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The Archaeology of Kinship

Advancing Interpretation and Contributions to Theory

Bradley E. Ensor

Publication Year: 2013

Archaeology has been subjected to a wide range of misunderstandings of kinship theory and many of its central concepts. Demonstrating that kinship is the foundation for past societies’ social organization, particularly in non-state societies, Bradley E. Ensor offers a lucid presentation of kinship principles and theories accessible to a broad audience. He provides not only descriptions of what the principles entail but also an understanding of their relevance to past and present topics of interest to archaeologists. His overall goal is always clear: to illustrate how kinship analysis can advance archaeological interpretation and how archaeology can advance kinship theory.
The Archaeology of Kinship supports Ensor’s objectives: to demonstrate the relevance of kinship to major archaeological questions, to describe archaeological methods for kinship analysis independent of ethnological interpretation, to illustrate the use of those techniques with a case study, and to provide specific examples of how diachronic analyses address broader theory. As Ensor shows, archaeological diachronic analyses of kinship are independently possible, necessary, and capable of providing new insights into past cultures and broader anthropological theory. Although it is an old subject in anthropology, The Archaeology of Kinship can offer new and exciting frontiers for inquiry.
Kinship research in general—and prehistoric kinship in particular—is rapidly reemerging as a topical subject in anthropology. This book is a timely archaeological contribution to that growing literature otherwise dominated by ethnology.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

...During recent conferences and lectures where I presented on kinship to archaeological audiences, a common set of comments emerged, which I keep anonymous and paraphrase here. “Wow, ‘kinship,’ that takes me back!” “I never realized kinship addressed that!” “I always thought kinship was confusing and not approachable so I never thought about it...

I. Introduction

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-9

...Kinship research follows major theoretical trends in anthropology. Evolutionism attempted to associate forms of family organization, kin terminology, technology, and subsistence to characterize unilinear stages of human development. Functionalism viewed kin groups as sources of property and social support. Cognitivists focused...

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2. The Importance of Kinship in Archaeology

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pp. 10-27

...Archaeology has an unnecessary uncomfortable relationship with kinship research. Periods when kinship was considered are marked by optimism followed by pessimism, and the sources of the latter attitudes should be addressed at the outset of a book on the subject. Nevertheless, kinship continues to appear in archaeological literature because it is indeed...

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3. The Hohokam

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pp. 28-36

...This chapter provides a general background to Hohokam archaeology for readers unfamiliar with that region. The Hohokam were a major archaeological culture of the US Southwest occupying much of the Sonoran Desert region in central and southern Arizona. The Phoenix Basin, emphasized here, comprises the lower Salt and middle Gila Rivers...

II. Households

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4. Household-Scale Social Organization

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pp. 39-58

...This chapter describes the kinds of social groups that own household resources and reside at households. Postmarital residence strategies are used to form, perpetuate, or modify corporate resource-bearing groups. This does not mean that postmarital residence strategies determine the makeup of the social groups; one could argue it is the other way around...

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5. Archaeological Analysis of Household-Scale Social Organization

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pp. 59-68

...Chapter 4 provided the descriptions of the major categories of household groups and associated residential groups formed through postmarital residence. This chapter focuses on the ways that archaeologists may interpret postmarital residence strategies and their associated household groups. Direct historical analogy, inferences from kinship terminology...

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6. Hohokam Households

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pp. 69-106

...Although Hohokam dwelling sizes and spatial arrangements have been scrutinized for decades, the approaches, assumptions, and objectives were significantly different than those advocated here. Hohokam archaeologists have not designed their analyses to identify specific forms of residential groups. Wilcox et al.’s (1981) analyses established the tradition...

III. Descent Groups

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7. Descent Group Organization

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pp. 109-140

...Descent groups provide access to collective resources and networks of social support. They are corporate groups. They are the reasons for recognizing descent (matrilineal, patrilineal, or ambilineal) to ancestors who provided the group’s resources. This chapter begins with the relationships between household groups and descent groups. Matrilineal, patrilineal, and ambilineal descent groups are described in more detail...

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8. Archaeological Analysis of Descent Group Organization

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pp. 141-160

...This chapter describes the middle-range approaches by which archaeologists can identify descent groups, or bilateral descent, which are applied to the case study in Chapter 9. The chapter begins with a discussion on the relationships between residential groups and descent groups and solutions that can guide archaeological interpretation of descent groups...

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9. Hohokam Descent Groups

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pp. 161-194

...Hohokam archaeologists have made only limited attempts to interpret descent groups. As was the case with household-scale organization, there are occasional vague interpretations of possible descent groups. Wilcox (1991) suggests that compounds in the Civano phase may indicate “corporate groups.” Wilcox et al. (1981), Henderson (1987b:10), and Clark and Gilman (2012:64) suggest that village segments may indicate...

IV. Marriage, Political Economy, and Transformations

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10. The Political Economy of Kinship and Marriage

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pp. 197-225

...Parts II and III describe different social organizational strategies and their archaeological interpretation. Part IV focuses on the political economic dynamics of kinship and marriage systems. This chapter describes a political economic perspective on kinship leading to hypotheses on change for three categories of social organization and marriage: descent...

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11. Archaeological Analysis of Marriage and Political Economy

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pp. 226-234

...To interpret the political economies described in Chapter 10, archaeologists need to focus on aspects of social organization, ceremonial organization, and surplus production. Social organization, and particularly the presence or absence of descent groups, can inform on which marriage system was practiced. The marriage systems also have implications on...

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12. Hohokam Marriage, Political Economies, and Transformations

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pp. 235-254

...Hohokam archaeologists have paid a great deal of attention to patterns in ceremonial behavior, craft production and exchange, and storage and food processing. In their impressive tradition of analyzing these elements of material culture in relation to spatial units (courtyard groups, village segments, and settlements) in addition to regional analyses, their results...

V. Contributions of Kinship Research

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13. New Insights on the Hohokam

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pp. 257-271

...This chapter focuses on how the kinship analyses have advanced interpretations on the prehispanic Hohokam. It describes where we were previously to where we have arrived through kinship analysis. Prior vague interpretations are replaced by specific identifications of social organization and dynamics. In many of the phases, corporate strategies...

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14. Archaeological Contributions to Kinship Theory

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pp. 272-298

...This chapter is devoted to archaeological testing of ethnologically derived hypotheses on kinship. As described in Chapter 2, much knowledge on kinship is derived from cross-cultural comparisons of cultures existing during the periods of ethnography, after their “traditional” kinship systems had developed or were already undergoing substantial changes through depopulation or expanding global capitalism. The...

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15. New Frontiers in Kinship Research

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pp. 299-306

...This book begins with a defensive argument that kinship should be important to archaeologists. The pessimism within archaeology on the possibilities to address kinship is argued to be based on misunderstandings of the subject matter. Kinship analysis is then argued to be relevant to a wide range of topics in contemporary archaeology, followed by a...


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pp. 307-318

References Cited

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pp. 319-346


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pp. 347-354

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About the Author

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p. 355-355

...Dr. Bradley E. Ensor received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Florida in 2003 and is currently a professor at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology of Eastern Michigan University. His areas of research include Mesoamerica and North America with a focus in political economy, kinship, and social organization through...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599264
E-ISBN-10: 0816599262
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530540
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530548

Page Count: 367
Illustrations: 34 lines, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2013