ohio 43022; e-mail: schortma@kenyon.edu.
185
1059-0161/04/0600-0185/0 C
2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation
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186 Schortman and Urban
The manner in which these subjects are combined and recombined by scholars
examining diverse manufacturing processes occurring in varied settings and time
periods creates a volatile and dynamic mix of approaches that resists synthesis. It
is easy to be overwhelmed by this diversity, to believe that there are no themes
undergirding craft production studies. We attempt to counter that impression.
Archaeologists traditionally relegated specialized manufacture to the eco-
nomic realm. Artisans produced material surpluses essential to the functioning
of state institutions and meeting the needs of their burgeoning populations (e.g.,
Childe, 1950, 1956). Craft industries and political formations were linked in these
early formulations through economic forces of supply and demand (Wailes, 1996).
Diverging from this trend were V. Gordon Childes pioneering investigations
into relations among craft production, patronage, market demands, technological
innovation, and the implications of all these factors for social evolution in the an-
cient Near East and Europe (e.g., Childe, 1942, 1956; Wailes, 1996). In general,
Childe argued that concentration of wealth and power in the hands of Bronze Age
Sumerian magnates thwarted the development of a broad market for craft goods.
This, combined with the estrangement of artisans from their products, the latter
controlled exclusively by rulers and their agents, retarded economic expansion and
technological innovation. Europes itinerant smiths, at the same time, fashioned
and distributed their wares largely free of elite supervision. This relatively egali-
tarian context encouraged scientic progress, technological experimentation, and
the development of more dynamic sociopolitical structures (Childe, 1942, 1956;
Trigger, 1980, pp. 108109). Though the above model is now acknowledged to
be overly simplistic, the distinction Childe drew between independent commoner
artisans (of Europe) and client specialists working for elites and state institutions
(in Sumeria) continues to pervade the craft production literature, as will be seen
later (Wailes, 1996).
Childes insights have been taken up and elaborated upon by those seeking
to understand the roles craftworkers played in the creation of ancient societies, in
general, and the fashioning of hierarchy, in particular. This reimagining of rela-
tions among specialized manufacture and sociopolitical processes is driven by a
burgeoning database and an increasing emphasis on the importance of individu-
als and factions in the production and reproduction of social and cultural forms
(Bourdieu, 1977; E. Brumel, 1992; Giddens, 1984; see papers in E. Brumel
and Fox, 1994). The importance of craft manufacture to long-term economic pro-
cesses is not denied. What is being challenged is the notion that fabricating items
at any scale can be understood as a purely economic activity that solely generates
surpluses to meet market demands. Instead, artisans are increasingly envisioned
as having actively participated in fashioning the social and cultural worlds they
inhabited. How they went about this creative process, and how much freedom they
enjoyed in its enactment, are hotly contested.
This debate has generated a voluminous and diverse literature, and writing
on the topic shows no signs of abating (see Costin, 2001, for an excellent recent
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 187
review of the general craft production literature). Such variety reects great intel-
lectual vigor but also obscures the basic issues being considered and the directions
investigations are taking. We highlight some of these topics and trends, construct-
ing a model that focuses on the instrumental quality of specialized manufacture,
how researchers imagine that artisans and their products gured in power contests.
Like all conceptual frameworks, this one simplies a complex reality in order to
identify patterns. The resulting summary is not denitive, not the statement on craft
production. It is areview that, hopefully, claries some points while suggesting
areas where future research may yield fruitful results.
BASIC TERMS AND THEMES
The model outlined here focuses on how researchers, since 1982, have imag-
ined the place of craft manufacture in ancient, hierarchically structured political
economies, those imperfect, negotiated, dynamic relations that exist among pro-
cesses of production, consumption, and distribution, on the one side, and the or-
ganization and use of power, on the other (J. Arnold and Munns, 1994; Cobb,
1993; Hayden, 1995; Pauketat, 1997; Poole, 1991). Craft specialization, the el-
ement of production dealt with here, is dened as fashioning items at volumes
above and beyond the needs of the producing individual or group for exchange
with those engaged in complementary economic pursuits (Clark, 1986, p. 45; Clark
and Parry, 1990; Cobb, 1993, p. 66; Costin, 1991, 2001; Inomata, 2001, p. 322;
Stein, 1994, 1996, 1998). Attention, therefore, centers on how researchers have
drawn connections among the fabrication, distribution, and use of specic goods,
on the one hand, and, on the other, processes of political centralization (the extent
to which power is concentrated in a few hands), social differentiation (variation
in the identities assumed by members of a polity based on combinations of social
[e.g., kinship], economic [e.g., occupation], and/or ideological factors [e.g., afl-
iation with specic cults]), and inequality (whether, and to what extent, holders
of these identities have unequal access to resources, including power) (Balandier,
1970; de Montmollin, 1989; Feinman and Neitzel, 1984; Hayden, 2001; McGuire,
1983; Nelson, 1995; Paynter, 1989; Paynter and McGuire, 1991).
Values for these six variables, each treated as a continuum, are outlined in
Table I. The form any one factor takes at a specic place and time is related to
those assumed by the others, albeit in a nonmechanistic manner. The six domains
briey outlined earlier and in Table I were selected because their importance in
the study of ancient political economies is reected by the considerable attention
they have received over the last two decades.
Each researcher who deals with specialized manufacture handles the above
relations in a distinctive manner. We cannot do justice to this full range of vari-
ation here. Instead we will group recent investigations of crafts and political
economies under several broad headings that highlight similarities in the ways
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188 Schortman and Urban
Table I. Components of the Various Processes Emphasized in Craft Production Studies
Variable Continua of variation
Manufacturing processes
Raw material sources Local Foreign
Acquisition strategies Simple, easily mastered, require Complex, hard to learn, need the coordinated
little coordinated effort work of many individuals
Production skills Easily learned and used Hard to learn, need considerable practice to maintain
Scale of production Few people, limited steps, Numerous artisans, complexly organized
little energy investment production steps, major energy expenditures
Time devoted to craft production Part-time Full-time
(Intensity)
Physical setting (concentration) Dispersed Aaggregated near elite compounds and administrative
centers
Institutional setting (context) Independent of direct elite conrol Attached to, and supported by, elite patrons
Primary identity of the artisan Not tied to craft production As an artisan participating in a specific craft
Consumption and distribution processes
Restrictions on the distribution None, decentralized Significant, determined by elites
and use of particular goods
Demand Low and intermittent High and constant
Purposes to which goods are put Daily maintenance chores Political domination and resistance to same
Relation of producers and Equal Unequal
consumers
Political structure and process
Centralization Power is diffused and situationally Power is concentrated and institutionalized
deployed
Differentiation Relatively few distinguishable Numerous distinct identities
identities
Inequality Access to resources relatively Resource access restricted to people holding
open to all certain affiliations
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 189
in which political and economic processes are linked. The four themes singled out
for discussion here deal with craft goods as sources of economic power, founts of
ideological preeminence, means to achieving a degree of household and commu-
nity autonomy, and essential in creating and reproducing cultural frameworks of
meaning and afliation. Pervading these intellectual motifs is a set of frequently
repeated oppositions that pit elites against commoners and an objects meaning
against its economic signicance. These enduring archaeological dichotomies en-
courage researchers to return time and again to two major questions: Who controls
and/or benets to the greatest degree from craft production, elites or commoners?;
and Are craft goods primarily used to convey meaning or to achieve economic
ends?How investigators respond to these queries shapes their understandings of
a crafts signicance within ancient political economies. The utility of maintaining
such distinctions is considered at the essays conclusion.
The aforementioned themes are used to organize a complex, burgeoning lit-
erature into a manageable form, not as pigeonholes for classifying research on
specialized manufacture. Particular investigators do not blindly follow one theme
to the exclusion of all others. Many, in fact, address several of these motifs si-
multaneously or at different points in their careers. Rather than categorizing re-
searchers and their efforts, our goal is to highlight issues to which scholars fre-
quently refer when examining how the manufacture, distribution, and use of crafted
goods are related to processes of political centralization, social differentiation, and
inequality.
