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Archaeological and Ethnographic Pespectives on Food, Politics, and Power

Michael Dietler, Brian Hayden

Publication Year: 2010

From the ancient Near East to modern-day North America, communal consumption of food and drink punctuates the rhythms of human societies. Feasts serve many social purposes, establishing alliances for war and marriage, mobilizing labor, creating political power and economic advantages, and redistributing wealth. In this collection of fifteen essays, archaeologists and ethnographers explore the material record of food and its consumption as social practice. They examine the locations of roasting pits, hearths, and refuse deposits, or the presence of special decorative ceramics, and infer ways in which feasting traditions reveal social structures of lineage, clan, moiety, and polity.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Digesting the Feast—Good to Eat, Good to Drink, Good to Think: An Introduction

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pp. 1-20

With apologies to Levi-Strauss for yet another usurping of his famous dictum, a central argument of this volume is surely that feasts are "good to think." Indeed, these chapters collectively indicate the appropriateness of this statement in two crucial senses. In the first place, they convincingly demonstrate that thinking about feasts can, ...

Part 1: Ethnographic Perspectives

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2. Fabulous Feasts: A Prolegomenon to the Importance of Feasting

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pp. 23-64

I am always a bit uncomfortable and self-conscious when people ask me what I am studying in my research in far-off lands. I anticipate the knowing smiles and mirthful expressions when I say that I am studying feasting. I can see that most people think that here is someone who has found a way to use taxpayer dollars to achieve personal bliss. ...

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3. Theorizing the Feast: Rituals Of Consumption, Commensal Politics, and Power in African Contexts

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pp. 65-114

"Feast" is an analytical rubric used to describe forms of ritual activity that involve the communal consumption of food and drink. Rituals of this kind play many important social, economic, and political roles in the lives of peoples around the world. As the chapters in this volume attest, recognition of this fact has been growing rapidly among archaeologists ...

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4. Of Feasting and Value: Enga Feasts in a Historical Perspective (Papua New Guinea)

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pp. 115-143

Papua New Guinea is at once the land of feasting and the land of political intrigue,1 and the two are intertwined. Virtually every event of importance is accompanied by feasting. and during feasts an array of strategies are played out. The strong political orientation of Papua New Guinea societies no doubt contributes ...

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5. Akha Feasting: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective

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pp. 144-167

This chapter presents the results of two field seasons (1996, 1997) of ethnoarchaeological research on the feasting practices of the Akha of Northern Thailand. The main argument that I will present is that the Akha place great importance on feasting in their society because (I) feasts function as social mechanisms ...

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6. Polynesian Feasting in Ethnohistoric, Ethnographic, and Archaeological Contexts: A Comparison of Three Societies

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pp. 168-184

What could be more visually evocative of a "classic" Polynesian scene than a feast? In the public mind. the Hawaiian lu'au has indeed become a potent symbol of Polynesian-ness. Yet the critical role of the feast in Polynesian societies is ethnographically and ethnohistorically verifiable (Bell 1931). not merely a late capitalist invention of the multinational tourist industry. ...

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7. Feasting for Prosperity: A Study of Southern Northwest Coast Feasting

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pp. 185-214

Feasts, potlatches, and related activities may have been significant factors in the transition from egalitarian to ranked societies (see Chapters 2, 3 and 9; also Clark and Blake 1994:17, 25, 28, 29; Hayden 1990:32,37, 1993:225, 1995:24,25,74). Thus, any inquiry into the emergence of socioeconomie inequality should include a study of feasting, potlatching, and related activities. ...

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8. The Big Drink: Feast and Forum in the Upper Amazon

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pp. 215-239

The feast—or its Spanish cognate la fiesta, which perhaps has a richer and more encompassing connotation—has long been a focus of anthropological inquiry. Yet feasts have been viewed in contrasting ways: as mechanisms for leveling or for accumulating wealth and power; as devices for aggregating dispersed populations or for reaffirming social distance ...

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9. Feasts and Labor Mobilization: Dissecting a Fundamental Economic Practice

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pp. 240-264

The use of feasts to mobilize collective labor has been a widespread and fundamental economic practice of societies around the world. In fact, variants of the practice are so strikingly omnipresent in the ethnographic and historical literature that a good case can be made for acknowledging it both as virtually a universal feature among agrarian societies ...

Part 2: Archaeological Perspectives

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10. The Evolution of Ritual Feasting Systems in Prehispanic Philippine Chiefdoms

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pp. 267-310

At the time of initial Spanish colonization. the Philippine archipelago had a political landscape composed of numerous coastal and riverine chiefdoms of varying scale and complexity that interacted through maritime trade. Archaeological evidence for status-related differences in burials and regional settlement hierarchies indicate ...

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11. Feasting and the Emergence of Platform Mound Ceremonialism in Eastern North America

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pp. 311-333

Freestanding platform mounds are a prominent feature of certain prehistoric sites in the southeastern United States belonging to the period roughly between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D. These Woodland period mounds are the earliest examples of the platform type found in the cultural chronology of the southeastern region. ...

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12. A Case of Ritual Feasting at the Cahokia Site

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pp. 334-367

The site of Cahokia is an early Mississippian (A.D. 1050-1350) center located in the American Bottom region of the central Mississippi River floodplain. Just east of St. Louis on the northern edge of Mississippian development. The Mississippian cultural tradition (A.D. 1000-1500) extends spatially over portions of the Midwest and Southeast United States (Fig. 12.1) ...

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13. Feasting on the Periphery: The Production of Ritual Feasting and Village Festivals at the Ceren Site, El Salvador

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pp. 368-390

In the Maya region, feasting was a pivotal component of rituals for the elite and non-elite alike. As noted by Bishop Diego de Landa, elite Maya rulers engaged in a form of competitive feasting and gift-giving with strict understandings for repayment. Social obligations were so embedded in sixteenth-century Maya elite consumption rituals ...

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14. Feasting in the Ancient Near East

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pp. 391-403

In the ancient Near East, the feast was a leitmotif in art (Collon 1992; Pinnock 1994) and cuneiform texts (Bottero 1994). Images carved in stone illustrate banquets of 4,500 years ago and economic tablets record the movement of goods they occasioned. In this paper, I draw information from both art and texts to assess the role of feasting in Sumer ...

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15. Garbage and the Modern American Feast

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pp. 404-422

The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, operated between 1914 and 1968, hosting a diverse cross-section of American music and dance, from Dixieland jazz. waltzes, and "old time" traditional (square) dancing to soul music and psychedelic light shows. Historian Tim Hills's (1997) monograph on the ballroom documents that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, ...


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pp. 423-431

Back Cover

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p. 446-446

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385385
E-ISBN-10: 081738538X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356415
Print-ISBN-10: 081735641X

Page Count: 444
Publication Year: 2010