World-Systems in North America:
Networks, Rise and Fall
of Trade in Stateless Systems
Johns Hopkins University
Thomas D. Hall
A paper to be presented at the Annual
Meeting of the International Studies Association, Toronto, Saturday, March
22 1997, 8:30 am . Session on "Pulsations and Power in World Historical
Development,I" The iconograph above is from Etowah ,
Georgia. This paper is available from /archive/papers.htm
All known world-systems, including
small-scale stateless ones, exhibit cyclical patterns of network expansion
and contraction. The nature of these pulsations and the driving
forces behind them vary across different kinds of systems. While very egalitarian
systems exhibit expansions and contractions of trade networks, they do
not experience the rise and fall of politically centralized structures.
Some interchiefdom systems and all state-based systems exhibit a pattern
of the rise and fall of large polities. But the dynamics of this
political/military cycle of centralization/decentralization vary depending
on the predominant mode of accumulation in each system. This paper conceptualizes
several different types of world-system cycles and examines how they interact
with one another in different kinds of world-systems. We present an overview
of the literature on stateless pre-Columbian world-systems in North America
and examine the problems of pulsation and rise and fall in this context.
Table of Contents
Introduction to comparing world-systems
World-system Cycles: Rise-and-Fall and Pulsations
Stateless North American World-Systems
The Great Basin
Summary and Conclusions
Figure 1: Spatial Boundaries of World-system Networks
Figure 2: Raw Material Sources in Prehistoric North America
Figure 3: Trade Network Pulsations in Pre-Columbian North America
This paper provides a short overview of the comparative
world-systems approach and summarizes previous findings about pulsation
and rise and fall. It then presents an overview of stateless pre-Columbian
world-systems in North America and examines pulsations and rise and fall
in this specific context. Readers who are already familiar with the comparative
world-systems approach can skip to page 4.
The world-systems perspective emerged as a theoretical approach for modeling and interpreting the expansion and deepening of the European system as it engulfed the globe over the past 500 years (Wallerstein 1974; Frank 1978; Chase-Dunn 1989; Arrighi 1994). The idea of a core/periphery hierarchy composed of "advanced" economically developed and powerful states dominating and exploiting "less developed" peripheral regions has been a central concept in the world-systems perspective. In the last decade the world-systems approach has been extended to the analysis of earlier and smaller intersocietal systems. Andre Gunder Frank and Barry Gills (1993) have argued that the contemporary world system is a continuation of a 5000-year old world system that emerged with the first states in Mesopotamia. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) have modified the basic world-systems concepts to make them useful for a comparative study of very different kinds of systems. We include very small intergroup networks composed of sedentary foragers, as well as larger systems containing chiefdoms, early states, agrarian empires and the contemporary global political economy in our scope of comparison.
The comparative world-systems perspective is designed
to be general enough to allow comparisons between quite different systems.
We define world-systems as important networks of interaction that impinge
upon a local society and condition social reproduction and social change.
We note that different kinds of interaction often have distinct spatial
characteristics and degrees of importance in different sorts of systems.
We hold that the question of the nature and degree of systemic interaction
between two locales is prior to the question of core/periphery relations.
Indeed we make the existence of core/periphery relations an empirical question
in each case, rather than an assumed characteristic of all world-systems.
Spatially bounding world-systems necessarily must
proceed from a locale-centric beginning rather than from a whole-system
focus. This is because all human societies, even nomadic hunter-gatherers,
interact importantly with neighboring societies. Thus if we consider
all indirect interactions to be of systemic importance (even very indirect
ones) then there has been a single global world-system since humankind
spread to all the continents. But we note that interaction networks, while
they were always intersocietal, have not always been global in the sense
that actions in one region had major and relatively quick effects on distant
regions. When transportation and communications were over short distances
the world-systems that affected people were small.
Thus we use the notion of "fall-off"
of effects over space to bound the networks of interaction that importantly
impinge upon any focal locale. The world-system of which any locality
is a part includes those peoples whose actions in production, communication,
warfare, alliance and trade have a large and interactive impact on that
locality. It is also important to distinguish between endogenous systemic
interaction processes and exogenous impacts that may importantly change
a system but are not part of that system. So maize diffused from Mesoamerica
to Eastern North America, but that need not mean that the two areas were
part of the same world-system. Or a virulent microparasite might contact
a population with no developed immunity and ravage that population. But
such an event does not necessarily mean that the region from which the
microparasite came and the region it penetrated are parts of a single interactive
system. Interactions must be two-way and regularized to be systemic.
One shot deals do not a system make.
We note that in most intersocietal systems there are several important networks of different spatial scales that impinge upon any particular locale:
The largest networks are those in which information travels. Information is light and it travels a long way, even in systems based on down-the-line interaction. We call these Information Networks (INs). A usually somewhat smaller interaction network is based on the exchange of prestige goods or luxuries that have a high value/weight ratio. Such goods travel far even in down-the-line systems. We call these Prestige Goods Networks (PGNs). The next largest interaction net is composed of polities that are allying or making war with one another. These we call Political/Military Networks (PMNs). And the smallest networks are those based on a division of labor in the production of basic everyday necessities such a food and raw materials. We call these Bulk Goods Networks (BGNs). Figure 1 illustrates how these interaction networks are spatially related in many world-systems.
The first question for any focal locale is about the nature and spatial characteristics of its links with the above four interaction nets. This is prior to any consideration of core/periphery position because one region must be linked to another by systemic interaction in order for consideration of core/periphery relations to be relevant.
The spatial characteristics of these networks
clearly depend on many things - the costs of transportation and communications,
and whether or not interaction is only with neighbors or there are regularized
long-distance trips being made. But these factors affect all kinds of interaction
and so the relative size of networks are expected to approximate what is
shown in Figure 1. As an educated guess we would suppose that fall-off
in the PMN generally occurs after two or three indirect links. Suppose
group A is fighting and allying allying with its immediate neighbors and
with the immediate neighbors of its neighbors. So its direct links extend
to the neighbors of the neighbors. But how many indirect links will involve
actions that will importantly affect this original group? It is our guess
that the number of indirect links that bound a PMN are either two or three.
As polities get larger and interactions occur over greater distances each
indirect link extends much farther across space. But the point of important
fall-off will usually be after either two or three indirect links.
We divide the conceptualization of core/periphery relations into two analytically separate aspects:
Core/periphery differentiation exists when two
societies are in systemic interaction with one another and one of these
has higher population density and/or greater complexity than the other.
The second aspect , core/periphery hierarchy, exists when one society dominates
or exploits another. These two aspects often go together because a society
with greater population density/complexity usually has more power than
a society with less of these, and so can effectively dominate/exploit the
less powerful neighbor. But there are important instances of reversal (e.g.
the less dense, less complex Central Asian steppe nomads exploited agrarian
China) and so we want to make this analytical separation so that the actual
relations can be determined in each case. We also note that the question
of core/periphery relations needs to be asked at each level of interaction
designated above. It is more difficult to project power over long distances
and so we should not expect to find strong core/periphery hierarchies at
the level of Information or Prestige Goods Networks.
Using this conceptual apparatus we can construct
spatio-temporal chronographs for how the social structures of the human
population went from nomadic foraging bands with rather small interaction
networks to larger systems containing mesolithic sedentary foragers, to
even larger systems containing sedentary horticulturalists, to bigger systems
in which core regions contained the first cities and early states, to yet
larger systems composed of agrarian empires, and eventually to the single
global political economy of today. In Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997: 203) Figure
10.1 uses PMNs as the unit of analysis to show how a "Central"
PMN composed of the merging of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian PMNs in about
1500 BCE eventually incorporated all the other PMNs into itself.
World-system Cycles: Rise-and-Fall
Comparative study reveals that all world-systems
exhibit cyclical processes of change. We focus here on two major cyclical
phenomena: the rise and fall of large polities, and pulsations
in the spatial extent and intensity of trade networks. What we call "rise
and fall" corresponds to changes in the centralization of political/military
power in a set of polities. It is a question of the relative size of and
distribution of power across a set of interacting polities. We note that
all world-systems in which there are hierarchical polities experience a
cycle in which relatively larger polities grow in power and size and then
decline. This applies to interchiefdom systems as well as interstate systems,
to systems composed of empires, and to the modern rise and fall of hegemonic
core powers (e.g. Britain and the United States). Though very egalitarian
and small scale systems such as the sedentary foragers of Northern California
(Chase-Dunn and Mann, forthcoming) do not display a cycle of rise and fall,
they may experience other related sorts of cycles. These can be increases
and decreases in the average size of polities, changes in the rate of population
growth, increases and decreases in population density, changes in the degree
of inequality within social groups (or societies), changes in the degree
of complexity regarding specialized occupations, and changes in the degree
to which polities are tightly bounded vs. more open and fluid interactions
among groups. We will restrict the "rise and fall" phrase as
defined above, but these other features may also exhibit cyclical fluctuations
or secular trends that are of great interest to students of social change.