CRAFT PRODUCTION AS A MEANS TO POWER
The rst two themes alluded to above directly implicate craft production
in processes of political centralization and the creation of inequality. Elites are
perceived as active agents in the formulations summarized later, their manipulation
of specialized manufacture precipitating dramatic and enduring transformations
of extant political arrangements. Scholars pursuing this line of inquiry also stress
the functional signicance of craft production, asking how this activity serves
to promote the interests of some at the expense of others. A concern with what
specialized manufacture doesin political economies encourages the formulation
of cross-cultural generalizations. The search for these regularities is based on the
premise that the creation of hierarchy poses certain universal challenges, the most
pressing of which are how to convert equals into subordinates and encourage their
acquiescence to these radically changed circumstances. Faced with such recurring
problems, it is argued, would-be rulers consistently and independently fashion
similar solutions that involve craft production. These research themes diverge
over the relative weight attributed to the economic and ideological signicance of
the goods artisans fashion. Many scholars, however, synthesize both approaches
in their studies of specic cases.
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190 Schortman and Urban
Creating Power Through Dependency
The use of craft production as an economic resource employed in elite domina-
tion strategies is most systematically expressed in prestige goods theory(Dupre
and Rey, 1973; Ekholm, 1972, 1978; Frankenstein and Rowlands, 1978; Friedman,
1982; Friedman and Rowlands, 1978; Kristiansen, 1991; Meillassoux, 1981; see
also the concept of wealth nanceadvanced by Costin and Earle, 1989; DAltroy
and Earle, 1985; Earle, 1987, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2001). Power, in this framework,
depends on control over labor and its products (J. Arnold, 1993, 1995, 1996; Cobb,
1993; Earle, 1991, 1997; Hayden, 1995, 1998, pp. 1718; 2001, pp. 254255). In-
dividuals and factions who can secure privileged access to the productive efforts
of the majority are, therefore, well begun on their political ascent.
But given that all involved are committed to protecting their labor and its fruits,
how is such control established and institutionalized? The answer lies in the ability
of emergent elites to undercut the autonomy of their subordinates by monopolies
over the local, intrapolity distribution of those goods that all need to reproduce
themselves socially (i.e., objects that gure in displays and transactions that afrm,
create, and formalize interpersonal ties) (J. Arnold, 1996; E. M. Brumel, 1987;
E. Brumel and Earle, 1987; Hayden, 1998, 2001, p. 258; Kim, 2001; Pauketat,
1997, pp. 4248; Saitta, 1994; 1997, p. 14; 2000; Stein, 1996, p. 32; 1998; Trubitt,
2000). If a few can monopolize these essential commodities, then the majority
become dependents of the monopolists (J. Arnold, 1995; Bayman, 1996; Clark
and Blake, 1994; Earle, 1987; Stein, 2001, pp. 364365; Tosi, 1984). Under such
conditions, most members of a population surrender labor, loyalty, and surpluses
in return for goods they desperately need and which are only obtainable from
those occupying the hierarchys apex. Unrepayable debt leads to dependency that
is, in turn, bathed in the soft glow of mutual exchange (J. Arnold, 1996; Hayden,
1995, 1998). Though subordinates receive less than they give, all parties to the
transactions are giving and receiving something. Experience of exploitation is,
therefore, muted even if in reality rulers are systematically enriched at the expense
of their followers (Earle, 1997, p. 67).
There are several routes to this end. Magnates can exert exclusive control
over the parochial disbursement of nished exotics important to local social pro-
cesses and even physical survival. For example, those occupants of Californias
Channel Islands who could monopolize the means for traversing the dangerous
straits separating these isles from the mainland were able to recongure politi-
cal and economic relations in their favor during the period AD 11501300. They
alone became the sources of assets from the mainland needed by island populations
(J. Arnold, 1993).
Alternatively, elites could monopolize the fashioning of essential commodi-
ties in workshops staffed by their clients (Clark and Parry, 1990; Earle, 1991, 2001;
Feinman, 1991, 1995; Hayden, 1994, 1995, 1998; Peregrine, 1991a,b; Stein, 1998;
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 191
Trubitt, 2000; Wattenmaker, 1998). In either case, it is not necessary that magnates
supervise entire production and distribution processes to undermine successfully
their followersindependence (Earle, 1994, p. 451; 2001; Lemonnier, 1992, p. 22).
Controlling strategic points in one of the sequences will sufce.
For example, the Inka managed to exert tremendous inuence over the dis-
tribution of metal tools and ornaments within their extensive empire by replacing
copper with tincopper alloys. This shift effectively reduced the ability of local
populations to make status-dening items of social display from widely available
copper sources as the limited supplies of Andean tin were under imperial control
(Earle, 1994, p. 456; Earle and DAltroy, 1989, p. 203).
It would be naive and misleading to surmise that all scholars pursuing the pres-
tige goods theme consistently arrive at similar conclusions. Still, they share certain
understandings of how the political and economic variables outlined in Table I are
related. Specically, prestige goods models posit elite patronage of crafts that use
imported raw materials and, most importantly, have high skill requirements. These
two factors facilitate monopolization of the manufacturing process, or important
steps within it, as access to essential physical and intellectual resources can be
centrally monitored (DeMarrais et al., 1996, pp. 2223; Earle, 1994, p. 446; 1997,
pp. 197199; Gibson, 1996, pp. 110, 114115; Hayden, 1995, pp. 22, 44; Kenoyer,
2000; Moholy-Nagy, 1997, p. 309; Peregrine, 1991a, pp. 23; Spielmann, 1998,
2002; Wattenmaker, 1994, p. 118; 1998). For example, Harappan elites in the Indus
civilization during the 3rd millennium BC exclusively controlled the fashioning of
socially important items from locally available assets through the use of complex
ring technologies that they and their client artisans alone had mastered (Stein,
1998, pp. 2223). This ability to monopolize technical knowledge contributed to
the creation of political hierarchies underwritten by debt and dependency (Stein,
1998, pp. 2223).
Paramount funding of artisans, coupled with the high technical demands of
their professions, encourage full-time specialization and the physical congregation
of workshops within or near elite power centers. Distribution of political valuables
is also monopolized by rulers who thereby guarantee that they alone control who
receives, and in what quantities they receive, the goods in question. Demand,
therefore, tends to be limited but constant, resulting in production scales that are
relatively modest. Small groups of people laboring full-time for patrons yield sur-
pluses that are both sufcient and not so large as to swamp the market, thereby
reducing the rarity, and hence the political importance, of social valuables. In ad-
dition, the fewer people involved in the production process, the easier they are to
monitor (Costin and Hagstrum, 1995). When and where consumption levels are en-
hanced, the number of artisans, and their outputs, may well increase. This situation
could arise because the items involvedare fragile and require frequent replacement
and/or they are regularly removed from circulation through, say, inclusion as burial
furniture. Such augmenting of the workforce might pose problems for controlling
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192 Schortman and Urban
production as growing numbers of craftworkers are difcult to oversee (Costin and
Hagstrum, 1995).
These economic processes are closely wedded to both political centralization
and inequality. Prestige goods given to followers transform independent agents
into dependent clients whose labor and its products are now owed, in part, to their
benefactors.Unable to secure on their own those items that make social life
possible, subordinates must turn to the monopolists for these necessities and pay
their price.Loathe to alienate their patrons, the majority surrender at least some
of their autonomy and acquiesce to the demands of their leaders. Debt is the key
to dependence, which, in turn, is the foundation of power and the infrastructure of
hierarchy.
The link between the manufacture of prestige goods and social differentiation
is not as clearly or consistently drawn in the literature. Certainly, the development of
full-time artisans attached to elite patrons implies the emergence of social identities
that distinguish craftworkers from the rest of the population (Inomata, 2001; see
papers in Costin and Wright, 1998). The output of their manufacturing tasks is
also instrumental in forging novel elite afliations overtly raised above those of
their subordinates. Beyond these developments, however, social differentiation is
not explicitly implicated in prestige goods politicoeconomic processes.
The Meaning of Power
The prestige goods approach stresses economic dependency as central to the
creation of political hierarchy. Recently, the symbolic content of political valuables
has come in for closer scrutiny. This research starts from the observation that
such objects are often highly decorated, creating visual impacts that are obvious
and strong, even to this day (Clark, 1996; Hayden, 1998). In traditional prestige
goods theory, this hypertrophicquality is seen as part of the effort to ensure that
political valuables are difcult to replicate because of the skills and mastery of
complex symbolic vocabularies involved in their creation (Clark, 1996, pp. 189
193; Clark and Parry, 1990, pp. 296, 319; Hayden, 1998). Elites alone command
these intellectual resources and so can deny them to potential usurpers.
