THE COMPLEX TRIBE IN PREHISTORY: SOCIOPOLITICAL ORGANIZATION IN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD

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John W. Hoopes Dept. of Anthropology University of Kansas Lawrence, KS 66045 (913) 864-4103 Introduction The "chiefdom" has received a great deal of attention in the archaeological literature, probably because of its crucial role in the significant phenomenon of state formation. However, discussion of archaeological "tribes" is not as common. This has not been so much because tribes are a rare phenomenon. If the range of sociopolitical complexity is considered as having a normal distribution, with bands at one extreme and states at the other, one would expect the intermediate forms -- tribes and chiefdoms-to be most common. In fact, "tribes" have probably received more attention in the ethnographic literature than either bands or chiefdoms. This paper is an attempt to take a closer look at a form of society which was probably more common in prehistory than heretofore recognized. Its neglect to date can probably be attributed to two reasons: 1) very broad interpretations of the concept of "chiefdom" have extended its application to societies which may not, in fact, have attained this level of centralized organization, and 2) the dynamics of tribal societies often leave them outside evolutionary trajectories, and the specific characteristics of a tribe are not considered to be as important to formulations of evolutionary models as those of chiefdoms. The typology of sociopolitical organization has its historical roots in cultural evolutionary theory, beginning with Morgan
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(1877). However, social typology has its own merits. The chief value of classification is that it allows for the grouping of polythetic sets of individual entities so as to better define general characteristics shared by all of them. In anthropology, it permits cross-cultural comparisons and the formulation of broad models for social organization. To date, two of the models which have been the most influential in the formulation of social typologies have been Fried's (1960, 1967) "egalitarian-ranked-stratifiedstate" model and Service's (1962, 1975) "band-tribe-chiefdom-state" model. Although, each was formulated to describe an evolutionary process, the use of Fried's and Service's categories to classify sociopolitical complexity is pervasive in the literature. Some archaeologists have attempted to equate the two models, correlating "egalitarian societies" with bands and tribes, "ranked societies" with chiefdoms, and "stratified societies" with states. However, the correlation is imperfect. Service's categories are based upon levels of social integration and centralization, qualities which are only indirectly related to Fried's degrees of social differentiation and the emergence of social classes. In fact, social differentiation and political centralization are not necessarily linked. This leaves an important disjunction between the two models. The broad application of the term "chiefdom" to societies with any recognizable degree of

Paper presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Phoenix, Arizona, April 27-May 1, 1988.

specially prone to processes of dramatic growth and decline.Hoopes . "As the term is presently used. This centrality can be expressed in terms of "central places" and. I would like to propose the term "complex tribe" to describe archaeological societies which have evidence for sophisticated community activity and the characteristics of ranked society. Earle remarks in a recent review article. settlement size differences. centralized forms of sociopolitical organization. particularly in regions which did not see the subsequent emergence of more complex. and the need for useful typological categories remains. (Spencer 1987:381). most view chiefdoms as political entities that organize regional populations in the thousands or tens of thousands" (1987:279). Chiefdoms are characterized by hierarchies. Peebles and Kus (1977) suggest that a chiefdom is minimally defined by a twolevel hierarchy: the chief and his lineage. both in terms of the structure of society and the organization of constituent units. In this situation. Chiefdoms tend to be "dynamic entities. but which lacks the centralized leadership characteristic of a chiefdom. For most archaeologists. "chiefdom" implies the existence of a social system "under the permanent control of a paramount chief" (Carneiro 1981:45) extending beyond the boundaries of a single village. and the chiefdom)" (Earle 1977:422). This type of society is believed to have been more prevalent in prehistory than has been heretofore recognized.. material evidence of communal activities and status variation appears in the absence of evidence for centralized authority or chiefly individuals. I agree with Earle that "centrality is the clearest indicator of chiefdoms" (1987:289). As an alternative. who are qualitatively distinct. relative amounts of exchange and warfare" etc. in terms of overall population size. the village community. especially when the salient differences between tribes and chiefdoms are carefully considered. However. and has probably obscured the true range of variation in prehistoric social organization. However. The Chiefdom The term "chiefdom" as initially used by Service bridged the gap between tribes and state-level societies. and the rest of society.. more importantly. However. The term "chiefdom" has come into such common usage that it is very likely here to stay. Various authors have refined the typology of chiefdoms by suggesting distinctions between "simple" and "complex" chiefdoms (cf. Feinman and Neitzel (1984) have argued that the great variability in types of societies between bands and states severely limits the utility of typological approaches. the district. The same type of discrimination may be applied to the classification of "tribe". the identification of the society as a chiefdom is misleading. There is also a settlement hierarchy.g. . concentration of wealth. centralized authority. productive output. while many material correlates typically associated with chiefdoms are present. resulting in a wide range of variation. The purpose of this symposium is to mitigate its broad application by drawing attention to cases where it may in fact misrepresent the true nature of social organization and to suggest an alternative model for prehistoric social complexity. most archaeologists will probably find this term of limited value.. Steponaitis 1978:420). Service (1962) defines the tribe as a society which has a more sophisticated level of community integration than the band. The office of the chief is institutionalized and exists apart from the man who occupies it (Flannery 1972:403). it has come to have some very specific implications from a typological point of view. but which do not appear to have been organized around the office of a paramount. "based on a nested series of social and territorial groups (e. The success of leadership in a chiefdom is totally dependent on the continued recognition of the legitimacy of the office (Creamer and Haas 1985:740). The definition of "chiefdom" is inextricably linked to the presence of centralized authority as embodied in the person of a chief. and suggest the term "middle range societies" to encompass the whole range of prestate sedentary societies. in a number of archaeological cultures. it implies "central persons"..2 social differentiation has greatly limited its utility.