We also note that all systems, including even
very small and egalitarian ones, exhibit cyclical expansions and contractions
in the spatial extent and intensity of trade networks. We call this
sequence of trade expansion and contraction pulsation. We note that
different kinds of trade (especially bulk goods trade vs. prestige goods
trade) may have different spatial characteristics. It is also possible
that different sorts of trade exhibit different temporal sequences of expansion
and contraction. It should be an empirical question in each case as to
whether or not changes in the volume of trade correspond to changes in
its spatial extent.
Our claim that these cyclical processes of rise-and-fall and pulsation occur in very different kinds of systems needs evidence to sustain it, and in turn it raises a host of other questions. Are the underlying mechanisms that generate these sequences similar in different kinds of systems? What are the temporal and causal relations among the different kinds of cycles? What is the relationship between the rise and fall of large polities and changes in the degree of inequality within polities, and are these relationships similar across different kinds of world-systems? How are political rise-and-fall and trade network pulsations related to the general 200-year phases of expansion and contraction posited by Gills and Frank (1992) and Frank (1993)? And are these cycles really synchronous in regions connected only by very long distance trade in prestige goods?
The simplest hypothesis regarding the temporal relationships between rise-and-fall and pulsation is that they occur in tandem. Whether or not this is so, and how it might differ in distinct types of world-systems, is a set of problems that are amenable to empirical research. Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997:205) portray the spatial relationship between PMNs and PGNs as synchronously expanding and contracting in the Afroeurasian System over the past 6000 years .
Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997:205) depict a hypothetical
temporal relationship between PMN and PGN pulsation in the Central and
East Asian systems as they expanded, intermittently touched each other,
and eventually merged to form the global system. This is really the old
issue about whether the flag follows trade or trade follows the flag. In
our version prestige goods trade leads the flag and they expand more or
less concurrently. This representation is hypothetical, but it would be
possible to study the actual temporal changes in the spatial extent of
PMNs and PGNs to examine the assumption of synchronous expansion and contraction.
In earlier articles we have presented evidence
regarding the answer to some of these questions. We have contended that
the causal processes of rise and fall differ depending on the predominant
mode of accumulation. The rise and fall of empires exhibits different features
from the rise and fall of hegemonic core states because tributary accumulation
involves different strategies from capitalist accumulation. One big difference
between the rise and fall of empires and the rise and fall of modern hegemons
is in the degree of centralization achieved within the core. Tributary
systems alternate back and forth between a structure of multiple and competing
core states on the one hand and core-wide (or nearly core-wide) empires
on the other. The modern interstate system experiences the rise and fall
of hegemons, but these never take over the other core states to form a
core-wide empire. This is the case because modern hegemons are pursuing
a capitalist, rather than a territorialist, form of accumulation.
Analogously rise and fall works somewhat differently
in interchiefdom systems because the institutions that facilitate the extraction
of resources from distant groups are less fully developed in chiefdom systems.
David G. Anderson's (1994) study of the rise and fall of Mississippian
chiefdoms in the Savannah River valley provides an excellent and comprehensive
review of the anthropological and sociological literature about what Anderson
calls "cycling," the processes by which a chiefly polity extended
control over adjacent chiefdoms and erected a two-tiered hierarchy of administration
over the tops of local communities. At a later point these regionally-centralized
chiefly polities disintegrated back toward a system of smaller and less
Chiefs relied more completely on hierarchical kinship relations, control of ritual hierarchies, and control of prestige goods imports than do the rulers of true states. These chiefly techniques of power are all highly dependent on normative integration and ideological consensus. States developed specialized organizations for extracting resources that chiefdoms lacked -- standing armies and bureaucracies. And states and empires in the tributary world-systems were more dependent on the projection of armed force over great distances than modern hegemonic core states have been. The development of commodity production and mechanisms of financial control, as well as further development of bureaucratic techniques of power, have allowed modern hegemons to extract resources from far-away places with much less overhead cost.
The development of techniques of power have made
core/periphery relations ever more important in competition among core
powers and have altered the way in which the rise-and-fall process works
in other respects.
We have analyzed data on the sizes of cities and
the territorial sizes of empires to study processes of rise and fall and
pulsation in state-based systems. We have found only a weak correlation
between changes in the size of the largest city, the city-size distribution,
and changes in the territorial size of the largest empire within Eurasian
PMNs (Chase-Dunn and Willard 1993; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1995). In Chase-Dunn
and Hall (1997:Chapter 10) we reported the correlations of the relationships
between these measures for the Central and Far Eastern PMNs over the last
4000 years. The correlations are positive, as hypothesized, but they are
not large and nor are they statistically significant. This is very weak
support for the hypothesis of simultaneous trade and political/military
pulsations. This may, however, be due to having picked a poor measure of
pulsation and/or of rise-and-fall. More research is needed.
We have also discovered an interesting synchronicity
in growth and decline periods of cities and empires in East Asia and the
West Asian region between 600 B.C.E. and 1800 C.E. (Chase-Dunn and Hall
1997: Figures 10.7-9). This finding suggests the possibility of systemness
in the Afroeurasian system far earlier than most historians would imagine.
The causality of these synchronous cycles in distant PMNs is not well understood.
Chase-Dunn (1995) has proposed a research project for testing different
possible explanations. We found only very limited support for the Gills-Frank
periodization of expansions and contractions when we examined changes in
city and empire sizes (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: Figures 10.5-6). We also
examined changes in city and empire sizes for the Mesopotamian and Egyptian
PMNs in order to see if these revealed synchronicity. Like East and West
Asia these were separate PMNs linked by a larger PGN. But we found no synchronicity
between Egypt and Mesopotamia (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1996).
We have not yet theorized or empirically investigated
how these cycles interact with each other in stateless systems, nor have
we specified driving mechanisms for them in various types of world-systems
(kin ordered, tributary, capitalist).This account begins that work by examining
the political economy of various regions (culture areas) of aboriginal
As we have argued, population growth in interaction
with the environment, productive technology, and social structure produces
social evolution that is marked by cycles and periodic jumps (Chase-Dunn
and Hall 1997:Chapter 6). This is because any world-system varies around
an equilibrium or mean due both to internal instabilities and environmental
fluctuations. Occasionally, on one of the upswings a system solves its
problems in a new way that allows substantial expansion. We want to explain
expansions, evolutionary changes in system logic, and collapses. That is
the point of comparing world-systems.
Stateless North American
In earlier work, reviewed above, we have examined
systemic cycles and their relations with one another. What are the similarities
and differences regarding systemic cycles between stateless systems and
larger and more complex world-systems in which there are states and empires?
In order to address this question we will present an overview of the recent
literature, mainly by anthropologists and archaeologists, about pre-Columbian
world-systems in that part of North America that became the United States.
We will also review studies of trade by archaeologists. We will not do
more than mention the now-voluminous literature about the Mesoamerican
World-System. State-based systems emerged in Mesoamerica, but not in that
part of North America that became the United States.
There is an important literature about the incorporation
of indigenous societies of North America into the modern Europe-centered
system (e.g. Hall 1989, Dunaway 1996, Kardulias 1990 ). We will not review
this literature here, though some of it does shed light on the kinds of
world-systems that already existed when the Europeans came. Until they
were disrupted and engulfed by the modern world-system there were many
different kinds of local and regional systems in North America.
It does not make sense to ask how many
world-systems there were in North America if we accept the group-centric
approach to bounding world-systems discussed above. If every group interacts
with neighboring peoples then there are no major breaks in interaction
across space. Thus there were as many "systemic wholes" as there
were groups because each group had a somewhat different set of interactions.
Of course this is not to say that there were not
differential densities of interaction. Natural barriers such as deserts,
high mountains, and large bodies of water increased the costs of communication
and transportation. But ethnographic and archaeological evidence reveals
that most of these geographical "barriers" did not eliminate
interaction. In California travel across the High Sierra was closed by
deep snow in the winter. But when the snow thawed regularized trade across
this high range resumed. Natural barriers do affect interaction densities,
but in most cases they do not eliminate systemic interaction.