Increasingly, however, investigators are considering the possibility that the
complex designs adorning prestige goods were intended to convey information
crucial to bolstering ideologies of power and inequality. Deriving considerable
inspiration from Structural Marxism (e.g., Godelier, 1977), these researchers ar-
gue that centralized control over economic resources alone is insufcient for the
establishment of institutionalized power differentials (Giddens, 1984, pp. 258
261). If these distinctions are to survive the demise of their creators, they must
be perceived as legitimate by all members of society. Naked exploitation rankles
and encourages covert resistance, if not outright revolt. Prestige goods, along with
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 193
a variety of other practices, help conceal and/or rationalize inequality precisely
because of their information content.
Prestige goods, like all artifacts and constructions, materialize beliefs, making
the abstract tangible and, therefore, compelling (Baines and Yoffee, 2000, p. 15;
Bayman, 2002; A. Cohen, 1979; DeMarrais et al., 1996). If every cultural creation
conveys meaning, it is equally true that some objects are more potent symbols than
others. These are items that, for example, effectively synthesize important social
values and powerful emotional states, infusing one with the other (E. M. Brumel,
1987, 2000, p. 134; A. Cohen, 1979, p. 105; Turner, 1964). Whoever controls the
production of these potent symbols is in a position to, literally, fashion reality and
make their version believable (E. Brumel, 2000, p. 131; Clark, 1996; Clark and
Parry, 1990; Costin, 1996; DeMarrais et al., 1996; Dobres and Hoffman, 1995;
Earle, 1997, p. 10; Emerson, 1997, p. 214; Hayden, 1995, 1998; Inomata, 2001;
Joyce, 2000, pp. 7172; Kim, 2001, pp. 462464; Lechtman, 1993; Morrison, 1994,
pp. 4142; Pauketat, 1997, pp. 4248; Peregrine, 1991a, pp. 12; Pfaffenberger,
1992, pp. 503507). They can write their preeminence into the naturalorder of
the universe using material culture, thereby rationalizing inequality and justifying
their power (Baines and Yoffee, 1998). The route to political control, therefore,
lies through monopolies over the fabrication of objects that convey, in emotionally
compelling ways, sociopolitical values that work to the advantage of the monopo-
lists. Failure to control exclusively the manufacture of these crucial symbols holds
the same threat that economic decentralization has in prestige goods models. In
this case, the danger is less that usurpers can short-circuit debt obligations than
that they can rewrite social relations to a script of their own choosing.
Elites frequently use their control over the creation and distribution of po-
tent material symbols to fashion and proclaim identities to which the powerful
alone can belong. These afliations, hedged round with striking physical markers
accessible only to those of highest rank, often have local and regional signi-
cance (Baines and Yoffee, 1998, 2000; Schortman, 1989). They both delimit the
boundaries of privilege within a polity and link paramounts in one realm with their
counterparts in another. For example, lords throughout the Maya Lowlands dur-
ing the Middle Preclassic through Late Classic periods (800 BCAD 900) shared
distinctive features of dress, writing, and belief prominently displayed in public
settings (Freidel, 1986; Joyce, 2000; Sabloff, 1986). Many of the objects involved
were made by skilled clients of the rulers, or the elites themselves, as were the
stone and stucco monuments on which the relevant symbols were often embla-
zoned (Inomata, 2001). Such physically prominent expressions of identity served
to distinguish the ruling class from those who could not command the intellectual
and physical assets needed to participate in these displays. Explicit manifestations
of rulership using similar symbols also linked magnates from different polities,
providing them with a common vocabulary with which to engage in transactions,
ranging from commerce to marriage exchanges, crucial to sustaining their power.
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194 Schortman and Urban
The result was an elite culturethat transcended political boundaries and survived
intersocietal combat (Freidel, 1986; Sabloff, 1986). Comparable processes, some-
times glossed as interaction spheres(Caldwell, 1964), are attested to in a diverse
array of world areas and time periods (Lamberg-Karlovsky, 1993; Schortman,
1989).
This research raises questions of audiences, acceptance, and the kinds of
goods best suited to the tasks of over-awing and convincing the populace (Baines
and Yoffee, 1998, 2000). Addressing the last question rst, these valuables should
have physical qualities that are naturally striking (such as the visual brilliance
of gold or the aural tones achieved with copper and bronze [Appadurai, 1986;
Hosler, 1994; Levy, 1999, p. 210; McAnany, 1993, pp. 7475; Renfrew, 1986]) or
can reach that state through considerable labor investments (Hayden, 1998). Such
objects engage the senses and rivet attention on the messages they convey (Costin
and Hagstrum, 1995, p. 623).
The audiences addressed through displays of valuables differ signicantly
depending, in part, on the size and overall visibility of the pieces and their contexts
of use. Following Wobsts discussion of the communicative quality of material
items, large, ostentatious objects easily seen and recognized at a distance were
probably employed in public exhibitions in which sizable proportions of the total
population participated (Wobst, 1977). These artifacts, therefore, were deployed in
strategies aimed at achieving broad consensus concerning the ideas and relations
they manifest (DeMarrais et al., 1996). Items that might only be seen in more in-
timate settings, such as objects used in household tasks or small pieces of jewelry,
would speak to different audiences. Here, the goal may have been to solidify sup-
port for elite identities, and ensure cooperation, among holders of these afliations
in contests for power and resources with those of lower status (Abercrombie et al.,
1980; Baines and Yoffee, 1998, 2000; Bowser, 2000; E. Brumel, 1996; DeMarrais
et al., 1996, pp. 2526 Gilman, 1991, pp. 150151). This distinction is not mutu-
ally exclusive. Imposing goods used conspicuously could simultaneously convey
messages to entire populations, legitimizing hierarchy, while reinforcing the im-
portance of cooperation among elites in safeguarding their shared preeminence.
In all cases, however, the central objective is to maintain centralized and exclusive
control over the production and display of symbolically rich items through which
power is expressed and rationalized.
The question of who accepts elite-sponsored messages and to what extent
they are believed is usually an open one. It is difcult enough to make such deter-
minations when we have access to living informants let alone in situations where
we must make due with archaeologys mute remains. Symbols are susceptible to
multiple interpretations, overtly or covertly expressed (Bourdieu, 1979; Gailey,
1987; Moore, 1996, p. 171; Schortman et al., 2001, p. 314; Scott, 1985). Even
the cleverest strategies of the most charismatic individuals are not likely to win
everyone over to their way of thinking. We are left, therefore, with the remains
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 195
of efforts to construct and promote dominant ideologies; their success, like the
meanings of the symbols themselves, cannot be assumed.
Connections among the economic and political processes listed in Table I are
much the same here as they are in prestige goods models, though in this theme they
are mediated more through meaning than economic dependency. Elite patronage
of attached specialists ensures monopolies over the use and distribution of their
politically charged output. This situation tends to involve fairly small numbers of
full-time specialists who live and work near the residences and administrative nodes
of their patrons. The objects, themselves, are almost invariably made from exotic
materials, always transformed through technologically complex, labor-intensive
steps requiring considerable skill (Clark, 1986; Hayden, 1998). As noted above,
these raw material and technological features greatly facilitate control over the
manufacturing process by those few who can acquire the needed resources and
master the appropriate techniques. Such considerations also help ensure that pres-
tige goods are rare and valuable, thus heightening the impact of their messages.
Effective monitoring of the production process gives those in charge a decided
advantage in, if not absolute control over, disseminating messages that privilege
their position in the world.
Once again, the issue of social differentiation and its relation to specialized
manufacture has come in for less attention than have questions of power concen-
tration and inequality. Artisans and elites separate themselves out from the rest of
society, partly by virtue of craft activities, but no other social distinctions seem to
follow from these economic processes.
The models outlined thus far stress a topdown perspective on political
economies. Agency and innovation are certainly stressed, but the agents and in-
novators are almost invariably members of the upper class. Those they seek to
dominate are left as either hapless dependents, selling their labor for a particularly
ne pot, or dupes bedazzled by information dazzlingly expressed. The above state-
ment simplies what are often sophisticated and nuanced theories. It does raise
the question, however, of whether or not commoners were going gently into their
own exploitation.
PROTECTING AUTONOMY
Though most efforts to model the place of craft production in ancient polit-
ical economies concentrate on elite strategies and actions, some researchers have
been asking whether, how, and why commoners might have participated in spe-
cialized manufacture. This work takes several forms. Most investigators pursuing
the topic posit that the crafts in which nonelites engaged are characterized by the
use of easily accessible, widely dispersed raw materials extracted using relatively
simple techniques; skills that take little time to learn and do not need constant
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196 Schortman and Urban
practice to maintain; a concern to locate workshops near sources of the bulkiest
raw materials used in the manufacturing process and close by potential consumers,
usually resulting in dispersed distributions of artisans; manufacture for a market
in which demand was constant, moderately high, and widespread; and distribution
negotiated among producers and consumers largely, or completely, free of elite
intervention (Fry, 1981; Gibson, 1996; Hayden, 1994, 1998; Pool, 1992; Saitta,
1994, pp. 216217, 1997; Wattenmaker, 1998).
