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Ancient Households of the Americas

Conceptualizing What Households Do

Edited by John G. Douglass and Nancy Gonlin

Publication Year: 2012

In Ancient Households of the Americas archaeologists investigate the fundamental role of household production in ancient, colonial, and contemporary households. Several different cultures—Iroquois, Coosa, Anasazi, Hohokam, San Agustín, Wankarani, Formative Gulf Coast Mexico, and Formative, Classic, Colonial, and contemporary Maya—are analyzed through the lens of household archaeology in concrete, data-driven case studies. The text is divided into three sections: Section I examines the spatial and social organization and context of household production; Section II looks at the role and results of households as primary producers; and Section III investigates the role of, and interplay among, households in their greater political and socioeconomic communities. In the past few decades, household archaeology has made substantial contributions to our understanding and explanation of the past through the documentation of the household as a social unit—whether small or large, rural or urban, commoner or elite. These case studies from a broad swath of the Americas make Ancient Households of the Americas extremely valuable for continuing the comparative interdisciplinary study of households.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

The idea for this volume originated over a decade ago, in 1999–2000, when John Douglass was finishing a year as a visiting assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside. During that time, he organized a session for the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in New ...

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pp. xvii-xx

First and foremost, we thank all of the contributors to this volume, who have made it a success. They have waited patiently for the publication of their work and we sincerely appreciate their tolerance. Darrin Pratt of the University Press of Colorado embraced this project from the beginning and has been a source of ...

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1. The Household as Analytical Unit

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pp. 1-44

The study of that small, but universal, component of society, the household, is now a global pursuit. Scientists who work in all parts of the world are addressing diverse research concerns for various times and places (see, e.g., Beck 2007; Carballo 2011; Christie and Sarro 2006; Falconer 1994; Fortier et al. 1989; Hendon ...

Section 1. Household Production Organization

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2. Occupation Span and the Organization of Residential Activities

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pp. 47-78

The anthropological study of households was revitalized during the 1980s when researchers began to examine household organization from a behavioral perspective (Netting, Wilk, and Arnould 1984a; see also Douglass and Gonlin, this volume). Archaeology was well equipped to meet the challenge posed by this ...

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3. Production and Consumption in the Countryside

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pp. 79-116

Producer households are the backbone of agrarian societies and make up the bulk of the domestic economy, an observation that holds through time and space.1 Anthropologists routinely investigate the nature of production, its organization, what goods or services are produced and by whom, and whether the...

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4. Iroquoian Households

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pp. 117-140

In the seventeenth century the Mohawks were the easternmost of five Iroquois nations strung in an east-west line across what is now the state of New York. West of them resided the Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, from east to west. They were the five nations of the League of the Iroquois, a weak confederation...

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5. Activity Areas and Households in the Late Mississippian Southeast United States

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pp. 141-162

The topics of household archaeology, activity area analysis, and gender research are combined here to explore production at the household level. Prehistoric Late Mississippian households in the southeast United States comprised men, women, and children performing activities within and around their domestic structures. Outside of the much-debated realm of specialized production of elite...

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6. The Social Evolution of Potters’ Households in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico, 1965–1997

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pp. 163-188

This chapter provides two answers to the question, What do households do? First, their members participate in craft activities, and second, the social composition of these craft households evolves and changes through time. One type of craft activity that households practice is pottery making, but what happens to...

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7. Pots and Agriculture

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pp. 189-218

Household ceramic production is of keen interest to scholars, both in prehistory and in contemporary contexts (D. Arnold 1985, this volume; P. Arnold 1991; Bernardini 2000; Cordell 1997; González Fernández, this volume; Hagstrum 2001; Hill 1994; Mills and Crown 1995; Roux 2003; Spielmann, Mobley-Tanaka, ...

Section 2. Households as Primary Producers

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8. Hohokam Household Organization, Sedentism, and Irrigation in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona

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pp. 221-268

Studies of Hohokam households have most often focused on identifying and describing them as elements of the distinctive social structure that emerged in the low desert areas of the Southwest. Such studies have generally taken a static view that emphasizes continuity through time and space. Recent anthropological...

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9. Understanding Households on Their Own Terms

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pp. 269-298

This chapter applies the ethnographic model by Wilk and Netting (1984) of household economic organization, which predicts how households will internally organize production given differences in household sizes, to an archaeological study of household variability at K’axob, Belize. In presenting this study, I...

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10. Late Classic Period Terrace Agriculture in the Lowland Maya Area

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pp. 299-322

The subject of this chapter is the organization of Late Classic period (ca. AD 550–800) ancient lowland Maya terrace agricultural activity. Agricultural terraces are embankments, typically constructed of stone but at times made of wood or augmented by living plants, placed perpendicular to hill slopes or drainages...

Section 3. Inter- and Intrahousehold Organization of Production

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11. Fluctuating Community Organization

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pp. 325-352

In many Formative Mesoamerican communities multifamily corporate groups emerged following the transition to sedentism (Flannery 2002). When surface remains of artifacts and architecture are detectable, aspects of social organization can be inferred. However, in some regions, recovering evidence of household and community organization is difficult because of the perishable nature of...

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12. Relationships among Households in the Prehispanic Community of Mesitas in San Agustín, Colombia

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pp. 353-380

In the Alto Magdalena region, in southwestern Colombia, the development of communities at the core of small polities back to around 1000 BC have been traced in regional settlement-pattern surveys. Since that time, groups of households began to cluster together around places that were to become the central mounded funerary sites of the San Agustín chiefdoms during the regional Classic...

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13. Interhousehold versus Intracommunity Comparisons

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pp. 381-406

Most prehistoric agro-pastoral households farmed, herded domesticated animals, witnessed or perhaps hosted rituals, produced and consumed trade goods, and made a variety of utilitarian implements. This range of activities made up the domestic economy, which can be divided into production (control of food and craft goods, subsuming farming, herding, storage, processing, and manufacturing),...

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14. Arrobas, Fanegas, and Mantas

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pp. 407-436

In 1546 the Yucatán peninsula was officially deemed conquered and claimed for the Spanish Crown (Chamberlain 1948). On the Yucatán peninsula, there were no rich mineral resources that resulted in the Spanish appropriating land; therefore, the Maya were able to maintain control of the means of production. Instead, the Spanish colonists appropriated Yucatec Maya household labor and their products...


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pp. 437-438


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pp. 439-448

E-ISBN-13: 9781607321743
E-ISBN-10: 1607321742
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321736
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321734

Page Count: 472
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 72 line drawings, 13 maps, 31 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 781636144
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ancient Households of the Americas

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Americax -- Antiquities.
  • Indians -- Dwellings.
  • Land settlement patterns -- America -- History.
  • Social archaeology -- America -- History.
  • Home economics -- America -- History.
  • Indians -- Antiquities.
  • Households -- America -- History.
  • Indians -- Social life and customs.
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