The suggestion that "culture areas"
-- the culturally similar regions designated by anthropologists (e.g. California,
the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, etc.) -- can be equated with world-systems
is fallacious from the group-centric point of view because important interactions
frequently occurred across the boundaries of these culture areas. Nevertheless
it is convenient to follow Stephen Kowalewski's (1996) lead in discussing
how the world-systems in these traditional culture areas were similar or
different from one another. The literature on trade networks by archaeologists
is usually organized into discussions of these culture areas, but there
has been more and more study of trade interactions between the different
The explicit literature on Mesoamerican world-systems
began when Friedman and Rowlands (1978) applied their prestige goods system
theory to the emergence of states and cities in Mesoamerica. Blanton and
Feinman (1984) elaborated the discussion of prestige goods exchange and
the sharing of religious symbolism among elites of different societies
across large regions in Mexico. This literature has expanded and become
quite sophisticated, with huge controversies over the relative importance
of different kinds of processes and different strategies of hierarchy formation.
The studies by Blanton (19xx) Feinman and Nicholas (1991), Santley and
Pool (1993), Shortman and Urban (1994), Finsten (1996), Cioffi-Revilla
and Landman 1996, and Kepecs , Feinman and Boucher 1994) explicitly employ
world-systems concepts to analyze Mesoamerican systems. And there is a
gigantic corpus of excellent studies that are entirely relevant even though
they do not use world-systems concepts. We will not attempt an overview
of this literature because the large, complex and hierarchical systems
that emerged in Mesoamerica are beyond the purview of our consideration
of stateless systems.
The subject now is the last twelve thousand years of human social evolution in that part of North America that eventually became the United States. Humans came across the Aleutian land bridge at least thirteen thousand years ago. A recently discovered encampment of hunter-gatherers near Monte Verde, Chile, complete with chunks of Mastodon meat, has been firmly dated at 12,500 B.P. (10.,500 B.C.E) The land route was difficult to pass before about 12,000 years ago because of the large Pleistocene glaciers. But it is possible that maritime-adapted peoples moved along the coasts. Most archaeologists discount the possibility of early voyaging across the open ocean.
In the region that became the United States large
distinctively-fluted stone spear points called Clovis points were used
by Paleoindians over a wide region of North America. Archaeologists think
that the peoples who lived during the epoch they call "Paleoindian"
(usually from 10,000 B.C.E to 8,000 B.C.E.) were small groups of big game
hunting nomads who ranged over wide territories. An important method that
archaeologists use to study trade is the chemical "sourcing"
of lithic materials. It is often possible to identify the original source
from which a piece of rock was quarried. Chemical "fingerprinting"
allows us to determine that a projectile point found in one location was
made of material from a particular other location.
The problem is that we cannot tell from archaeological
evidence whether the object was traded or rather if the inhabitants directly
procured it from the distant source. In the case of the Paleoindians archaeologists
disagree about whether or not there was trade among groups. Many Clovis
points have been found that are made of stone that came great distances.
But since it is thought that the Paleoindians ranged widely, it is possible
that they procured the materials directly from the quarries rather than
traded for them.
Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) have been reticent
to try to extend the concept of world-systems to regions that include only
nomads. Territoriality seems to be a fundamental feature of those intersocietal
interactions that constitute world-systemness. And yet nomads, even those
who range widely as the Paleoindians did, do importantly interact with
their neighbors in that they compete for resources, exchange information,
and possibly trade.
Another issue for comparing world-systems is the
multiculturality of intersocietal interactions. In most world-systems the
polities that are interacting are culturally somewhat different from one
another. But this is not the case for all regional systems that seem to
operate as world-systems. For example, the prehistoric Hawaiian archipelago
shared a general Polynesian ancestral culture, and yet regional differentiation,
interpolity competition, rise and fall of larger polities and local and
inter-island core/periphery relations were all features of the Hawaiian
world-system (Ermolaeva 1997). This issue is raised in the case of the
North American Paleoindians by Kowalewski's (1996) claim that these groups
shared a single continental-wide culture. Kowalewski's argument is based
on the wide-spread use of similar styles of projectile points. But most
depictions of the peopling of the Americas by archaeologists posit multiple
migrations by culturally different groups.
It is possible that the first immigrants were
from culturally similar groups in Northeastern China, and that the tool
kit similarities indicate this. But it is also possible that different
peoples shared similarly tool kit styles, while also having important linguistic
and cultural differences. In any case it would cause confusion to apply
the world-systems concept to nomads and then to characterize all of North
America as being a single world-system in Paleoindian times based on the
idea of cultural homogeneity. The fall-off of the consequences of events
in one nomadic band for distant groups was probably rather steep, and so
it would be more sensible to analyze systems of immediately interacting
nomadic groups if we are to try to use world-systems concepts to understand
The general model of social evolution that has
been applied to North America, as elsewhere, is that groups migrated to
fill the land, then population increased, and trade and complexity emerged.
This general sequence is implied in the periodizations that archaeologists
have developed to characterize the cultures for which they find evidence
in North America. In every region the Paleoindian period (10 to 8 thousand
B.C.E..) is followed by the Archaic, a period in which groups became more
diversified hunter-gatherers and restricted migrations to a smaller region.
Sometimes distinctions are made between the Lower and Upper Archaic. The
Archaic lasts longer in some regions than in others. After the Archaic,
the periodization terms differ from region to region. For example, in the
Southeast the Archaic is followed by the Woodland (700 B.C.E. to C.E. 900)
divided into Early, Middle and Late Woodland periods. And then follows
the Mississippian period from C.E. 900 to 1450. Whereas in California the
Archaic (8,000 B.C.E. to 550 C.E. )is followed directly by the Emergent
period which begins in 550 C.E. and ends at contact (around 1800).
The general picture is one of increasing population
density and the development of more complex societies in each region and
increasing trade within and between regions. But this general model becomes
more complicated when we look more closely. The overall trends toward greater
population density, complexity and trade are broken by cyclical processes
of rise and fall, changes in the patterns of interaction within and between
regions and uneven develop with regard to time a space. These latter are
important for answering the world-system questions we have raised.
Figure 2 shows the sources of important trade
goods in prehistoric North America. These goods have been found in archaeological
sites far from their point of origin. For example, copper that is probably
from near Lake Superior has been found at Archaic sites on the East coast.
Two recent publications have summarized archaeological evidence and interpretations
of the relationship between changing trade networks and the rise and fall
of societal complexity in North America (Ericson and Baugh 1993; Baugh
and Ericson 1994). Figure 2 is from Vehik and Baugh (1993:250).
The domestication of plants was accomplished in
at least four different locations in the Americas and seeds spread from
their locus of origin by means of migration of peoples and trade. Seeds
were adapted by local groups to local climatic and geological conditions.
Independent development of domesticated plants was accomplished between
2000 and 1000 B.C.E. in the Midwest. The planting of maize spread from
Mexico into much of the region that became the United States by 300 C.E.,
but horticulture did not spread into California or into the Pacific Northwest
before the arrival of the Euroamericans.
As planting was adopted populations increased
and became less nomadic. In the Midwest more complex and larger-scale systems
emerged. Horticulturalists in the Midwest had developed indigenous cultigens
(e.g. squash, sunflowers) that had not diffused from Mesoamerica (Smith
1992). The first indication of social complexity was the emergence of the
Adena mortuary complex in Ohio in about 500 B.C.E. and the similar, but
stylistically different, Morton Complex of central Illinois . These developments
involved ritual worship of the dead with certain archaeologically visible
features: burial mounds, certain types of pottery with particular iconography
and , for Adena, a distinctive type of clay smoking pipe. A change toward
more elaborate burials is understood by archaeologists to indicate the
emergence of an elite. Elaborate burial rituals probably indicate the symbolization
of important lineages and their links with revered ancestors. This phenomenon
is seen to have spread from its original locus in the Ohio River valley
to other areas.
Archaeologists disagree about how this worked.
Some think there was a migration of people from the Adena core (e.g. Ritchie
and Dragoo 1959). Others think that Adena-like rituals were adopted by
distant groups. The latter interpretation is now more favored, and it corresponds
to the model proposed by Caldwell's (1964) idea of "interaction spheres"
in which centers ("hot spots" where cultural innovations occur)
influence distant peripheries where the innovations are adopted. The archaeological
evidence shows repeated instances in which cultural features emerge in
one region and then are later found to appear in other regions.