Production scales of commoner crafts vary from individuals fashioning a few
items on the side for occasional exchanges with their peers to larger manufacturing
enterprises organized on the basis of communities or in factories directed by a
few entrepreneurs (Costin, 1991; Peacock, 1981). Where any craft falls out along
this continuum depends on a variety of factors of which consumer demand may
be the primary one. No matter what the production scale, those not funded by
elites try to reduce their labor costs and increase the efciency with which they
fashion items in volume, seeking maximum return for invested effort (Costin,
1991; Costin and Hagstrum, 1995; Hagstrum, 1988; Hayden, 1998, pp. 29; but
see Lemonnier, 1992). The resulting products, therefore, tend to be fairly simple in
shape and decoration, their appearance informed more by functional considerations
of shipping and use than their suitability for transmitting information.
These crafts, in short, fall at opposite ends of the continua outlined in Table I
from prestige goods production processes, yielding utilitarian items, not wealth
(White and Pigott, 1996). Raw material, labor, and skill requirements make such
activities relatively open to all while aspects of demand and distribution ensure
that craftworkers exercise considerable autonomy in pursuit of their own agendas
(Hagstrum, 2001). To be sure, paramounts may benet from these transactions and
manufacturing activities through, say, taxes levied on market exchanges (Morrison
and Sinopoli, 1992; Sinopoli, 1988). The point, however, is that control over pro-
duction, consumption, and distribution is vested in non-elite hands.
The above features generally characterize the organization of non-elite craft
production. The question of why people would become artisans is addressed in
several ways. As was the case with the elite-centered models discussed earlier,
these approaches can be divided into those stressing the economic signicance
of craft manufacture and those emphasizing its ideological import. In either case,
functionalist concerns with the uses of specialized manufactures dominate. Cross-
cultural generalizations are also encouraged by the notion that commoners, like
elites, consistently face certain oft-repeated challenges that are handled in similar
ways. Here the problems involve meeting basic subsistence needs and dening
ones place within ever more complex social and political structures.
Working for a Living
Perhaps the most long-standing approach to the study of non-elite involve-
ment in craft production is the one that envisions this activity as a response to
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 197
straightened economic circumstances. Where land is insufcient to meet local
subsistence requirements, at least some people may fashion utilitarian goods on a
part-time basis to satisfy their essential material needs through market exchanges.
Craft production, therefore, is the profession of (near) last resort (D. Arnold, 1985,
1993; Fry, 1981, p. 151; Kramer, 1985, p. 80; McCorriston, 1997, p. 533; OBrian,
1999; Pool, 1992; Stark, 1991; Stark and Heidka,1998, p. 509).
Related to this position is the argument that scheduling conicts, resulting
from increased investments of time in subsistence pursuits, make it difcult for
farmers and herders to nd enough hours in the day to produce all the goods they
need (Mills, 1995). Such time-management problems create a steady demand for
items that specialists, ever more estranged from the land themselves, can work to
fulll.
The political consequences of these processes are not clearly outlined in most
of the literature. Potentially, at least, artisans working outside direct elite control
could use craft production to enhance their material circumstances above basic
subsistence needs. Those individuals or groups with access to the widest array of
raw materials and the skills to transform them into nished goods could siphon
off resources from less favorably endowed households whose members engaged
in fewer crafts. The latter would have to surrender some portion of their labor
and surplus to obtain what they require from the former. Though no one need be
in thrall to their exchange partners, slight discrepancies in production potentials
among households could add up to signicant differences in material gain over the
generations. The result would be a mosaic of household material well-being rather
than an economically homogenous class of equally impoverished commoners. How
marked these distinctions might become depends, in part, on the ability of domestic
units to meet their subsistence requirements by their own efforts. If that capacity
was seriously compromised, even the most productive commoner artisans could
nd themselves economically marginalized, sacricing labor just to get enough to
eat.
No matter how these processes play out, however, the result would be increas-
ing social differentiation. Peopleslives would vary by occupation and the amounts
of time invested in specialized production. Those pursuing different crafts, or mixes
of crafts, would, minimally, have to learn varied skills and come to view the world
and its resources from divergent perspectives. If differential involvement in craft
production yielded distinctions in material well-being among domestic units, then
some measure of economic inequality dividing nonelites might ensue. The result-
ing pattern would be more a continuum of differences than the marked distinctions
between elites and commoners imagined in prestige goods models. As long as the
objects being fashioned were not expressions of elite afliations or used to estab-
lish dependency relations, their signicance in promoting or undermining political
centralization seems to have been nil.
Commoner participation in craft production, in these economic models, seems
to be geared towards producing mundane items to buffer artisans and their domestic
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198 Schortman and Urban
groups facing uncertain economic environments. Pursuing such eminently practi-
cal concerns enhances social differentiation, may contribute to modest invidious
economic distinctions, and has no discernible (or seriously considered) affect on
power and its concentration (King and Potter, 1994; Stark and Heidka, 1998,
pp. 510511; White and Pigott, 1996, p. 167).
The Meaning of Commoner Craft Production
Not all views of commoner participation in craft production operate from
so strong an economic stance. Some researchers examine the ideological signif-
icance of, and motivations for, nonelite involvement in specialized manufacture.
One strand in these investigations deals with the question of emulation. Here it
is argued that nonelite attempts to replicate material symbols of paramount privi-
lege, and so partake in some of their charisma, may spur technological innovation
and the creation of new prestige goods industries that are more difcult to copy
(Hayden, 1998, pp. 3334; Wattenmaker, 1998, pp. 1415). Commoner craft pro-
duction, then, is not geared exclusively to meeting demands for prosaic items.
It also can be harnessed to the fashioning of symbolically rich objects through
which the disempowered seek to participate in the dominant ideology. Emulating
elite material symbols may qualify as resistance to exclusion from paramount-
controlled discourses while simultaneously reinforcing the importance of those
discourses by imitating their forms.
Others have argued that relations between the scale and intensity of commoner
engagement in specialized production, on the one hand, and social differentiation,
on the other, are mediated through the communicative power of craft products
(Bayman, 2002; Bowser, 2000; Morrow, 1987; Wattenmaker, 1998; Wells, 1988).
As the array of social afliations proliferates within state-level societies, it is
increasingly important to develop physically overt cues that signal who is party
to any interaction, which identities they are employing, and what can be expected
of them (Barth, 1969; R. Cohen, 1978; Royce, 1982; Wattenmaker, 1998). The
ambiguity inherent in such communication is greatly reduced when the relevant
material symbols are standardized, a condition generally encouraged by specialized
manufacture (Foias, 2002, p. 231; Van Pool and Leonard, 2002; Wattenmaker,
1998, p. 11). Craft production, therefore, is spurred by broad-scale demands for
easily decoded, physically distinctive items useful as explicit markers of social
afliation. Objects fashioned from widely available raw materials that have high
visibility (such as elaborately embellished pottery vessels made with local clays)
are particularly susceptible to production by a large number of artisans laboring
to meet the needs of a sizable market (Wattenmaker, 1998, pp. 202203). Elite
supervision of these manufacturing processes is probably minimal given difculties
in controlling local access to both essential, widely dispersed raw materials and the
relatively simple manufacturing techniques used to fashion the items in question
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 199
(Wattenmaker, 1998, pp. 202203). Despite their ubiquity and apparent simplicity,
these seemingly mundane objects can effectively delimit social boundaries, though
without any necessary implication of inequality among the afliations they mark
(Bowser, 2000).
Summary of Approaches to Commoner Craft Production
Investigations of commoner participation in craft production converge on the
notion that this activity is both stimulated by, and promotes, differentiation among
heterarchically related social entities, i.e., units that are unranked or capable of
being ranked differently in varied circumstances (Crumley, 1979). The scale and
intensity of specialized manufacture varies with demand and the distribution of
essential raw materials and production skills. The higher the call for a commodity
and the more restricted crucial resources or technical knowledge are, the more
likely full-time specialists will appear. A drop in demand and/or the increasing
accessibility of basic material assets and/or manufacturing techniques encourage
shifts to part-time specialization. In either case, workshops are widely dispersed
and not necessarily situated near elite residences and administrative structures.
