A Review: Part 2

The challenge for this week’s blog post it to find, annotate, and review three articles from anthropological journals. For obvious reasons, I have selected articles I think will be pertinent and helpful to the writing of my final paper for this course which I discussed earlier in the blog post “Reflections on Archaeological Theory” published here. One of the goals of my writing project is to review contemporary literature in the spatio-temporal context of my research, the early Archaic Period of the south-central Andes, to see how authors today are, or aren’t, challenging the “canonical” ecological narrative. As such, I have chosen three recently published journal articles that deal with early hunter-gatherer studies, two of which focus on early Paleoindian sites in south-central Andes, encompassing various frames of my research. These include “Entrenched Disbelief: Complex Hunter-Gatherers and the Case for Inclusive Cultural Evolutionary Thinking” (2016), by Arnold et al., published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, “Cordage, Textiles, and the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Andes” (2011), by Jolie et al., published in Current Anthropology and “Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Fishing Strategies at Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, Southern Perú” (2016), by Reitz et al., published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. As I have been reading a number of broad theoretical papers and reviews lately, the two articles that deal with a similar context of my research, Jolie et al. and Reitz et al., are case studies. I specifically chose these in order to explore how some of the contemporary concepts and approaches I have reviewed are being put into practice.

Arnold, J. E., S. Sunell, B. T. Nigra, K. J. Bishop, T. Jones, and T. J. A. B. Bongers
2016  Entrenched Disbelief: Complex Hunter-Gatherers and the Case for Inclusive Cultural Evolutionary Thinking. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(2): 448–499. 

Keywords: sedentism, agriculture, complex hunter-gatherer, political complexity, sociopolitical, cultural evolution, model, emergent complexity,

The main purpose of this article is to critique agriculture-based models which argue that the adoption of domesticates was necessary for the development and emergence of political complexity. Arnold et al. argue, using a number of examples documenting “… politically complex hunter-gatherer (CHG) societies… ” (488), that reliance upon agriculture, or any specific subsistence intensification (i.e. fishing, herding, etc.), was not necessary for the emergence of social and political complexity. In addition, they identify a number of individuals that were seminal to the development of such models which today continue to position intensification as foundational to everything complex. In an outright rejection of these interpretations, Arnold et al. offer a new model to give structure to the discussion of cultural evolution that excises intensification a necessary to social and political complexity. The key tenants of their new model are that it is inclusive (i.e. encourages discourse of all societies), nonprogressive (does not emphasize change, improvement or “progress”), and works in any spatio-temporal cultural context. Arnold et al. argue that any and all sociopolitical contexts and issues can be discussed via consideration of seven particular platforms. In no particular order, they include agency and authority, social differentiation, participation in communal events, organization of production, labor obligations, articulation of ecology and subsistence, and territoriality and ownership. To demonstrate their model, the authors re-evaluate case studies that have been used to argue for intensification-based models and show that, rather than diet, the organization and integration of labor was critical to the emergence of political complexity.

This article presents the most forward argument out of all the papers this week. It is an outright attack on intensification-based models of emergent political complexity while providing and demonstrating, in my opinion, a strong theoretical and practical alternative. Although the article is focused on breaking down intensification-based models, the real triumph was that it demonstrated how to look for and identify social and political structure in hunter-gatherer societies. This is valuable and pertinent to my writing project because I am interested in exploring, from a human-centric perspective, ancient social and political economies in deep-time and Arnold et al. essentially provide here a model/framework from which to do so.

Jolie, E. A., T. F. Lynch, P. R. Geib, and J. M. Adovasio
2011  Cordage, Textiles, and the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Andes. Current Anthropology 52(2): 285–296.

Keywords: Guitarrero Cave, Pleistocene, gender, textile, cordage, Andes,  

The overarching issue being addressed in this article is how and when humans colonized Andean South America. Jolie et al. note that this is poorly understood because of a number of controversial archaeological dates and uncertainty about the constraining influence of environmental factors, such as the presence of glaciers in the highlands during the Pleistocene. This paper specifically addresses this issue through a re-evaluation of woven textiles and cords recovered from Guitarrero Cave (2580 masl), a high-altitude late Pleistocene dated archaeological site in the Peruvian Andes. The direct dating results reported by Jolie et al. show that the textiles and cordage are the earliest in the Andes dating to ~12,000 B.P., in part revising Guitarrero early controversial dates. Jolie et al. argue that the textiles, cordage, and “additional evidence for plant processing and fiber-artifact construction suggests a women’s presence among these earliest foraging groups” (285). The competing argument is that environmental conditions and the effects of hypoxia limited occupation of the highlands to small groups of male foragers until ~11,000 B.P. when evidence for permanent highland settlement emerges (285). However, Jolie et al. argue if women were responsible for the textile production and plant-processing evidenced at Guitarrero Cave, as ethnographic data would suggest, they were likely present among foraging groups in the highlands up to a millennium earlier than previously argued. In summary, the authors’ results refine our understanding of the timing of high-altitude colonization of the Andes, illustrate the diversity of technological adaptations that made high-altitude colonization possible, and may indicate the gender of the people who produced said technologies.