What is not clear from the archaeological evidence
is whether these cultural features spread because of the migration of people
or because distant peoples were influenced to adopt the customs by some
diffusion process involving trade, ideological influence, or the migration
of a few influential individuals. This is a problem that emerges again
and again as we try to sort out what caused the emergence of complexity
and hierarchy. Diffusion, parallel evolution and diaspora are the three
possibilities. The reality is probably some complicated combination of
all three. It is obvious that diffusion is not an automatic process because
cultural features do not spread evenly from their point of origin. They
are adopted in some regions but not in others, and often there are large
expanses that seem untouched in between originators and adopters. In the
case of the "Delmarva Adena" a society far from Ohio and quite
different from its immediate neighbors adopted the rituals of worshipping
the dead and obtained imported goods from the Adena heartland (Ford 1976;
Stewart 1994). There must have been local circumstances that facilitated
the adoption of this foreign religious software, but we cannot be sure
just what these local conditions were.
After the emergence, spread and decline of the
Adena mortuary cult another more elaborate set of mortuary rituals emerged
in the Ohio River valley by about 100 C.E. Though there is great variability
of styles and burial practices within the heartland of the Hopewell interaction
sphere, in all of them there was an important distinction between elites
and commoners. Much larger burial mounds were built. The Hopewell complex
traded and spread mostly to the south and southeast (Brose 1994). The same
problems of interpretation exist as with the case of Adena discussed above.
Was this spread due to diffusion or migration? And what were the local
conditions that allowed some societies to be influenced while others were
not? The Hopewell style dissipated, as had Adena. Sites that were heavily
populated and in which there were concentrated settlements became more
dispersed and in some regions whole areas were abandoned. This was a definite
case of rise and fall in which centers of greater population density and
settlement size emerge and then decline. It also appears that pulsation,
the expansion and intensification of trade, occurred largely in tandem
with the rise and fall.
After 900 C.E. a new interaction sphere that archaeologists
call Mississippian emerged along the central rivers of the North American
mid-continent. This much more hierarchical cultural complex involved rituals
that symbolized the sacredness of certain lineages and an important regional
economy in which prestige goods were traded over long distances. Several
large centers were established, usually at sites that were important for
the regional and interregional trade networks. By the twelfth century a
complex chiefdom (or early state) had emerged at Cahokia.
Cahokia was located on the Mississippi River near
its confluence with the Missouri River in what is now East St. Louis. It
was the preeminent center of what Peter Peregrine (1992) has called the
Mississippian world-system. The population size of Cahokia proper was probably
about 10,000, whereas the American Bottom - the region immediately surrounding
Cahokia -- probably held a population of about 40,000.
Whether the polity at Cahokia should be called a complex chiefdom or an early state is a matter that is in dispute. O'Brien (1992) characterizes the polity at Cahokia as the "Ramey state," and she reports that one of the excavated burial mounds contained the remains of seventy young women who were apparently sacrificed in a single ceremony in connection with the death of a sacred chief. This scale of ritual violence indicates a rather hierarchical system, but we have no way of knowing whether or not specialized non-kin-based institutions of regional control existed at Cahokia. Military specialists and a bureaucracy dedicated to regional control are the important organizational features that distinguish between a complex chiefdom and a state, according the definition employed by Johnson and Earle (1987). But, whether or not these existed at Cahokia, it was a large, impressive and quite hierarchical polity.
There were other large centers in the Mississippian
system, especially Moundville, on the Black Warrior River in Alabama and
Spiro, Oklahoma. And there were hundreds of smaller chiefdoms that utilized
the cultural equipment that is identified as Mississipian. Cahokia declined
well before the arrival of the Europeans, but the remnants of its hierarchical
kinship system were observed by European explorers in the institutions
of the Natchez Indians, who continued to commemorate the death of a sacred
chief by ritually sacrificing his family and friends. Anderson's (1994)
archaeological study of Mississipian chiefdoms in the Savannah River Valley
is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of how the system worked far
from the large centers. His evidence shows that the cycle of the rise and
fall of chiefdoms occurred in the periphery as well as in the core.
Many issues about the nature of the Mississippian system are unresolved. Peter Peregrine(1992;1996) strongly contends that the prestige goods system model explains the rise and fall of the Mississippian system. Stephen Kowalewski (1996) argues that prestige goods are essentially symbols of power, and they do not work as mechanisms for controlling social labor in the absence of other, more compelling, types of power. Kowalewski also contends that warfare was an important part of the dynamics of rise and fall in the Mississippian system. We will present revealing quotations from both of these authors. Peregrine (1996:41) says:
The lineage-focused social organization apparent in Late Woodland settlement patterns may have fostered competition between lineage heads and encouraged further social changes that increased their control over flows of prestige-goods. It is difficult, given the inadequacies of available data, to precisely describe the changes that took place, but I hypothesize that they may have included the development of sumptuary rules restricting consumption of higher-order goods to elders, new mechanisms of labor control for the manufacture and transportation of prestige-goods, and perhaps new forms of political structure or alliance for solidifying the control of trade routes (Peregrine 1991, 1992).
These social transformations set the stage for a re-emergence of higher-level political leaders in the Early Mississippian period, and intensification of production necessary to sustain these emergent leaders followed. In prestige-good systems individuals find it necessary to support local (usually lineage) leaders, for they control the goods needed to fulfill social obligations and to maintain an adequate standard of living. The basic idea here is that individuals would have intensified production to support their local leaders in competitive exchanges of prestige-goods so that they would have had better access to these goods, and hence a better opportunity to socially reproduce themselves at acceptable levels…
As leaders competed for goods in the emergent
Mississippian prestige-good system, those located at nodal points on trade
routes, and who had a supportive population, may have been able to control
those routes and the goods flowing through them (Peregrine 1991). Population
would have been attracted to leaders who offered greater access to prestige-goods,
and hence better opportunities to socially reproduce (Friedman and Rowlands
1978). In this way social stratification, maize horticulture, and political
centers with dense populations could have readily emerged in the central
riverine valleys of the mid-continent, where riverine trade could be controlled,
and where intensified production was possible (Peregrine 1996:41).
Stephen Kowalewski's critique of the idea of a prestige goods system goes as follows:
Long-distance symbolic interaction can operate to transfer value from one point to another. In aboriginal North America, a returned pilgrim, a vision quester, one who acquires a new dance, or one who owns the rights to display a crest could acquire some prestige, power, or wealth useful in internal competition and perhaps useful for external recognition. Symbolic objects convey information about the social relations of givers and receivers. As symbols the stuff is completely arbitrary, except that items should be rare, light, exotic, or crafted. Here we can think of gold in the Old World, or copper bells, crests, or breastplates in North America; and as Helms (1979) has shown, knowledge itself may be a prestige good.
The informational value of a symbol, what specifically
a symbol represents, or what other value it may be translated into, may
not necessarily be mutually recognized by all parties in exchange. All
that may be required is that the parties understand that the symbol is
valuable in some way. It is not true that symbolic items will carry the
same meanings within or between social groups across space. …. The point
is that biscuit, beads, copper, or other such preciosities in prestige
goods exchange have values so arbitrary that they must be continually reaffirmed
by something else, which in my opinion is power. In cross-cultural communication
and generally in symbolic interaction, the parties to interchange have
differing or contested values and interpretations, ultimately decided in
the arena of power (Kowalewski 1996:30-31).
Both Kowalewski and Peregrine agree that power
must necessarily stand behind prestige goods. Kowalewski's critique seems
to assume that the prestige goods system theory requires that prestige
goods operate in the absence of other sorts of power, either internally
or across group boundaries. But what is claimed is that control over prestige
imports can facilitate the rise to power of a local elite. Friedman (1982)
also argues that loss of control over prestige goods trade can cause stratified
hierarchies based on this control to fall. The question of prestige goods
being important in relations among different polities has not been addressed
at a general level, but on this most scholars would also probably agree
that symbolic exchanges or ritual hierarchies are not likely to sustain
domination or exploitation of one society by another in the absence of
other forms of power such as military force or the monopoly of the supply
of some more basic good such as food or raw materials needed for the everyday
life of most members of the society. Ritual hierarchies are easily overturned
if they are not backed up by something else.
What about core/periphery relations in the Mississippian
system ? It is unclear how far the power of large centers like Cahokia
and Moundville extended, and what means they used to draw resources from
distant hinterlands. Kowalewski mentioned the importance of warfare in
the Mississippian system, but this was thought to be primarily a matter
of conflict among neighboring chiefdoms. No one has portrayed Cahokia or
Moundville as the center of military empires of the sort that the Aztecs
constructed. And, as discussed above, ritual superiority is not a sufficient
basis for extracting surpluses from distant societies. It is possible that
the Mississippian centers gained from their nodal locations on trade routes
and that they exported some goods to distant societies in return for other
goods, but most of the exchange in this system would have been reciprocal
gift-giving among elites of different polities. It is doubtful that true
markets existed. And so it is unlikely that a hierarchical division of
labor based on unequal exchange extended very far from the direct power
of the core chiefdoms.