Commoner participation in craft activities is not thought to be strongly condi-
tioned by, nor is it given much credit for contributing to, political centralization and
inequality. When addressed, the lack of clear relations between these economic
processes and hierarchy building is highlighted (e.g., King and Potter, 1994; White
and Pigott, 1996). Often, such apparent incongruities are used to stress the impor-
tant point that craft production is not invariably linked to, or a cause of, unequal
power distributions (King and Potter, 1994; White and Piggott, 1996.). In short,
whatever its motivation, nonelite craft manufacture responds, in these models,
more to economic than to political processes and pressures.
CRAFTING THE PROFOUND FROM THE PROSAIC
The last two decades have witnessed an increasing concern with the emic
quality of artifacts, i.e, what these items meant to those who made and used them
(Hodder, 1982, 1986). Specically, there is a growing sense that the material world
has more than economic signicance. Artifacts, through their patterned forms,
arrangements, and uses, materialize values and beliefs distinctive of specic cul-
tures or segments thereof. By making the abstract tangible, artifacts are essential
to inculcating basic cultural premises across the generations and to creating those
meaningful contexts that impart signicance to, guide, and motivate patterned hu-
man action (Bourdieu, 1977; Geertz, 1973; Gillespie, 1999; Hodder, 1986; Joyce,
2000; Pauketat and Emmerson, 1999).
This approach marks a profound shift from functionalist arguments that equate
an objects signicance with its use (Hodder, 1986, pp. 2021). Though allowing
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200 Schortman and Urban
that use and meaning are related, archaeologists who examine the emics of craft
production see function as the lesser part of signicance. Every object, no matter
how prosaic, is a locus of meaning. All cultural products fashioned in a society
together comprise a symbolic environment whose specic congurations at any
place and point in time encourage certain behaviors and discourage others (Lillios,
1999, p. 174; Robb, 1999). In creating artifacts, therefore, people fashion the very
structures of their existence, expressing and reproducing relations among such
basic concepts as gender, kinship, power, class, and place through the objects
they make and manipulate (Levy, 1999, p. 212; J. Thomas, 1999, p. 73). The
archaeologists task is to read these messages that artisans, among others, have left
us.
Not only nished products but also the ways in which these objects were
made are rich in cultural signicance (Bernbeck, 1995; Dobres, 1995; Dobres
and Hoffman, 1995; Gosselain, 1993, 2000; Hendon, 1999; Lechtman, 1993;
Lemonnier, 1992; Perles, 1992; Pfaffenberger, 1988, 1992). Since most choices
made in manufacturing processes, or chaines operatoires, are at least partially
culturally conditioned, they contain information about the artisans worldview and
basic learned principles of behavior (Childs and Kilbick, 1993; Dobres, 1995;
Dobres and Hoffman, 1995; Gosselain, 1993, pp. 582583; 2000; Loney, 2000;
L´opez Varela et al., 2001). People understand and express themselves through daily
practice, manufacturing sequences representing conveniently fossilized examples
of those practices (Robb, 1999).
True to their emic roots, researchers pursuing the cultural signicance of craft
manufacture and its output stress the historically contingent nature of the meanings
attributed by past peoples to both objects and production processes (Hodder, 1982,
1986). Each cultures meaningful structure, materialized through artifact forms,
arrangements, and uses, is a product of its unique history. People may face similar
problems in different times and places but their responses are conditioned more
by the historical and cultural factors distinctive of a particular group than by the
universal functional considerations highlighted in the approaches discussed earlier.
Consequently, cross-cultural generalizations concerning artifact meanings are, to
many researchers, impossible.
Social Identity
Attention in emic studies of craft production has particularly focused on
how manufacturing processes and their resultant objects express social identi-
ties, those cultural categories into which people group themselves and onto which
they project behavioral expectations (Emberling, 1999; Gillespie, 1999, p. 247;
Schortman, 1989; Schortman et al., 2001; Weissner, 1983; Wobst, 1977). The is-
sue of afliation is also highlighted in those studies of the meanings of prestige
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 201
and prosaic goods discussed earlier. The aforementioned analyses, however, focus
on explicit, self-conscious efforts to communicate identities through manipulation
of physically salient features of design and decoration on certain particularly no-
table artifacts (especially pottery vessels and jewellery). While acknowledging the
importance of these overt expressions of afliation, a growing number of inves-
tigators stress that all items and production steps, no matter how mundane, are
well positioned to convey fundamental aspects of an artisans identity (Childs and
Kilbick, 1993; Dobres, 1995; Fotiadis, 1999, p. 395; Gosselain, 2000). This is be-
cause manufacturing behaviors are frequently learned early in life, within domestic
settings, and express ways of acting closely linked to a persons sense of self as
a member of a particular gender, household, and/or small community (Dobres,
1995; Gosselain, 1993). All objects fabricated in the course of craft production,
therefore, display stylistic features that may subtly, but effectively, convey social
distinctions that were meaningful to their makers and users (Carr, 1995; Weissner,
1983). Artisans need not be explicitly cognizant of the meanings they express.
Habitual manufacturing processes and unobtrusive stylistic elements are often re-
produced and interpreted out of awareness (McCall, 1999; Sackett, 1972, 1982).
Consciously or unconsciously, however, craftworkers signal who they are with
every choice made in production, their compatriots raised under similar circum-
stances readily, if implicitly, decoding their messages. Technology and even the
most prosaic objects, in this view, are as rich in cultural information as any other
aspect of life.
How do insights into the emic meanings of artifacts and production processes
gure in discussions of political economies? To date, relatively little effort has been
made to relate systematically the cultural contents of artifact styles and operational
sequences to other aspects of craft production, on the one hand, and to processes
of political centralization, inequality, and social differentiation, on the other (see
Hodder, 1979; Weissner, 1983 for some exceptions). At the very least, the scale
and intensity of social differentiation might well be discernible in changes within
production processes and increases in the variety of artifact styles. For example,
if manufacturing steps are shaped by cultural, as well as functional, considera-
tions, then proliferation of these processes, even within one industry, could signal
profound, microscale shifts in social afliations. Such distinctions might not be
overtly expressed in other surviving media because they were generally understood
and required no reinforcement. Explicit communication of social difference also
may have been actively discouraged by elites in the interest of preserving at least a
facade of social unity (DeMarrais et al., 1996, p. 31). In either case, differentiation
in production processes need not be a purely technological phenomenon. Rather,
it could signal, and reinforce, the appearance of new identities as pervasive as they
are subtly expressed.
This perspective raises the intriguing possibility that artifacts used to com-
municate elite-inspired models of the world simultaneously conveyed, through
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202 Schortman and Urban
decisions made in the manufacturing process, how the artisans saw themselves
and their places within that world (Hayashida, 1999). These overt and implicit
expressions of meaning need not have been in open conict, but there is rich po-
tential for at least implicit tensions in their articulation. Such possibilities cannot
be explored, however, unless we complement traditional topdown views of craft
production with bottomup perspectives on how identities are manifest in daily,
seemingly routine, practices and styles.
PROSPECTS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The above review highlights the very general truth that craft production is not
a unitary phenomenon. It is not a diagnostic of political complexity, solely a tool
of elite domination, or exclusively a means for individuals, households, and/or
communities to achieve and maintain their economic autonomy and social dis-
tinctiveness (Saitta, 1999, p. 143). Specialized manufacture can fulll all of these
roles under certain circumstances. This observation, however, just scratches the
tip of the conceptual iceberg. A brief examination of the oes submerged portions
suggests at least two important, general directions for future research: describing
the multifaceted relations among different craft industries and political processes,
each operating at variable spatial and temporal scales, within political economies;
and understanding the forces that generate these diverse interconnections.