This journal article is valuable to my reading project and my M.A. research for a number of reasons. First, it contains a fantastic summary (with key references) of early Archaic Period south-central Andes “canonical” literature and arguments. In addition, there is an abundance of relevant paleoethnobotanical information and references relating to the analyses of botanical remains recovered from Guitarrero Cave and other early Andean sites, many of which are considered the earliest wild plants in South America. Second, this article critically addresses a number of current issues in the study of early Archaic Period peoples of the south-central Andes that intersect with studies. Specifically, the overemphasis of environmental and biological factors as constraining the initial settlement of the high-altitude Andes. Finally, I found this paper to be a great example of how to put a human-centric perspective into practice. In my opinion, Jolie et al. successfully manage to interpret potential early Archaic Period identity, a notoriously difficult endeavor, using ethnohistoric analogy – a strategy I am currently considering. 

Reitz, E. J., H. E. McInnis, D. H. Sandweiss, and S. D. deFrance
2016  Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Fishing Strategies at Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, Southern Perú. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 8: 447–453.

 Keywords: Americas, coast, maritime, strategy, social economy, economic economy, subsistence, agency, south-central Andes, Pleistocene, Quebrada Jaguay, Ring Site

In this journal article Reitz et al. argue that current discussions regarding the peopling of the Americas tend to presume that early Paleoindian peoples preferred terrestrial over marine resources and reference “simple models” that assume universal subsistence strategies and stark dichotomies “fail to capture the richness of human solutions to life on this, or any, coast” (447). Using Louis Binford as their entry point, they summarize, discuss, and provide relevant literature for the opposing arguments regarding the importance of marine resources for to early Paleoindian peoples (447). The authors compare and contrast two archaeological sites, Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site in southern Peru, to inform their argument. Reitz et al. employ zooarchaeological analysis to show that, although marine resources were central to the economies of each site, slightly different strategies were practiced at each location regardless of their close proximity to each other and access to similar resources. Based on this evidence, they argue that “[p]eople at these two sites made distinct economic decisions, using similar marine resources in dissimilar ways” (448). Reitz et al. argue that this unequivocally shows that maritime resources were adequate to support human life as early as the late Pleistocene and that we must now consider the diversity of ways in which people “met the challenges of coastal life” (448).

This journal article is valuable to my writing project and M.A. research for a number of reasons. First, although making a general argument about the peopling of the Americas, Reitz et al. focus on the spatio-temporal context of my research; late Pleistocene cultures of the south-central Andes. The sites discussed in particular, Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, are intimately interconnected with my research location, the Cuncaicha Rockshelter. Second, my paleoethnobotanical M.A. research at Cuncaicha hopes to contribute to a better understanding of ancient social and economic organization and Reitz et al. argue that the inhabitants of the sites discussed made distinct localized economic decisions. I think the real value for this argument came from the zooarchaeological analysis. At a glance it would appear that Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site are fairly similar in that they both show evidence for a maritime subsistence strategy, but when you analyze the localized contextual details (i.e. zooarchaeological and paleoenvironmental analyses) important distinctions appear. What does this say about the social and political structure/organization of these groups? Finally, the authors also touch on the fact that seasonality and population density data from the sites discussed is needed to determine “the role of these sites in a regional social and economic network”. This is relevant as my research at Cuncaicha, specifically the identification of plant taxa and the relevant maturation data, will provide some of the needed data to infer seasonality data for Cuncaicha. This is a good example of a departure from the “canonical” ecological rut in that it challenges arguments that downplay the importance of human agency or use “simple models” that strip early Paleoindian peoples of their rich complexities.

To include a few quick concluding notes, an interesting issue I found with all of these journal articles that I did not notice when I began is that because they are so recently published they have cited by relatively few. As such, it is difficult to gague the reception of these papers among the academic community of the discipline at this particular point. Nonetheless, I look forward to using the annotations and reviews presented here to aid in the writing of my course paper and thesis.