It was argued by Dincauze and Hasenstab (1989)
that Iroquoian tribe-formation -- the establishment of matrilineal long-houses
-- was caused by long-distance interaction with the Mississippian centers.
This hypothesis was met with derision by the old guard of site-specific
archaeologists. The controversy is reviewed by Peregrine (1996:41-43) who,
despite his call for examining the patterns of large macroregions, finds
that there are timing problems with the hypothesis that interaction with
Mississippian centers caused Iroquoian development. It is likely that information
flows and some trade goods did connect these distant regions. But were
these connections strong enough to cause important social changes?
This case is different from the Delmarva Adena
case mentioned above in that the Iroquois did not adopt rituals from the
Mississipian core. Certainly local conditions were important to the emergence
of complexity, as they were elsewhere. And simultaneity does not prove
causality, as we have noted in the case of Eurasia mentioned above. In
this case a somewhat synchronous rise in two distant areas could have occurred
because local causes happened to co-occur in time, or as a response to
something else beside interaction, such as climatic changes. These hypotheses
Another issue that arises once populations have become more sedentary is the question of down-the-line trade versus long-distance trade journeys. Michael Stewart (1996) contends that both kinds of trade were important in the development of societies in the Mid-Atlantic region of the East. Stewart (1996:75-79) writes,
Two major types or systems of coexisting exchange - broad-based networks and focused networks - can be identified in the Middle Atlantic region and are evident from Late Archaic through Late Woodland times (Stewart 1989). Broad-based networks are characterized by hand-to-hand, down-the-line exchange and web-like relationships common throughout the region. Predominantly technomic artifacts and ornaments are circulated through a series of web-like or chain-like personalized relationships….
Focused exchange networks are typified by transactions
commonly involving goods from areas outside of the Middle Atlantic region
and some sources located within the region…. The movement of these items
seems to involve relatively few contacts, not the series of interlocked
, down-the-line contacts associated with broad-based systems. It seems
unlikely that formalized trade relations existed with cultures near source
areas since the production and receipt of trade goods is so sporadic and
discontinuous. What is more probable is that individuals, small groups,
or entrepreneurs from the Middle Atlantic traveled outside of the region
on sporadic trading missions, insinuating themselves into the broad-based
networks of other areas to obtain the goods they eventually transported
back to their homeland.
This suggestion of the existence of long-distance trade treks is an interesting hypothesis that needs to be kept in mind. In most regions it is assumed that most trade was down-the-line, but even a small number of occasional long-distance treks could have been important for carrying ideas from one region to another.
Stewart's (1996) study of trade patterns in the Mid-Atlantic results in a number of findings that are relevant for world-systems research. We have already mentioned the case of the Delmarva Adena, in which an isolated complex society based on the importation of burial rituals and goods from the distant Ohio Valley Adena heartland emerged within a regional context of small-scale and egalitarian societies. After the decline of the Adena interaction sphere neither the Hopewell nor the Mississippian developments had cultural effects on the Northeast or the Mid-Atlantic regions, while the Mississippian style was adopted by emerging chiefdoms in the Southeast. This lack of cultural adoption corresponded with a decrease in trade between these regions. Stewart (1996:82-85) reports a decline in trade volume, but not in extent, during the Early Woodland period from 1000 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E and then a trade expansion from 600/500 to 400 B.C.E. This was followed by a trade contraction from 400 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. and then another expansion from 200 to 800 C.E. In this last expansion there was no sign of cultural influence from the Hopewell heartland despite expanded trade. This was followed by a severe disruption of trade networks during the Late Woodland from 900 C.E. on. This was the period of the rise of the Mississippian interaction sphere in the Midwest, and yet neither trade not cultural influence linked this distant florescence with the Mid-Atlantic region. Stewart portrays a kind of insularity in which the ethnohistorically known chiefdoms of the Chesapeake traded little but extracted tribute from weaker adjacent neighbors (see Wood et.al 1989). This kind of delinking and inward-oriented development also occurred on the Great Plains).
The Plains Indians are best known in the ethnographic literature for large bands of horsemen who hunted buffalo and made war. But horses were introduced by the Europeans and rapidly adopted by groups on the Plains. The coming of the horse had a revolutionary effect on the societies of the Plains because of increased mobility and increased efficiency of the hunt. Groups that formerly needed to disperse to find food could now come together to form larger polities and alliances. These developments had important affects on adjacent regions where peoples both adopted Plains features and organized to defend against the military power of the Plains peoples.
But an earlier story is less well known. Contemporaneous
with the emergence of the Mississippian interaction sphere was the florescence
on the southern Plains of a mound-building culture that had important trade
and cultural links with both the Mississippian heartland, especially Spiro,
and with the Southwest (Vehik and Baugh 1994). This is known as Caddoan
culture. The Caddoans built large mounds and villages and planted corn
but were culturally somewhat different from similarly complex societies
to the east and west. This cultural distinction might be interpreted as
only marginal differentiation if we did not also know that the Caddoans
cut themselves of from trading beyond the Plains and constructed a network
centered on the Caddoan heartland. This was an instance of a semiperipheral
region turning itself into a core by means of delinking from other distant
cores. Around 1200 C.E. Caddoan trade with the Mississippian societies
collapsed. This caused societies on the eastern Plains (on the border between
the Plains and the Mississippian interaction sphere) to decrease in complexity.
It also created a Plains trade network centered in the Caddoan heartland
that was largely separated from both the Southwest and the Mississippian
networks. Later the Caddoan core declined at about the same time as the
Cahokian core chiefdoms, but these declines are unlikely to have caused
one another because the trade links between these regions had been severed
Kowalewski's discussion of the Southwest as a
culture area (1996), while generally accurate, is far from complete. The
situation is much more complicated. There are two dimensions to this. First,
locally the interactions among sedentary and nomadic people are more complex
than he portrays them. Second, the evolution of intergroup relations [sedentary-sedentary,
sedentary-nomadic, nomadic-nomadic] and changes in levels of complexity
and stratification within each "society" are, as he observes,
conditioned by larger macroregional processes. The difficulty is, which
larger macroregional processes? -- those occurring in the greater Southwest,
or those between the Southwest and Mesoamerica? Or both? We argue that
it is both, but in somewhat different ways.
A. Within the greater Southwest
Most of the research on the Southwest that explicitly
uses world-systems concepts has focused on more proximate relations among
societies within the Southwest (e.g. Upham 1982; Spielmann 1991; Baugh
1991; Wilcox 1991, McGuire 1993, 1996). For those not familiar with Southwest
prehistory and early Spanish colonial history it is useful to note that
"Pueblo" (Spanish for village or town) is the generic term Spaniards
applied to sedentary agriculturists found in what is now New Mexico and
Arizona. Taos is a widely familiar example. These groups have only a few
traits in common: they built adobe villages with a central Plaza, most
had Kivas (underground ceremonial centers), they grew corn, beans, and
squash. Hence they appeared to be "people of reason" to Spaniards.
There apparently was no overarching unity and occasionally war between
different Pueblo villages. The people who occupied these villages spoke
languages from at least three different major linguistic stocks, and within
at least one of these stocks several mutually unintelligible different
languages. The literature on these peoples is further complicated by the
maddening tendency to use the term "Pueblo" to refer to them
collectively, to refer to individual villages, and to refer to individual
humans. For purposes of this paper "Pueblo" is best glossed as
"autonomous, horticultural village." The best single overview
of these people Dozier (1970).
1. sedentary - sedentary
There has been considerable debate about the nature
of sedentary societies in the Southwest (Wills & Leonard 1994). That
many societies, were, from time to time, quite hierarchical is now generally
accepted (Brandt 1994; Kintigh 1994). Spielmann (1994) and Kintigh (1994)
both argue for what Johnson (1982, 1983, 1989) calls sequential vs simultaneous
hierarchy. Simultaneous hierarchy is the familiar pyramidal structure.
Sequential hierarchy is one in which decisions at each level of the hierarchy
are made by consensus, more or less in an egalitarian fashion, then move
up the hierarchy. This, it strikes us, is precisely the type of structure
and mechanism we would expect to find when core-periphery relations are
becoming more hierarchical, but have not fully supplanted kin-ordered structures
with tributary structures.