and while religious activities may be orchestrated by a full-time specialist. as well as the first community-level religious activities.3 Braun and Plog (1982:504) describe tribal systems as "nonhierarchical" in that decision making is largely consensual. Institutionalized political offices are nonexistent. Tribal forms of social organization occur in the context of sedentary or semisedentary hunter-gatherer societies and incipient agriculturalists.the control of the means of production of basic subsistence goods by self-contained extended family units. This can be an agglomeration of autonomous family units. which cross-cut the primary segments (1961:325). "The composite units within a tribe. trade. and coordinated subsistence efforts. The constituent segments of simple tribes generally share a common language. However. It is held together principally by likenesses among its segments. or military or religious societies. The segmentary organization of a tribe introduces a virtually limitless number of possible alliances for marriage. and the defense of common resources. probably appeared in the context of tribal organization. and the increased diversity of social interactions makes possible interactive dynamics which are both quantitatively and qualitatively distinct from those which can occur in the context of band society. Sahlins notes that the self-sufficiency of individual tribal segments promotes disunity. The larger number of individuals and individually-structured kinship groups. and remarks that tribal segments have "no permanent organized confederation" (1961:326). Individuals of higher status "are neither placed structurally in leadership roles nor assigned responsibility for making decisions for the group as a whole" (Creamer and Haas 1985:739). the coercive ability of such individuals tends to result from charisma and expertise rather than lineage affiliation. autonomous segments. A tribe as a whole is not normally a political organization but rather a sociocultural-ethnic entity. decision making hierarchy such as that which characterizes chiefdoms. religion and material culture. noninterference. a tribe may be defined as a non-hierarchical society whose organization is comprised of unspecialized. 1985:739). Pacts of nonagression may unite autonomous segments within the tribe. and the collective ownership of critical resources has important implications for the nature of control of those resources by the group as a whole (Fried 1975:50). of age-grades. the complexity of kinship relations. and the tribe as a whole. The domestication of plants and animals. centralized. associated through intermarriage and untied in mutual nonagression. According to Sahlins. Johnson (1982) terms the context-dependent "Big Man" leadership a "sequential hierarchy" to indicate the ephemeral nature of leadership offices and contrast this form with the "simultaneous hierarchy" of permanent. The economic focus of the tribe is the "domestic mode of production" (Sahlins 1972) -.. and may represent a response by certain populations to the need for recognizing and protecting common resources and conserving them for the use of a group with sufficient intermarriage and kinship networks to have internal coherence. Political leadership beyond the level of primary unit is generally ephemeral and specific to specialized activities of short duration. the community. Tribal territoriality may causally link tribal organization with incipient sedentism and agriculture. such as a system of intermarrying clans. but politically and ceremonially interdependent" (Creamer and Haas. The Tribe Minimally.Hoopes . with household functions at the base and more complex activities encompassing the lineage. Sahlins (1963) pictures a pyramidal hierarchy of tribal activities. generally consisting of individual communities or extended kin units. are largely independent of one another. Surplus production and surplus control is not centralized.. Tribes are firmly tied to regions and basic resources. and by pan-tribal institutions. . and the tribe's cohesion derives from reciprocal relationships between segmentary units. but remains in the hands of segmentary units.

