Nested Networks and Semiperipheral Development in the Prehistoric
a Comparative World-Systems Approach
College Building South
An earlier version was presented at the workshop on ‘analyzing complex macrosystems as dynamic networks” at the Santa Fe Institute, April 29-30, 2004. (9022 words) draft v. 6-23-06
Keywords: world-systems, interaction networks, regions, chiefdoms
Place-centric interaction networks are arguably the best way to bound human systemic processes because approaches that attempt to define regions or areas based on attributes necessarily assume homogenous characteristics, whereas interaction itself often produces differences rather than similarities (Chase-Dunn and Jorgenson 2003). The culture area approach that has become institutionalized in the study of the pre-Columbian Americas is impossible to avoid (as below), but the point needs to be made that important interactions occur across the boundaries of the designated regions and interaction within regions produces differences as well as similarities. Networks are the best way to bound systems, but since all actors interact with their neighbors, a place-centric (or object-centric) approach that estimates the fall-off of interactional significance is also required.
The comparative world-systems approach (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997) has adapted the concepts used to study the modern system for the purpose of using world-systems as the unit of analysis in the explanation of human social evolution. Nested networks are used to bound systemic interaction because different kinds of interaction (exchange of bulk goods, fighting and allying, long-distance trade and information flows) have different spatial scales. Core/periphery relations are of great interest but the existence of core/periphery hierarchy is not presumed. Rather the question of exploitation and domination needs to be asked at each of the network levels. Some systems may be based primarily on equal interdependence or equal contests, while others will display hierarchy and power-dependence relations. It should not be assumed that earlier systems are similar to the modern global system in this regard. Rather it should be a question for research on each system.
The comparative world-systems theoretical framework contends that whole world-systems are the best unit of analysis for explaining human sociocultural evolution. One of the strongest supports for this claim is the observation that semiperipheral societies are most often the agents of transformation of culture, technology and forms of power. This is called the hypothesis of “semiperipheral development.” Without looking at intersocietal relations it is impossible to see this phenomenon and therefore it is impossible to comprehend a very basic structural feature of socio-cultural evolution.
premodern interaction networks have observe a recurrent pattern of pulsation
in which networks expand and contract over time. Expansions of interaction
networks occasionally grow greatly in spatial scale to create relatively vast
new linkages across previously unconnected spaces. The phenomenon of waves of
network integration can be seen in prehistoric
Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) propose an explanation of human social evolution that combines transformations of systemic logic across rather different modes of accumulation with an underlying “iteration model” that posits causal relations among population growth, intensification, population pressure, migration, circumscription, conflict and hierarchy formation and technological change. It is an interaction model because the outcomes (hierarchy formation and technological development) have a positive effect on population growth, and so the model predicts a spiral of world-system expansions.
A number of important exogenous variable affect the iteration model. Climate change is mainly an exogenous variable, though local climate may have also been impacted by societies in the past, and is quite certainly being impacted in the present. Geographical conditions can facilitate or hinder the emergence of larger polities. Zoological and botanical capital can speed up processes of technological development by providing species that are easily domesticated by humans. And natural capital scarcity can also slow down technological change.
The long-distance diffusion of domesticated crops and animals, and of technological and religious ideas from distant systems can have huge exogenous consequences for a local world-system just as being hit by an asteroid has an exogenous impact on biological systems. The idea of a system refers to endogenous processes. We can make a theory of endogenous processes without hypothesizing a completely closed system as long as we have clear ideas about how exogenous impacts work. A world-system is a whole system of human interaction in the sense that interactions are two-way and that encounters occur relatively frequently. Very intermittent incursions or pandemic diseases can impact upon a system from without. These possibilities of exogenous impacts on local and regional systems need to be taken into account in order to fairly test evolutionary causal models of endogenous processes such as the iteration and transformation model proposed below.
It does not make
sense to ask how many world-systems there were in prehistoric
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
suggestion that "culture areas" -- the culturally similar regions
designated by anthropologists (e.g.
Humans came across the Aleutian land bridge at least thirteen thousand years ago. An 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.
the region that became the United States so-called Paleo-Indian used large
distinctively fluted stone spear points known as Clovis points
over a wide region of North America.