The Anasazi florescence occurred from 900 C.E
to 1150. After 1150 Chaco Canyon was abandoned as the region endured a
50 year drought. Kintigh (1994:138) notes that throughout the non-Hohokam
at the turn of the 13th century there was marked aggregation of living
units into large communities and/or abandonment of smaller ones. This suggests
to us that, indeed, there was a further move toward hierarchical systems.
This, as Kintigh argues, was a second wave of aggregation which followed
the collapse of the earlier Chacoan system (Neitzel 1994, Wilcox 1993,
and references therein). This second aggregation also collapsed. All this
is reminiscent of the cycling, or rise and demise of political centralization
that Anderson (1994) describes for the Southeast. In order to sort all
this out the dating of the various aggregations and abandonments need to
be more precisely specified, as Anderson has done. The data exist, but
no one, as yet has undertaken this monumental task. These relations were
probably also shaped to some extent by relations with nomadic peoples.
2. sedentary - nomad
Kowalewski's (1996) comparison of the Southwest
with other U.S. culture areas describes a radical core/periphery identity
separation that emerged between closed corporate Pueblo communities of
horticulturalists and more nomadic foragers and raiders that lived around
them. The Pueblo peoples live in defensible towns, often atop mesas (flat-topped
mountains), where they were able to protect their stores of corn from nomadic
But Feinman and Upham (1996), in their explicitly
world-systemic comparison of Mesoamerica and the Southwest (which ignores
the problem of the interaction between these two macroregions), characterize
the Southwest as a region in which networks were open and permeable, without
strong boundaries between societies. The contrast with Kowalewski's portrayal
is vivid. Perhaps the earlier system was open, while the bounded Pueblo
communities emerged after the Spanish invasion or after nomads obtained
horses. But the existence of Anasazi cliff dwellings, built hundreds of
years before the arrival of horses, looks functionally quite similar to
the mesa communities of historically-known Pueblos. It is a lot of trouble
to build houses into a cliff and carry water up from below. Defense against
raiders would be a likely explanation. Defensive communities and conflictive
relations are often associated with strong cultural boundaries between
the conflicting groups.
It is also possible that Feinman and Upham's characterization,
and its contrast with Kowalewski's, is due to the different temporal scopes
that these authors employ. Kowalewski is mainly talking about differences
between culture areas (Northwest, Southwest and Southeast) that existed
when the Europeans arrived. Feinman and Upham, on the other hand, are discussing
changes in the Southwest that occurred over several millennia. From the
perspective of the longer temporal depth, which includes major changes
in the nature of cultures as well as the rise and fall of several different
cultures in different locations, boundaries are more likely to look changeable.
In her discussion of Plains - Pueblo interactions
Katherine Spielmann (1991a, 1991b, 1991c) delineates two ways in which
exchange between what had heretofore been relatively autonomous groups
could develop into systemic exchange (core-periphery differentiation in
our terms). The first, which she favors, is mutualism, in which
sedentary horticulturalists engage in systematic exchange with nomadic
hunters in such a way that the total caloric intake over the necessary
variety of food types mutually benefits both groups. The second, favored
by Wilcox (1991) and Baugh (1991), is buffering in which sedentary
agriculturists use exchange with nomadic hunters to buffer volatile production
results in marginal horticultural lands. The latter form readily lends
itself to uneven exchange and development of core-periphery hierarchies
(what Baugh calls a "macroeconomy").
The debate over Plains - Pueblo relations (Spielmann
1991a, 1991b, 1991c; Baugh 1991; Wilcox 1991) raises both the issues of
the transformation of core-periphery differentiation into core-periphery
hierarchy and the role of internal stratification. What makes this particular
case interesting--if simultaneously frustrating--is that though differentiation
is clear, it is not clear whether there is a core-periphery hierarchy or
not. Spanish intrusion into the region disrupted all these relations. As
we already, noted the anthropological literature contains considerable
debate over the existence and degree of social differentiation within and
between Pueblo villages.
The broader relevance here is that variations
in the types and timing of food production among groups may foster or obviate
exchange. Furthermore, the particulars of the exchange may favor equal
(mutual) exchange, or unequal exchange. This suggests multiple possible
paths to development of core-periphery hierarchies within kin-based modes
The issue of pacific vs. conflictive relations
between farmers and foragers has been raised in many other contexts. Gregg's
(1988) discussion of the expansion of farming into Europe portrays a symbiotic
relationship between farmers and foragers who exchanged complementary goods.
Spielmann's (1991) rendering of this relationship in the Southwest also
favors a symbiotic interpretation in which complementary surpluses were
exchanged between Pueblos and nomadic foragers. Baugh(1991) uses world-systems
concepts to analyze this same relationship. Both he and Wilcox (1991) see
elements of a core/periphery hierarchy in which the sedentary groups (Pueblos)
were benefiting more than the nomadic foragers from the interaction.
One hypothesis that stems from the interaction
model of world-system evolution proposed by Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997:
Chapter 6) is that all systems will go through cycles of increase and decrease
in the level of conflict among societies. Farmer/forager interactions are
more symbiotic under conditions of low population pressure, but when ecological
degradation or population growth raises the costs of production, conflict
among societies is likely to increase. It is during these periods that
new institutional solutions are more likely to be invented and implemented.
But if new hierarchies or new technologies are not employed conflict itself
will reduce the population and a period of relative peace will return.
Randall McGuire's (1996) study of core/periphery
relations in the Hohokam interaction sphere reveals evidence of the rise
of a culturally innovative center near what is now Phoenix, Arizona. Several
different surrounding peripheral regions adopted styles from this core.
McGuire demonstrates the dangers of applying assumptions based on the modern
world-system to stateless systems. He finds that the peripheral Hohokam
regions did not culturally converge, but rather they become more different
from one another as climate changed and they interacted with other distant
core regions. Of course the hypothesis of convergence among peripheral
regions is also contradicted for the modern world-system because peripheral
areas often experience quite different developmental paths. But in both
the Hohokam and the modern world-system the idea of a core/periphery structure
nevertheless proves useful for understanding social change.
3. nomad - nomad relations
Little is known archaeologically about nomad-nomad relations. Some of the nomadic groups may have been recent arrivals in the Southwest (Wilcox 1981a). Following the suggestions of Baugh (1991) and Wilcox (1991), it may well be that trade among nomadic foragers was an alternative to centralization in stabilizing volatile food supplies. Unfortunately the arrival of Spaniards (from 1530s on) vastly disrupted intergroup relations (see Hall 1989). The alliances that some of the nomadic groups made with the Spanish (e.g. the Comanches) may have had prehistoric analogues in which nomadic groups allied with particular Pueblo core societies to provide protection against other nomadic groups, and possibly to serve as allies in disputes among Pueblo societies.
B. Relations between Greater Southwest and Mesoamerica
The nested network approach described above is
helpful for understanding the ways in which precontact North American societies
were linked to one another and the relevance of these links for processes
of development. As with state-based systems, bulk goods, political-military
interactions, prestige goods networks and information networks formed a
set of nested nets of increasing spatial scale. There has been a huge controversy
about the importance or unimportance of links between the U.S. Southwest
and Mesoamerica (Mathien and McGuire 1986). Some of the earliest usages
of world-systems ideas by archaeologists (Whitecotton and Pailes 1986;
Weigand and Harbottle 1977) were arguments that the Southwest constituted
a periphery of the Mesoamerican world-system.
Connections between the Greater Southwest and
Mesoamerica are now widely accepted. However, their importance for local
development is still the subject of considerable dispute. Some of this
dispute derives from too strict an application of Wallersteinian world-systems
theory, which is alleged to suggest underdevelopmental, or backwash effects
in the Southwest. We argue that when kin-ordered groups are incorporated
into a state-based tributary world-system we expect developmental effects
rather than underdevelopment. This too, in different language is now more
widely accepted. Debate now centers around whether these effects were necessary,
or only ancillary. The aggregation of living units that followed on the
heels of the Chacoan collapse would seem to suggest that the effects of
the Mesoamerican connection were more than ancillary. How important they
were, however, remains unclear. It is possible that the post-Chacoan aggregation
was a also a response to climatic change.