Multicentric Political Economies
As a number of authors have commented, political economies are multicen-
tric, with different industries articulated in varying manners with equally com-
plex arrays of political processes and formations (Bayman, 2002; E. Brumel,
1998; C. Charlton, 1994; Cobb, 1993, p. 70; Costin, 1996, p. 212; Foias, 2002,
p. 236; Kopytoff, 1986, p. 72; Middleton et al., 2002; Morrison and Sinopoli, 1992;
Sinopoli, 1988, 1998; Stark and Heidka, 1998, p. 512; Stein, 1998, pp. 1213,
2001, pp. 363366; Wells, 1996; White and Pigott, 1996; Wright, 1993). In addi-
tion, since power, inequality, and social differentiation are variably manifest and
organized over different spatial and temporal dimensions, how craft manufacture
is integrated with these processes diverges depending on where and when within
political and economic networks we choose to focus (Bayman, 2002; E. Brumel,
1998; Cobb, 1993, p. 78; Connell, 2002, pp. 414415; Ferguson and Mansbach,
1996, p. 32; Inomata, 2001; Nader, 1997; Tringham, 1996; Wattenmaker, 1998;
Wright, 1996, p. 130). For example, gender identities forged within coresident
domestic units may be expressed and reproduced through activities that include,
but are not limited to, specialized manufacturing. What is fashioned, however,
and the volumes at which the goods are produced within these households may
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 203
be strongly inuenced by political and economic processes operating on a re-
gional scale, including tribute exactions and/or opportunities for exchange. Such
polity-level processes, in turn, are affected by inputs coming from beyond any one
societys borders, as when local tribute is exported to cement foreign alliances
or long-distance traders enhance parochial demand by participating in regional
markets (T. Charlton, 1994). The simultaneous impact of diverse local, regional,
and interregional forces on any craft makes is difcult, if not impossible, to speak
meaningfully of generic or universal relations among components of specialized
production and political processes.
Instead, comprehending the complex interplay among craftworking and power
concentration, inequality, and social differentiation in any specic case requires:
focusing on each craft individually, describing how relations among production,
distribution, and consumption are organized at all relevant spatial scales; correlat-
ing these features with measures of political centralization, inequality, and social
differentiation as they are manifest in different spatial settings; putting the result-
ing synchronic structures in motion, tracing changes in their components through
time; and being aware throughout these analyses that the resulting structures are
not likely to have been seamless but were, rather, characterized by tensions among,
minimally, artisans, consumers, and middlemen whose different goals were born
of their varying allegiances to kin, place, gender, and class (Costin, 2001, p. 312;
Stein, 1998, p. 19).
Researchers pursuing the themes outlined above view these linkages from dif-
ferent angles, focusing on distinct aspects of ancient political economies. Those
examining the production, distribution, and consumption of prestige goods stress
industries staffed by full-time client-artisans who fabricated objects used to build
hierarchies operating on polity and interpolity scales (e.g., R. Blanton and Feinman,
1984; R. E. Blanton et al., 1996; see papers in Chase-Dunn and Hall, 1991;
Peregrine and Feinman, 1996). Investigators looking into craft specialization
among commoners highlight those specializations open to all members of a society,
usually pursued by part-time artisans dispersed among a wide range of households
and communities. More ne-grained, intrahousehold analyses of social differen-
tiation in particular are encouraged by emic approaches where attention centers
on how an artisans identities are expressed and afrmed through basic techno-
logical and stylistic choices. Investigators looking at the function and meaning of
commoner production, regardless of spatial scale, tend to see these crafts as instru-
mental in the creation of heterarchical, not hierarchical, relations (Crumley, 1979).
Dealings among people of roughly equivalent status are emphasized as opposed
to those based on institutionalized inequalities.
Rather than being a cause for concern, such proliferation of perspectives on
specialized manufacture reects the variable ways political and economic pro-
cesses are articulated at different times and in different spatial and historical
contexts. The danger is less that there are a number of valid approaches to the
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204 Schortman and Urban
study of craft production than that one will be mistaken for the sole, or best, way
of dealing with the topic (Costin, 2001).
Multicentric and multiscalar political economies, therefore, require the ex-
amination of craft manufacture from different vantage points to describe relations
among production, consumption, distribution, hierarchy, power, and social dif-
ferentiation. This prescription is ultimately misleading, however, if it encourages
piecemeal approaches focused only on specic crafts (Costin, 2001, p. 312). We
must not forget that our objective is to describe and understand political economies
of which individual industries are components. Ultimately, what we know about
the operation of particular crafts will have to be synthesized into accounts in which
interrelations among diverse manufacturing, consumption, distribution, and politi-
cal processes are specied. Steps in this direction are already being made. Ongoing
analyses of several major prehistoric and early historic states and empires explicitly
address the complex interplay among different industries in the creation of ancient
political economies. Examples of these innovative studies include research con-
ducted on the southern Indian Sri Vijayan Empire of the fourteenthsixteenth
centuries (Morrison and Sinopoli, 1992; Sinopoli, 1988, 1994; Sinopoli, and
Morrison, 1995), the Inka empire of the fteenthsixteenth centuries in western
South America (Costin and Earle, 1989; DAltroy and Earle, 1985; Earle, 1991),
the 14th15th century Mexica, or Aztec, empire in Mesoamerica (C. Charlton et al.,
1993; see papers in Hodge and Smith, 1994), the various polities that occupied the
Valley of Oaxaca in Mexicos southern highlands (Feinman and Nicholas, 2000;
Flannery and Marcus, 1983; Kowalewski et al., 1989; Marcus and Flannery, 1996;
Middleton et al., 2002), and Indus Valley states of the 3rd millennium BC in south-
ern Asia (Wright, 1993). With all due respect to these prodigious efforts, it may
be easier to address such complex relations in smaller, more manageable settings
where it is possible to sample a greater proportion of consumption and manu-
facturing contexts than in spatially extensive, temporally enduring empires and
states. This is especially the case when dealing with prehistoric situations where
the absence of documentary evidence mandates heavy reliance on archaeological
remains in framing interpretations.
Acknowledging the multiscalar, multicentric quality of ancient political
economies is one thing; understanding why processes of production, distribution,
consumption, and power assume such diverse congurations is quite another. Ask-
ing the latter question forces us to go beyond description to confront the wide array
of historically contingent factors that shaped political economies. Researchers pur-
suing the four themes outlined earlier have already made considerable progress
in grappling with this protean issue. Building on their considerable successes, we
suggest two avenues for future research that promise fruitful results: a more sys-
tematic analysis of connections between social identities and craft production; and
rethinking several venerable oppositions that pervade much of the literature on
specialized manufacture.
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 205
Crafting a Sense of Self
One element central to the creation of multifaceted relations among spe-
cialized manufacture and sociopolitical processes is the issue of social afliation.
Researchers of all stripes have looked at how craft manufactures were used by elites
and commoners to signal, explicitly or implicitly, their identities. Those adopting a
topdown perspective stress the deployment of elaborately fashioned exotic goods
in the creation of paramount afliations that set their members apart from, and
above, those they ruled. Some studies of nonelite households take up this concern,
reminding us that noble scions were not the only ones concerned with delimiting
social boundaries. Hierarchical divisions may have been important parts of the
political landscape, but heterarchical distinctions among roughly equivalent social
entities also were signicant to everyones sense of self and their place within
the world. Linking these approaches is the notion that abstract concepts, such as
social identities, must be palpable in order to affect human behavior (DeMarrais
et al., 1996; Larick, 1991). Since items of material culture are often instrumental
in making the recondite real, artisans are attributed a major role in fabricating their
culture. Consequently, a concern with social identity, though hardly limited to craft
production studies, is becoming an increasingly important research focus for those
interested in specialized manufacture (see references given in earlier sections).
The varied uses to which craft goods were put by social actors fracture the
unity of specialized production. The political and social signicance of different
industries is conditioned, in part, by how their outputs were deployed in diverse
strategies to express and promote specicafliations. Mining the full potential of
this research theme, however, relies on bearing in mind that identities are not so
much xed, neatly bounded elements of social structures as guises exibly used
in dynamic interaction processes.
Any one person subscribes to multiple identities each of which is variably
salient in varying social circumstances, over different spatial scales, and links
that individual to diverse and shifting groups of people. In some contexts, ones
afliation to a particular household might be stressed. In another, ones identity
as a member of a family within such a coresident domestic group could be more
signicant. In a third setting, solidarity with all members of a specic polity may
be of greatest importance (Barth, 1969; R. Cohen, 1978; Royce, 1982). Shifting
among these afliations requires the appropriate manipulation of generally agreed
upon material symbols to signal which identities are relevant in any particular
instance and, hence, the intentions of the interactors and what can be expected of
them. The social boundaries made tangible through the use of goods fashioned,
in part, by artisans, therefore, are exible and volatile, subject to change at any
moment and over long periods of time.