Archaeologists think that the peoples who lived during the epoch they
call “Paleo-Indian” (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. In the case
of the Paleo-Indian archaeologists disagree about whether or not there was
trade among groups. Many
general model of social evolution that has most often been applied to
The notion of widely nomadic populations becoming gradually more
sedentary is related to the problem of cultural differences, social identities
and territoriality. Archaeologists note
that stylistic differences among groups became more pronounced as nomadic
circuits became smaller and sedentism developed. This is interpreted as the
formation of local cultural identities by which people distinguished their own
communities from those of their neighbors.
The wide circles of year nomadic treks of the Paleo-Indians with their
Most of the research on the Southwest that
explicitly uses world-systems concepts has focused on relations among societies
within the Southwest (e.g. Upham 1982; Spielmann 1991; Baugh 1991; Wilcox 1991,
McGuire 1993, 1996), but there has also been an important literature on the
relationship between the Southwest and
There are several culture areas within the Southwest. The main centers that developed
political complexity based on maize planting about 1100 years ago were the Hohokam in Arizona, the Anasazi Chacoan polities and a few centuries later, Paquime (Casas Grandes) in Northern Chihuahua about 200 kilometers south of Chaco Canyon (see Figure 1). Other important archaeologically known cultures in the region are Mogollon and Mimbres.
Figure 1: Southwestern macroregion and adjacent regions
The maize-growing ancestors of the historically known
Pueblo Indians are called the Anasazi – the “people of old” by the Navaho. At
Stephen Lekson (1999) has formulated an explanation for
the rise and fall sequence of the Southwest that focuses on the significance of
what he calls the “Chaco Meridian.”
Lekson sees immense significance in the geographical aspects of the great
straight roads that radiated from the ritual center of
Lekson makes much of the observation that Casas
Grandes, though 200 kilometers to the south of
David Wilcox’s (1999) interpretation of the hegemonic rise and falls in the Southwest posits a system of competing polities that succeed one another rather than the adaptation of a single cultural group that moves its center of operation. It is, of course, possible that newly emergent groups tried to appropriate the spiritual power and legitimacy of earlier dynasties. This phenomenon is well known from state-based systems. So it is possible that Wilcox’s scenario can also account for the phenomenon of the Chaco Meridian.
The debate over the nature of Southwestern complex
polities is reminiscent of similar controversies about Mississippian complex
chiefdoms. Wilcox points out that chiefdoms may be organized either around a
single sacred chief who symbolizes the apex of a polity or they may take a
different form that he calls “group-oriented” that is organized around a
council of chiefs. Few examples of elite
burials are found in the Southwest (though this may partly be a consequence of
the existence of cremation rituals). Wilcox contends that the polity that
But while Wilcox sees the Chacoan phenomenon as
involving a core/periphery hierarchy based on tribute-gathering, his
characterization of the Hohokam phenomenon in
(1996) comparison of the Southwest with other
But Feinman, Nicholas and Upham (1996), in
their explicitly world-systemic comparison of
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 might have developed into systemic exchange (core-periphery differentiation in world-system 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 supplement food supplies during periods of scarcity.
The issue of pacific vs. conflictive relations
between horticulturalists and foragers has been raised in many other contexts. Gregg’s
(1988) discussion of the expansion of gardening into
One hypothesis that stems from the iteration model of world-systems evolution (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: Chapter 6) is that all systems go through cycles of increase and decrease in the level of conflict among societies. Farmer/forager interactions are more likely to be symbiotic under conditions of low population pressure, but when ecological degradation, climate change 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 will reduce the population and a period of relative peace will return.
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
Little is known archaeologically about nomad-nomad relations in the Southwest. Some of the nomadic groups may have been recent arrivals (Wilcox 1981a). Baugh (1991) and Wilcox (1991) suggest that trade among nomadic foragers was an alternative to centralization in stabilizing volatile food supplies. 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.