Weigand and Harbottle (1993) continue to argue
that the Southwest was a periphery of Mesoamerica based on the fact that
turquoise from the Southwest was mined and exported to the states in the
Mesoamerican highlands. They claim that turquoise played an important role
in the overall structure of trade between these two regions and that the
demand for turquoise was an important factor in the rise of complex societies
in the Southwest. Other features of societies in the Southwest, such ball-courts,
ceremonial mounds and parrots kept as pets, also suggest possible diffusions
Late Mississippian chiefdoms such as that at Etowah
in Georgia have been found to have produced iconographs that employ design
elements and symbolic content that is strikingly similar to the icons of
Mesoamerican states. The iconograph on the cover of this paper, from Anderson
(1994:83), is an example of what archaeologists have come to refer to as
the Southern Cult. Most archaeologists contend that influences from Mesoamerica
were unimportant to the processes of development that occurred in the Southwest
and other areas of what is now the United States. Some argue that these
cultural resemblances are due to parallel evolution, not interaction (e.g.
The evidence of turquoise sourcing shows that
there was definitely trade between highland Mesoamerica and the Southwest.
Certainly there was down-the-line trade, but there could have also been
at least a few long-distance trade expeditions undertaken by "pochteca"
from the Mexican highlands. It is hard to imagine how down-the-line trade
could have transmitted the ideologies behind the iconographs of the Southern
Cult. But were these connections systemic in the sense that they were important
for social reproduction or social change? Some archaeologists think the
Mexican ideology was adopted by declining Mississippian chiefdoms as part
of an effort to revitalize hierarchies that were caught in a downward spiral
of decline. The predominant opinion among archaeologists after a two decades
of dispute is that local and regional processes were much more important
determinants of development in the Southwest and the Southeast than the
long-distance connections with Mesoamerica.
The Great Basin
In what are now the states of Utah, Nevada and
eastern California is a region of high desert in which water does not flow
to the seas but rather into large basins. Some rather large rivers run
for hundreds of miles and disappear into the sand. It is an ecologically
sparse environment that is punctuated by small areas where water, game
and plant life are more abundant. In addition to the lack of rainfall in
most areas, the distribution of rainfall varies greatly from year to year.
This ecologically coarse environment was the home of nomadic foragers,
known ethnohistorically as the Paiute, the Western Shoshone and the Ute,
who adapted to the desert environment by moving to where food was most
available. This region was also the inspiration of the theory of social
evolution known as cultural ecology or human ecology which emphasizes the
importance of adaptations to the local environment. Julian Steward (1938;1955)
did important ethnographic surveys in which he charted population densities
across the entire Great Basin region and analyzed why there were important
organizational and cultural differences among the ethnohistorically known
groups in this large region.
As the debate about whether or not the Southwest
was a periphery of Mesoamerica has raged, there has been an analogous controversy
over whether or not the Great Basin was a periphery to the Southwest. The
early peoples who moved in to the Great Basin probably occupied the few
locations where supplies of game and food plants were the greatest. Subsequent
population growth led groups to occupy more marginal regions. What emerged
was a mosaic of social structures that mapped the ecological structure
almost perfectly. This desert mosaic was impinged upon by influences from
California, the Plains and the Southwest, but despite these factors and
changes in climate, the basic structure still existed when the Euroamericans
finally settled this region after 1850.
Southwestern-type horticulturalists and pot-makers,
called the Fremont culture, moved into the southern Great Basin in about
400 C.E. Between 1250 and 1350 C.E. the Fremont peoples abandoned the Great
Basin, probably because of the droughts of the Little Ice Age. It was this
same climatic change that probably caused the abandonment of the Anasazi
regions on the Colorado plateau to the south. New groups of people, probably
the ancestors of the Shoshoni, moved into the region at this time. This
was an instance of rise and fall that was accompanied by population movements
and was caused probably by climatic changes that greatly affected the viability
of horticulture in this region. The desert mosaic of small settled groups
near isolated food resources surrounded by more nomadic groups following
the yearly variation in food availability returned after the withdrawal
of the Pueblo-type horticulturalists.
Steward's analysis shows that the local core groups
developed religious rituals, collective property rights, and political
organization at the village level, whereas their more nomadic neighbors
existed primarily with only family-level organization. Steward does not
discuss the interactions among these groups. Indeed he claims that there
was little trade and little interaction. But the groups occupying prime
sites needed to protect their resources from intruders. They developed
political organization to regulate internal access, but also to protect
from external appropriation. Steward points out that warfare was not an
important emphasis for any of these groups, except those few who adopted
some of the cultural trappings from neighboring societies on the Great
Plains. Nevertheless the development of bounded territories and the enforcement
of legitimate claims to resources by means of coercion - even if only yelling
and stone-throwing - represented an institutional response to a core/periphery
differentiation in which some groups need to protect their resources from
As for the peripheral peoples, their culture,
as Steward (1938) says, was primarily "gastric." In order to
not starve they needed to cache enough food to last until spring. The key
food for this purpose was Pinion nuts. These were available for harvest
in the fall. Pinion nut crops varied greatly from location to location
from year to year, and when they were plentiful in one location there was
usually enough for all those who had the ability to harvest and process
them. This set of characteristics was not propitious for the development
of property rights, and so groups did not try to control particular Pinion
This was a rather elemental form of a local core/periphery
structure. There was no core/periphery hierarchy in which core societies
exploited the labor or resources of peripheral societies. What the core
societies did was to protect their assets from potential peripheral intruders.
And for their part the peripheral peoples were disorganized by the ecological
circumstances, in which "optimal foraging strategy" dictated
that they remain spread out in very small groups. Thus when hunger gripped
them they had not the ability to attack the stores of the core societies.
Rather they simply starved.
Contrary to Steward's claim that Great Basin peoples did not trade, there is ample archaeological evidence that they did participate in long distance trade networks.
Bennyhoff and Hughes (1987) show that a trade
network that linked the Western Great Basin to the coast of Northern California
expanded from 2000 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E. and then contracted from 200 B.C.E.
to 700 C.E. and then expanded again from 700 C.E. to 1500 C.E. After 1500
C.E. there was a major expansion within California based on a different
kind of shells (clam disk beads), but this network did not extend in to
the Great Basin. Hughes (1994) shows that two caves in the Western Great
Basin that are rather close to one another, were parts of very different
obsidian exchange networks, but were linked in to the same shell network.
This cautions us against assuming that all sorts of trade items fit into
exchange networks that have the same spatial characteristics.
In the Pacific Northwest rather complex and hierarchical
polities emerged in the absence of horticulture. These maritime societies
were able to sustain large and concentrated populations because of the
huge availability of fish and sea mammals on the coast and in the rivers.
The popular symbol of these quintessential bigman societies is the totem
pole, a symbolic representation of ranked clans. These societies are also
famous for the potlatch, an institution in which big men obtained prestige
and influence by giving away or destroying great quantities of wealth.
The Tlingit, the Haida and the Kwatkiutl were Athabascan linguistic groups
containing many independent big man polities. They warred within, as well
as between, these linguistic groups. And they traded with inland peoples
for important food and raw materials, including copper and slaves.
Kowalewski (1996) characterizes the Northwest
in terms of a core/periphery hierarchy in which coastal societies imported
slaves from inland societies. A great exchange network linked the societies
on the coast with the whole region of the Columbia River plateau. The fecundity
of food on the coast created a demand for extra labor for the processing
of fish and sea mammals. Both prestige goods and slaves moved long distances,
primarily by down-the-line trade (Ames 1991). Studies of documents from
the early historical period (Mitchell and Donald 1985) show that in coastal
societies slaves constituted between five and twenty-five per cent of the
population. Thus slavery was a significant component of the economies of
these societies. Though the core societies were themselves not very stratified,
nor very large, this indicates the existence of an important degree of
core/periphery hierarchy in which the peripheral societies were greatly
The existence of a huge comparative advantage
in the production of food enabled the coastal Athabascans to buy copper
from inland groups, and to buy slaves. This latter "demand" encouraged
groups of foragers far from the coast to begin to systematically raid their
neighbors for captives and to sell these to other neighbors. This led to
a generalized increase in the amount of conflict among these societies
and increased specialization in organized coercion. It also stimulated
the production of other goods for use in the larger trade network. Copper
and Dentalia, a toothlike marine shell, were used as media of exchange
in this large down-the-line trading system. Ironically, the availability
of imported slaves allowed the big man systems to substitute an imported
group of workers for a domestic class of workers. This allowed for class
exploitation without the emergence of a radical class distinction between
chiefs and commoners. The slaves and their children often became integrated
into the local kinship system by marriage and adoption.
So this was a very different kind of slave system than those that developed in more stratified societies. This system has great comparative significance. It shows that core/periphery hierarchy can exist despite a low degree of stratification within the core societies. It also shows that a coercive system can operate despite the absence of any direct coercion exerted by core societies if these have a resource that is in great demand. In this situation peripheral societies will exercise coercion on one another in order to be able to obtain valuables from the core.