The uidity of social identities is related to their strategic use by people of
all ranks in their daily efforts to achieve a wide range of objectives (Barth, 1969;
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206 Schortman and Urban
R. Cohen, 1978; Royce, 1982). As these goals and the conditions for their achieve-
ment change, identities and their material markers also will shift. The resultant
sociopolitical congurations need not be stable or in balanced equilibrium at any
one point in time. For example, as crucial as it may be for rulers to set themselves
apart from the rest of the population, they must transcend these hierarchical dis-
tinctions to create a unied polity of which they are also members (Ferguson and
Mansbach, 1996, p. 36; Yoffee, 1991, p. 287). Only by promoting an identity in
which all citizens of the realm participate can some level of stability be achieved
by countering sectarian and class divisions with loyalty to the polity as a whole
(Schortman et al., 2001). Elites, therefore, must balance the potentially conicting
claims of afliations that separate them from, and link them to, their subordinates.
Such tensions are mediated through the use of material symbols pertinent to the
identities in play, some of these symbols generated by craft specialists. Though
a level of stability may be achieved through such machinations, the underlying
strains remain unresolved and can form bases for assaults on the status quo when
dissatisfaction with elite actions, and the means to express that discontent, coincide.
At the same time, nonelites are busily constructing afliations, conveyed
through other material markers, that may be in opposition to, represent compro-
mises with, or operate largely independently of those promulgated from above.
Relations among such identities, the industries generating their symbols of afl-
iation, and elite efforts to build and protect hierarchies are complex and volatile.
This is a far more complicated picture than the traditional one in which popu-
lations within any given society are distributed among enduring identities each
of which has a clear set of relatively stable material signatures. As appealing as
that picture may be, it simplies reality and encourages us to ignore the mul-
tifarious and dynamic connections among craft goods and the afliations they
signify.
For example, paramount rulers of the Late Classic (AD 600900) Naco Valley
in northwestern Honduras apparently used their privileged control over the fash-
ioning of masonry blocks and sculpture to create a set of material symbols that
distinguished them from their lower ranked contemporaries who could not repli-
cate these items. At the same time, all valley residents used a restricted suite of
elaborately decorated ceramics apparently fashioned by client artisans working
under the direction of Nacos magnates at the regional capital of La Sierra. These
vessels bore a limited, highly redundant set of designs found throughout the valley
but rarely noted outside it. The motifs in question were, arguably, emblems of a
politywide identity in which people of all ranks participated (Schortman et al.,
2001). The collapse of the centralized La Sierra polity during the Terminal Classic
(AD 9001100) saw the disappearance of paramount elites, politywide afliations,
and their material expressions. Stone working and large-scale ceramic production
waned as the political conditions that encouraged uorescences in both crafts were
transformed.
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 207
Different industries, therefore, played varied roles in creating social bound-
aries at markedly different scales during the Late Classic in Naco. Such distinctions
undoubtedly strongly affected the meanings and political functions of the objects
in question as well as the social positions of the artisans who made them. Mutatis
mutandis, as Nacos political structure changed, so too did the identities that were
integral to it and the crafts through which those afliations were conveyed.
This complex interface among political, economic, and self-identication
processes, as they play out at various temporal and spatial scales, has yet to be
investigated systematically. Though craft production need not be the sole focus
of these studies, it is becoming increasingly obvious that taking it into account
helps clarify the different and uctuating ways crafts can be related to social and
political processes.
Back to Basics
Fashioning nuanced, realistic understandings of multicentric political
economies also depends on addressing the pervasive inuence certain enduring
dichotomies exercise on our understandings of crafts and their political signi-
cance. Specically, the neat distinctions we traditionally make between elite and
mundane industries and the ideological and economic signicance of artifacts have
long shaped archaeological discussions of ancient political economies. As fruitful
as these discourses have been, we might protably entertain the notion that the na-
tures of at least some crafts are not captured using such oppositions (e.g., Bayman,
2002; E. Brumel, 1998; C. Charlton, 1994; Connell, 2002; Costin, 1998; Lass,
1998; Wells, 1996). These liminal industries, as seen from the perspective of our
conceptual schemes, are not easily modeled using existing frameworks, suggesting
fertile ground for theory development.
Elites Versus Commoners
The pervasive distinction between elite industries used to fashion hierarchy
and mundane crafts instrumental in the proliferation of heterarchical social dis-
tinctions probably simplies complex ancient realities. We do not deny that some
manufacturing processes functioned primarily in strategies of elite domination.
Similarly, other industries may have been used to express commoner social afl-
iations and meet basic survival needs. Does this dichotomy describe the ways in
which ancient productive relations invariably worked, however, or are we in danger
of forcing crafts into a rigid elite/commoner binary opposition and of assuming
a crafts political and economic signicance from where it was carried out, e.g.,
in humble domestic quarters or in a rulers compound? Just because common-
ers operating out of dispersed workshops made an object, was it unimportant in
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208 Schortman and Urban
the creation of hierarchy? Do the outputs of workshops attached to elite patrons
always, or primarily, yield valuables used in domination strategies? At present,
we may have answers to these questions that are more ready than reliable. When
asking who made, used, and distributed an item, therefore, we are well advised
to allow for the participation of people from a wide array of ranks in each and
all of these processes (Graham, 2002). Such considerations help us to understand
better the factors shaping multiscalar, multicentric political economies than do
models that posit a crafts unambiguous and exclusive association with members
of an elite or commoner class. Further advances in understanding ancient politi-
cal economies depend on rethinking this traditional sociopolitical divide between
rulers and ruled. Rather than categorizing people as elites or commoners, we might
protably think of them as variably disposed along several, potentially competing,
continua of eliteness,each related to a different source of power (Mann, 1986;
Miller et al., 1989; Runciman, 1982). In some political economies a few individu-
als may, for a time, institutionalize marked hierarchical distinctions by co-opting
successfully all or most sources of power within a society. In these instances we
can condently speak of relatively clearly dened elites and commoners. Most
political economies, however, were likely characterized by unresolved tensions
among individuals and social groups who managed to achieve variable degrees
of preeminence through their control of some, but not all, political assets (Mann,
1986; Miller et al., 1989). One faction, for example, might have enjoyed ideologi-
cal advantages through its membersprivileged access to the supernatural. Others
in the same society, bereft of such connections, could have achieved prominence
through military renown. The uses each of these eliteshad for craft goods, and
the meanings such items held for them, likely varied signicantly. At the very least,
those seeking privilege through control over the sacred may have tried to monopo-
lize the fabrication of ritual paraphernalia essential to this goal (Spielmann, 1998,
2002). Where martial exploits were important to social advancement, monitoring
the fashioning of weapons, and encouraging the development of more effective
military technologies, might have been key elements in achieving and safeguarding
prominence (Earle, 1997, pp. 205206; Kim, 2001). Both processes could have
operated simultaneously in one society, yielding a complex, multicentered politi-
cal economy in which no one faction exercised absolute power and different crafts
were harnessed to distinct political agendas (Morrison and Sinopoli, 1992, p. 335;
Wells, 1996, pp. 8788).
How power is organized also will have an impact on the roles crafts assume
within a political economy. Most research on the political uses of specialized
manufactures is predicated on the notion that charismatic individuals and their
immediate coteries dominated specic societies. Some investigators, however, are
calling attention to hierarchically structured political formations directed by coun-
cillor bodies in which no one person stands out as an overall leader (R. Blanton
et al., 1996; Saitta, 1994, 1997, 1999; Spielmann, 2002). Craft goods in these
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 209
contexts would be harnessed not to the enhancement of individual status but to
other societywide goals, such as the creation of objects used in communal offerings
to the supernatural (Saitta, 1994; Spielmann, 2002). Corporate and individualiz-
ing tendencies in power relations may coexist uneasily within a political realm,
representatives of each approach drawing on different industries to achieve their
objectives, possibly at the others expense. The result would be to further compli-
cate an already convoluted political economy.
Tensions between corporate and individualizing leadership strategies, as well
as those among different factions deploying varied resources in power contests,
will likely generate unstable conditions prone to change as agents maneuver to
advance their agendas. Crafts, along with other assets, are potential instruments
useful in affecting such transformations. The multifarious relations among specic
industries and political and economic processes at any moment are, therefore,
complicated by imminent and ongoing shifts in the fortunes of those using crafts
to shape and reshape political formations.
Such diversity and volatility in power relations are not easily encompassed by
straightforward elite/commoner divisions (Crumley, 1979; de Montmollin, 1989).
The sources of wealth and power under contention, the varied ways factions orga-
nize to capture these assets, and the uneven success they enjoy in such contests very
likely contribute to the multicentric and dynamic qualities of political economies
noted earlier.