Rank may originate with patriarchal. authority may be transient or may reside in corporate or familial institutions whose membership is not determined exclusively by socioeconomic status. A high level of corporate or communal activity can permit the appearance large-scale activities which go beyond the needs of basic subsistence. with only the final products being considered as individual or family property (perhaps due to an emphasis on the value of labor rather than materials).Hoopes . this term does not always mean that everyone has equal status. Adaptive advantages of segmentation would have worked against the conditions encouraging centralization. obligations to a centralized authority which cross-cut primary segments would occur only in unusual circumstances. long-distance trade could have occurred in the context of individual household units. Ethnographic Examples Many of the traits interpreted as indicative of "rank" are present in societies which would probably not be classified as chiefdoms. The key to the characteristic integration of the complex tribe is the segmentary nature of tribal society. or traders). whether "simple" or "complex". religious or military sodalities. These activities would have been decentralized in terms of leadership. communal construction . would crosscut tribal segments. specialized crafts. Economic activity is characterized by the domestic mode of production. Specialists (such as potters. While the community might not support full-time craft specialists. including the construction of public works and management of warfare. and a degree of social status differentiation. This pattern would give the organization an apparent stability over time. Corporate structures would have been able to conduct many of the activities commonly attributed to chiefdoms. primary segments could disperse. with primary decision making occurring at the level of individual households or lineage heads. or religious leadership. military. whose activities were for the benefit of the entire tribe. However. and the highly specialized functions of warriors or shamans keep their authority separate from control of subsistence production. but resources such as territory and raw materials may be managed as collective property. long-distance trade. Instead of a permanent office associated with the uppermost level in a social hierarchy. Basic production (the "domestic mode") remains in the hands of the constituent units. The "complex tribe" is distinguished from simpler organizations by the presence of "complex" phenomena such as communal architecture. Rank and status differences can exist in the context of tribal organization. So long as lineages remained separate. but the segmentary nature of the society prevents it from becoming associated with political centralization. The principal characteristic which distinguishes it from a chiefdom. weavers. Puebloan societies of the Southwest participated in long-distance trade in exotic goods and Great Kivas are clear evidence of organized. or the need to occupy and maintain a common territory was gone. may be supported by individual lineages rather than the community as a whole. Although societies which lack the hierarchical structure of chiefdoms are often labelled "egalitarian". Lineage heads cannot individually extend authority beyond the segmentary unit. artistic and technical skills exhibited within individual households may be quite highly advanced. is that leadership is not vested in a formal. 1987). When tensions within the community became great. centralized authority (Habicht-Mauche et al. This segmentary structure also makes the complex tribe highly adaptive. resulting in a unified defence of threatened resources.4 The Complex Tribe The "complex tribe" is a sophisticated form of tribal organization. Tribal affiliation could be invoked when the tribe as a whole was threatened from the outside. Regular. Communal and lineagebased redistribution would have made it difficult for an individual to gain community-wide status through reciprocal and redistributive functions. However. It refers to the fact that there is no permanent inequality among constituent social units. they are not accompanied by variable access to basic resources ("stratification" in Fried's terminology).

They are also capable of erecting significant religious monuments." who can be asked to intervene in social conflicts but is not a true chief and has no real political authority.5 projects. status.. or wealth" (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1940:5). Other ethnographic parallels include African societies which "lack centralized authority. Disputes are resolved by a "leopard-skin chief. dikes.. Construction and maintenance of storage facilities. Authority is not vested in any individual. Settlement patterns might include both agglomerated villages and dispersed hamlets. The complex tribe -. centralization. This is not to say that the processes responsible for the emergence of centralized authority cannot occur in the context of a complex tribe.Hoopes . Communal storage facilities could also be present. Hansell 1987). Rather. there would be a number of similarities between the remains of complex tribes and chiefdoms. whose power is represented by a clear accumulation of wealth in the form of material goods or facilities such as residences or tombs. or levees would not have required organization beyond the ability of families or corporate groups. The same circumstances which promote the establishment of the office of the chief are see as promoting the establishment of social hierarchies. and constituted judicial institutions. The model of the complex tribe is offered as an alternative trajectory of sociopolitical development. while in the latter it would be a contemporaneous two-part site hierarchy. Given that many tribal organizations may have formed for the defense of common resources. References . exchanging ivory for iron tools and ornaments (Evans Pritchard 1940b:87). and in which longterm stability was the rule. Status and craft items in burials could be expected. reservoirs.:Pl. Given that this office would probably elevate the status of the chief's lineage as well. but would be distinguished principally by the distribution of similar units dispersed over the "tribal" region. two-tiered social hierarchy would also be a necessary correlate. a clear. such as a fifty to sixty foot high earth-fill pyramid surrounded by ivory tusks (Ibid. it is a presented as a classificatory category for use in social typology. and is characterized by the "absence of centralized government and bureaucracy in the nation. even at the village level. It is intended to alleviate the "meaninglessness" of the category of "tribe" and to provide an alternative to the category of "chiefdom" for prehistoric societies which are characterized by "complex" social behavior. centralized political authority should not be sufficient to qualify a given society for classification as a chiefdom (cf. The one characteristic that distinguishes the complex tribe from the chiefdom is evidence of the existence of a permanent office of a full-time chief. shrines. administrative machinery. The identification of a society as a chiefdom usually brings with it some very clear assumptions about its developmental trajectory. in the tribe. and in tribal segments" (1940a:293). Nuer society is described by Evans-Pritchard as "acephalous".is not suggested as a stage in a developmental continuum of cultural evolution. the Nuer carry on occasional trade with neighboring groups. in the former this might represent short-term integrations and dispersals of a single community. as well as evidence of long-distance trade. of which the Nuer would be one example. Even large ceremonial architecture. there may be some evidence of fortifications or occasional warfare. Archaeological Correlates From an archaeological point of view. However. canals. and in which there are no sharp divisions of rank. Although it is a common assumption that long-distance trade and communal labor projects had to have been administrated by a centralized authority. one in which the emergence of stratification and social classes is not considered to be inevitable. XXV).unlike the chiefdom -. and increasing social complexity. under the direction of temporary leadership. but that they are not an expected outcome of this form of social organization given its capacity to diffuse centralizing tendencies. or monuments can be erected in the absence of a permanent leader. Evidence for social differentiation in the absence of a permanent.