The nested network approach to bounding world-systems 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. Some of the earliest explicit usage of world-systems concepts by archaeologists (Whitecotton and Pailes 1986; Weigand and Harbottle 1977) were arguments that the Southwest constituted a periphery of the Mesoamerican world-system.
has been a huge controversy about the importance or unimportance of links
between the U.S. Southwest and
That there were at least
some connections between the Greater Southwest and
Late Mississippian chiefdoms such as that at
The evidence of turquoise sourcing shows that
there was definitely trade between highland
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 Spaniards in the sixteenth century and rapidly adopted by nomadic 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 they 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 (Vehik and Baugh 1994). 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. And this was contemporaneous with declines in the Southwest. A
fascinating instance of synchronous growth/decline phases of cities and empires
in East and West Asia from 650 BCE to 1500 CE (Chase-Dunn, Manning and Hall
2000) suggests the possibility of similar synchronies in the growth/decline
sequences in the
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 land-locked 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 that emphasizes the importance of social adaptations to the local environment. Julian Steward, a major figure in the development of cultural ecology (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. The ecological constraints on human societies are dramatic in the basin and range geography studied by Stewart.
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
horticulturalists and pot-makers, called the
Steward’s (1938) analysis shows that the
local sedentary 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 would have needed to protect their resources from intruders. They
developed political organization to regulate internal access, but also to
protect from external appropriation.
Steward argues 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
As for the peripheral peoples, their culture, as Steward (1938) says, was primarily “gastric” -- focused on food. In order to not starve they needed to cache enough food to survive through the winter. The key food for this purpose was the nut from the cone of the Pinion pine. These were available for harvest in the fall. Pinion nut crops varied greatly from location to location and 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 stands.
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
and Hughes (1987) show that an olivella shell-based 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
section considers the whole
We have already mentioned the
studies of trade linkages between
Interaction Nets over the Long Run
Rather than a simple model of interaction nets getting larger, the sequence found in several North American regions shows a more complicated pattern. The “settlement systems” of nomads were spatially huge as they ranged over great territories. As population density increased these nomadic ranges became smaller until the transition to sedentism emerged. The first sedentary societies had very small interaction nets, but these got larger and then smaller again, and then once again larger. This is network pulsation.
The early Paleo-Indians
were explorers and colonizers of land that was yet uninhabited. They chased
herds of big game, and they also tended to concentrate in areas that had
greater amounts of game and other foods (
A kind of
territoriality emerged among nomads, but it was probably not well institutionalized.
We do not know whether or not the Paleo-Indian pioneers brought with them a
cultural apparatus for claiming and defending collective territory. The
Polynesian pioneers of the Pacific brought with them an ancestral culture that
included the concepts of mana an tapu that
were the basis of sacred chiefdoms. The Polynesians temporarily abandoned
ceremony and hierarchy and to become egalitarian hunter-gatherers when they
landed on islands populated by large and delicious flightless megabirds (e.g.
Very likely the
interaction networks were large, especially for exchanging fine and useful
objects such as
The question of
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culture areas for which there are volumes of the Smithsonian Handbook of North American Indians are:
Multiscalar and multitemporal spatial analyses have been applied to the
Southeast and the
first Clovis points found near
 Ericson and Baugh (1993) and Baugh and Ericson (1994)
helpfully summarize the archaeological evidence and interpretations of the
relationship between changing trade networks and the rise and fall of societal
 Other sources on Plains - Pueblo interaction are Baugh (1984), Habicht-Mauche (1991), Spielmann (1989), Wilcox (1984), Wilcox and Masse (1981).
 In the
Aztec empire pochteca were important
agents of the king who were sent on distant missions to trade and to obtain
political and military intelligence. It is thought that earlier Mesoamerican
states such as the Toltecs also had long-distance specialists of this kind. The
most plausible explanation for Kaminaljuju, a city in
 Moieties are kinship groups organized as dualities. For example, the people of each village are divided into two kin-based groups.
 Mana is the powers of the universe as controlled and directed by the sacred chiefs. Kapu refers to the prohibitions (taboos) that protect sacredness. These important elements of ancestral Polynesian culture can be seen throughout the regions of the Pacific that became inhabited by Polynesians.