Meaning Versus Function
All objects have meanings, as well as uses, to their makers. Separating the
two components of an item has analytical value as long as it is understood that
neither one alone fully explains an artifacts roles in a political economy. It may
be, as current trends in the literature suggest, that questions of social afliation
are best addressed through emic approaches while those concerned with political
centralization lend themselves to perspectives rooted in functional premises. Ulti-
mately, however, differences in power must by integrated within worldviews and
holders of social identities organized to accomplish tangible objectives through the
use, in part, of craft goods. How a workshops output gures in a political econ-
omy, therefore, is strongly conditioned by both its locally perceived signicance,
i.e., the ways it ts within extant and changing meaningful structures, and how it
functions in economic and political strategies.
Among early nineteenth century Marquesans who lacked locally made re-
arms, for example, a rie was a potent military weapon and a symbol of connections
to powerful and distant trading partners. The guns political importance derived
from its prosaic and conceptual signicance (N. Thomas, 1992). Along the same
lines, obsidian blades in prehistoric southeastern Mesoamerica were prized for their
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210 Schortman and Urban
extremely sharp edges and exotic sources. Employed in prosaic domestic chores
by people of all ranks and in ritual bloodletting (Schele and Miller, 1986), these
implements were useful tools charged with meanings born of their associations with
distant places and sacred realms. Artisans who knapped blades from volcanic glass,
therefore, participated in economically and symbolically meaningful activities
that undoubtedly affected how the items gured in political processes, and were
made, used, and distributed. Arguing over whether the meaning or functions of
guns and obsidian blades is more important in understanding their places within
Marquesan and southeastern Mesoamerican political economies is less productive
than developing ways to take both elements into account. The latter approach
conveys a more realistic sense of ancient political economies than do perspectives
that downplay the complex interplay among conceptual and prosaic factors in
shaping any objects roles in a political economy (Graham, 2002, p. 416).
SUMMARY
In general, the fashioning, use, and distribution of any one craft good may
well involve a wide array of people with diverse identities and interests, variably
organized to achieve their goals, and distributed along several continua of eliteness.
Coordinated or in opposition, it is the activities of these individuals and factions
that simultaneously determine the meanings and functions of crafted items. How
these dimensions of status, meaning, organization, function, production, and distri-
bution articulate strongly conditions the manner in which an industry is implicated
in processes of political centralization, inequality, and social differentiation as
these are expressed at different times and over varying spatial scales. As noted
earlier, we rarely have the luxury of dealing with one industry by itself. Rather,
attention must be paid to how numerous crafts were integrated with each other and
the aforementioned political processes to create a political economy at a specic
moment in time.
The resulting picture is anything but neat and tidy and makes one nostalgic
for those days when specialized manufacture was just another item on a checklist
used to distinguish states from less complex political formations. The attractive
certainty about the nature of states and craft production embodied in that formula-
tion has vanished. Left in its wake is the discomforting realization that the elements
comprising political and economic structures are not neatly correlated internally
or with each other. The congurations they assume in any political economy at any
one time are difcult to describe and even harder to explain. Instead of being dis-
couraged by our growing uncertainty we should take heart that, by breaking unitary
political and economic forms into their components and charting their linkages,
we are nally coming to grips with the intricate, contingent, and volatile relations
that make life, in the past and present, so terribly messy and interesting. We are,
in short, now able to approximate ancient political economies less as simplied
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Modeling the Roles of Craft Production in Ancient Political Economies 211
caricatures and more as lived experiences. The research outlined herein suggests
just how confusing our models of craft production and ancient political economies
are likely to get, a good sign that we are on the right track.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We are very grateful to Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas for the invitation
to contribute an essay to the Journal of Archaeological Research and, just as
importantly, for their patience in awaiting its arrival. The perceptive comments of
Gary Feinman, Timothy Pauketat, Dean Saitta, and Charles Stanish, along with
those of two anonymous reviewers,greatly helped to rene the arguments presented
here, and we deeply appreciate the time and care that went into these assessments.
As should be obvious from the article itself, we are profoundly indebted to all
those scholars who have signicantly contributed to the study of ancient craft
production and whose work has been so stimulating to the eld-at-large and to
us in particular. Limitations of space and time have meant that some important
studies were given short shrift and the work of every scholar was simplied. As
noted earlier, the model presented here, like all conceptual constructs, is selective
and not all-encompassing. We take full responsibility for the choices made in its
fashioning and for all errors that have inltrated the construction process.
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... Craft production and craft specialization have been seen as important topics in the investigation of ancient political economies at least since V. Gordon Childe linked them to urbanization (Childe 1950). At the same time, the linkages between forms of production and social complexity have themselves become more complex and nuanced since Childe's time as scholars have increasingly recognized organizational diversity among and within ancient polities (Trigger 2003, Smith 2003, Yoffee 2005, Campbell 2009), political economies (Feinman and Nicholas, 2004;Schortman and Urban, 2004;Smith, 2004) and crafting industries (Peacock 1982, Sinopoli 2003. This development, in turn, has given rise to new approaches and increased focus on historical context as well as the place of particular crafts within larger political economies (eg. ...
... Crafting economies, like political economies in general, are best studied on multiple scales (Schortman and Urban 2004, Feinman and Garraty, 2010, Campbell et al., 2022. In this paper we not only analyzed the worked bone assemblage from the 2003 excavations at Daxinzhuang but used studies at the Shang village site of Guandimiao and the largescale bone workshop site at Tiesanlu, Anyang as reference points. ...
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Work of the last decade has expanded the picture of the Shang economy and challenged the assumption of its elite-distributive nature. Analysis of large-scale bone workshops at Anyang and the distribution of its mass-produced products in the small, remote village of Guandimiao all point to a more integrated economy. This paper explores bone crafting at the secondary center of Daxinzhuang and its relationship to the wider Shang political economy. We present a multi-scalar, holistic approach to bone working in a complex society. Using the large-scale bone working at the capital and the mostly informal bone working at a Shang village as points of comparison, we both characterize Daxinzhuang bone working and explore its larger economic context. We were able to show that although most Daxinzhuang bone working could be considered formal, it was small-scale, generalized, lacked bronze saws, was likely for local consumption and overall the bone industry showed less non-local integration than the village of Guandimiao. Our work shows how a craft production study can be integrated into a larger political economic context, how formality can be useful for distinguishing types of production, while our experimental results and images can form a basis for formal identifications and further research.
... Those who hold the greater skills, knowledge, and techniques are better able to preserve their profits and privileges. 25 Craft skills, however, are often attached to a sense of community, allowing agents to get involved in, and benefit from, craft networks such as professional societies, associations, and guilds. 26 The rules of these craft networks regulate the circulation and dissemination of skills, knowledge, and techniques, reinforce a sense of community and facilitate the diffusion of skills through professional networks. ...
... We contend that most production strategies, including those of stone tools, do not exist in a dichotomy (centralized vs. decentralized control), but fall on a spectrum from highly specialized and exclusive skill-sets developed by attached craft specialists, to tasks that everyone learns and practices in self-sufficient households (Bayman, 2002;Bayman & Moniz-Nakamura, 2001;Brumfiel, 1987;Kirch, 1989, p. 28;Schortman & Urban, 2004). Determining geological sources of lithic tool types in a diachronic model helps illuminate how specific lithic crafts may have shifted positions along this spectrum, and how these changes may reflect intensification of the political economy. ...
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We examined 2947 basalt and volcanic glass artifacts from 38 sites in leeward Kohala. Nondestructive energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence provided initial geochemical characterizations. Wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (WDXRF) and thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS) analyses were completed on samples from ambiguously sourced groups. No more than 13.9% of the probable and definite adze-related debitage originated in leeward Kohala. Notably absent are lithic materials from the nearby Pololū Adze Quarry in windward Kohala. Material from the more distant Mauna Kea Adze Quarry accounts for 41.6% of the adze debitage. Another 38.8% of the adze debitage matches with a tholeiitic source or sources long assumed to be Kīlauea Volcano in Kaʻū, but WDXRF and TIMS isotopic data do not support a Kīlauea source. Centralized adze production and distribution networks best explain adze distribution. Scoria abraders appear to have been regularly transported from the Kona district to leeward Kohala. Volcanic glass sources loosely align with distance-decay trends, but show greater reliance on Puʻuwaʻawaʻa material by 1650 CE.
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The book Great Moravian Elites from Mikulčice (GME) is a collective monograph intended for the professional and the general public and is aimed at acquainting the reader with the phenomenon of the court milieu of Great Moravian Mikulčice within the widest possible interdisciplinary context.