In California there were no totem poles. A few societies had clans and moieties, but there were no hierarchical kinship systems. In the area of Northern California that we have studied (Chase-Dunn and Mann forthcoming; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: Chapter 7) the largest polity was the tribelet, a very small unit consisting of a few villages. Larger political entities did not exist except in the San Joaquin Valley (Yokuts) and in Santa Barbara (Chumash). Though California has been characterized as a culture area based on social structural and artifactual similarities, there were enormous differences within California as well. Linguistic differences are the most obvious. Linguists contend that six major linguistic stocks were present in indigenous California.
We have already mentioned the studies of trade
linkages between California and the Great Basin. These show that pulsation
of trade networks is a feature of intersocietal relations even when the
constituent societies are very egalitarian. What we do not know is whether
or not the trade pulsations corresponded to changes in the rate of population
growth or other elements of complexity in the linked societies.
Northern California provides an interesting example
of a border region between two large trade networks. Our study of the Wintu,
who lived at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley and in some of the
surrounding hills and mountains, reveals a region of overlap between the
Pacific Northwestern network and the network that originated in Central
California. The trade of Dentalia shells from the Pacific Northwest had
only recently extended to the Wintu. Archaeological sites reveal very small
numbers of these shells, and these in only very recent contexts. And the
Wintu were just beyond the boundary of the slave raiding and trading network.
The Modoc Indians in the very northernmost corner of California were raiders
who took captives to sell to groups to the north. The Modoc raided the
Shasta and the Achomawi, but these linguistic groups had not yet become
participants in this down-the-line mode of core/periphery relations. So
the Wintu and all of California to the south enjoyed a less coercive relationship
with their neighbors.
Summary and Conclusions
This overview of the North American world-systems
suggests some new hypotheses about core/periphery hierarchies in stateless
world-systems. The case of the Pacific Northwest indicates that a true
core/periphery hierarchy can exist in which the core region is extracting
valuable resources from a peripheral region despite the absence of much
in the way of hierarchy within the core societies and little direct coercion
exercised by the core societies over the peripheries. This circumstance
can emerge when the core region has a large comparative advantage in the
production of some resource that is highly valued throughout the system.
In this case the valuable resource was food. Such a comparative advantage
can be used to develop other advantages, such as the ability to import
copper and then to re-export it. The peripheral societies are induced to
participate in the core/periphery relationship in order to gain greater
access to imported goods and they utilize coercion on their neighbors in
order to obtain these goods. Such an instance indicates that our hypothesis
that stable core/periphery hierarchies only emerge in state-based systems
needs to be confronted by careful studies of stateless systems so that
we can understand the conditions under which inequalities among societies
can be institutionalized.
What seems to happen in the watershed between
kin-ordered and tributary systems during the emergence of states is that
kin- ordered chiefdoms get more complex and then collapse back to simpler
forms. As Anderson (1994) argues, they do this for a millennia or more
before they make another breakthrough to form a pristine state. Cahokia
appears to have been one such breakthrough that lasted for a few centuries.
Chaco Canyon in the Southwest may have been another, or more likely one
that almost made it and then collapsed.
In both cases the rise and fall seems to be the
result of interaction of population expansion, territorial expansion, productive
technology, and climatic cycles of various durations. Anderson (1994: Chapter
7) shows, quite convincingly that in a productive system that can store
only one or two years worth of supplies, collapse due to food shortages
will occur occasionally. In lusher times population expands, and settlements
hive off and occupy new territories. When times become lean, some of the
more recently occupied regions must be abandoned or at least are severely
depopulated. If this cycle is sufficiently regular people will try to develop
mechanisms for meeting this stress. When the mechanism works, population
will expand again until new limits are reached.
One of the major solutions to such environmental
variation is increasing organizational complexity (Anderson 1994; Tainter
1988; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: Ch. 6). This new complexity, which we see
as expanding world-systems both in the sense of territorial expansion and
in the sense of increasing hierarchy, exploitation, and systemness, is
also subject to cycles. Here, again, environmental fluctuations can be
one cause: a shortage of food undermines the credability of an elite, often
leading to collapse and a loss of complexity. As Tainter notes, collapse
is often beneficial to the masses who underwrote the complexity, though
at the same time it is disastrous for elites. A new wrinkle here, is that
social organization itself may introduce instability, such as when succession
of leaders is not clearly institutionalized. Thus the death of a leader
(a chief in North America, kings in many places) can lead to collapse,
or present an opportunity for a robust semiperipheral group to seize the
opportunity to become a new core polity (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997:Chapter
There is an important, but abstract and janus-faced,
point to emphasize here. On the one hand, what disrupts the system is not
important in and of itself, only that there is a disruption. If any
one of the key variables shaping the system fluctuates regularly, or even
irregularly, disruptions are highly likely. On the other hand, depending
on the type of system, and the specifics of its organization, some types
of disruption may be more likely than others. The specific type of disruption
shapes the timing, extent, and process of collapse and expansion, and so
can be theorized in general in only the most abstract terms. This why the
same disruption can have opposite effects in different systems, and very
different disruptions can have the same effect, either in one system or
in different systems.
Here are some illustrations. Increased moisture
in the Southeast, where riverine agricultural land is subject to swamping,
making agriculture impossible, can be disastrous. In the Southwest, where
water is always scarce, increased moisture may lead to opening of new territories
to agriculture and increased crop production and hence population growth
and expansion. On the other hand, in the Southwest both too much or too
little water can be disastrous. Too little water (drought) can lead to
crop failure, and if it repeats in quick succession may exhaust stored
supplies. But too much water, or too much at one time, can produce the
same result, because the sudden flooding can wash away fragile topsoils
and make farming impossible in a valley or a region.
We are far from the first to discover this. Ancient
farmers knew it everywhere and sought to control or compensate for such
fluctuations by diversified cropping and food procurement, trade, storage,
and other techniques. Still, if regional fluctuation is too great, the
mechanisms can fail. These processes can become more extreme in marginal
environments. For instance, suppose the local varieties of maize mature
in 75 to 85 days. If the typical frost-free time is 100 days, then farmers
have many choices in planting to diversify to avoid crop loss. But when
marginal land is occupied, say with average of 87 frost-free days, crop
failure will be a common occurrence. Thus, if longer climatic cycles shift
from 100 to 90 frost-free days, land that was once easy to farm, becomes
marginal. This is why it is that, other things equal, complexity appears
more quickly in marginal areas than in more robust areas. This may also
be one explanation for the phenomenon of semiperipheral marcher chiefdoms
(Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997:83-84; Kirch 1984:199-202). An important characteristic
of local weather and climate is volatility, or in statistical terms,
not means, but variance. Even relatively rare variations can be disastrous
if not attended to -- as the people in central California have learned
quite painfully in winter of 1996-97.
Figure 3 is loosely based on our review of the
archaeological evidence about trade and rise and fall. It shows that trade
networks and levels of complexity rose and fell in each of the regions
that we considered, and that these regions were sometimes linked and then
delinked with one another. We have used artistic license rather than firm
data to construct Figure 3 in the hope of stimulating further research
that can more exactly examine these cycles. It also would be interesting
to include Mesoamerica in a portrayal such as Figure 3. If there turn out
to be synchronicities this does not in itself tells us about causality
but, as with the Eurasian case mentioned above, it stimulates research
into causality. If the timing of expansions and contractions portrayed
in Figure 3 are wrong, we beg to be corrected.
Research on premodern world-system cycles has
only begun and firm conclusions would be unwarranted. Based on our survey
of archaeological studies of trade and complexity there is general support
for the hypothesis of synchronous changes in the political rise-and-fall
cycle and economic expansion and contraction. But these need to be evaluated
by closer examination of each case. We have used mainly the regional surveys
of trade contained in Ericson and Baugh (1993) and Baugh and Ericson (1994).
These are valuable contributions to the hyperopic approach advocated by
Peter Peregrine (1996). But there remain important gaps. For example, the
Great Basin, especially its eastern half, is not covered. Overviews of
existing research also need to be complemented by targeted comparative
studies that carefully operationalize rise and fall and pulsation.
The problem of synchronicities in sequences of
rise and fall or pulsation across different culture areas also needs further
research. There are several suggestive cases in which it appears that these
cycles are synchronous in regions that are distant from one another. These
apparent instances of synchronicity need to be subjected to the testing
of causal explanations of the sort proposed for the Eurasian system in
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