: University Press of America). C. MORGAN. KUS 1977 Some Archaeological Correlates of Ranked Societies. eds. 1977 A Reappraisal of Redistribution: Complex Hawaiian Chiefdoms. American Antiquity 42(3):421-448.E. (New York: Columbia University Press). (New York: Oxford University Press). M. Paper presented at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. M. 1940b The Nuer. eds. The Notion of Tribe. HANSELL. AND J. (New York: Oxford University Press). ed. (New York: Academic Press). 1987 Chiefdoms in Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Perspective. (New York).E.Hoopes . JUDITH. Toronto. JOHN W. AND SUSAN M. CREAMER. DAVID P. Renfrew. Ericson. In: Theory and Explanation in Archaeology. AND MICHAEL GESELOWITZ 1987 Where's the Chief?: The Archaeology of Complex Tribes. T. (Menlo Park: Cummings). EVANSPRITCHARD. NEITZEL 1984 Too Many Types: An Overview of Prestate Sedentary Societies in the Americas. (New York: Academic Press). 1940 African Political Systems. Rowlands. (Lanham. Drennan and C. eds. MARSHALL 1961 The Segmentary Lineage: An Organization of Predatory Expansion. PEEBLES. eds. American Antiquity 50(4):738-754. eds.. G. MORTON 1960 On the Evolution of Social Stratification and the State. . CARNEIRO. 7. 1972 The Cultural Evolution of Civilizations. Annual Review of Anthropology 16:279-308. In: Culture in History. Earle and J. FEINMAN. HOOPES. SAHLINS. S. In: African Political Systems. Kautz. JOHNSON. In: Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory. May 6-10. T. GREGORY 1982 Organizational Structure and Scalar Stress. CHRISTOPHER S. Uribe. EVANS-PRITCHARD. (New York: Random House). MEYER AND E. Jones and R.E. 1981 The Chiefdom as Precursor to the State. Diamond. 1975 HABICHT-MAUCHE. G. 1967 The Evolution of Political Society: An Essay in Political Anthropology. Evans-Pritchard. E. KENT V. LEWIS HENRY 1877 Ancient Society. Seagraves. Vol. R. Fortes and E. R.6 BRAUN. and B. PATRICIA 1987 The Formative in Central Pacific Panama: La Mula-Sarigua. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). M. ed. 1940a The Nuer of the Southern Sudan. In: Chiefdoms in the Americas. EARLE. Md. In: The Transition to Statehood in the New World. WINIFRED AND JONATHAN HAAS 1985 Tribe Versus Chiefdom in Lower Central America. American Antiquity 47(3):504-525. (New York: Academic Press). In: Exchange Systems in Prehistory. AND STEPHEN PLOG 1982 Evolution of "Tribal" Social Networks: Theory and Prehistoric North American Evidence. FORTES. FLANNERY. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 3:399-426. FRIED. (New York: Oxford University Press). Schiffer. EDS.

STEPONAITIS. Big Man. Comparative Studies in Society and History 5:285-303. SERVICE. VINCAS 1978 Settlement Hierarchies and Political Complexity in Nonmarket Societies: The Formative Period in the Valley of Mexico. CHARLES 1987 Rethinking the Chiefdom. (New York: Random House). Rich Man. ELMAN T. Stone Age Economics. Md. (New York: Aldine). 1975 Origins of the State and Civilization. R. 1963 Poor Man. Drennan and C.7 American Anthropologist 63:322345. American Anthropologist 83:320-363. In: Chiefdoms in the Americas. eds. 1972 SPENCER. . 1962 Primitive Social Organization. Uribe. (Lanham.Hoopes . (New York: Norton).: University Press of America). Chief: Political Types in Melanesia and Polynesia.

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