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Equality and Inequality

Project description

Stone-pulling in Anakalang, West Sumba (Adams 2010, Fig. 32.2).

Studies on the influence of the construction-process of megalithic monuments on the socioeconomic structures of communities will be furthered within the project “Equality and Inequality”. Based on the integration of different social theories, a detailed analysis of recent megalith building communities and case studies from Neolithic Funnel Beaker communities will be made. In the processing and analysis of archaeological case studies, the data collected in the SPP form a good and comprehensive basis for further analyses. The economic and labour expenditure is seen as fundamental to the discussion of social and collaborative impacts of the construction of megalithic monuments. If the amount of work exceeds the capacity of a settlement community, cooperation with other communities may be necessary. That may affect, for example, the need for a surplus production.
The investigation of ethnographic case studies will include information from archives and ethnographies and, if possible, an expansion of the data base through own ethno-archaeological fieldwork. In this context, GIS-based spatial data and information concerning subsistence strategy and the economic resources of single households are particularly important. Besides, information on the organisation and execution of megalith building are of interest.

State of research

Possible interpretations and the integration of megalithic monuments in theoretical concepts have already been made in very different directions. Thereby, interpretations of the monuments as territorial markers (see Renfrew 1973/1976), as graves of different lineages, or as an expression of economic superiority and competition behaviour between communities (see Fleming 1973; Larsson 1985; Tilley 1996) play a role. This concepts and suggestions will be considered and evaluated regarding their applicability. This will be done with help of further theoretical approaches in order to expand the interpretative possibilities wherever possible.

A helpful approach to achieve such an expansion of interpretive approaches is the integration of ethnographic case studies. These case studies may provide clues to the processes and practices that are not tangible in the archaeological context. Areas of the rare examples with a living megalithic tradition are the Nagaland in Northeast-India and the island of Sumba, Indonesia. A fairly detailed, but also politically influenced, description of social structures and building traditions of the Naga can be found in the 1920-1940 published ethnographies of English scientists and colonial administrators (see Hutton 1921; Mills 1922; Mills 1937; von Fürer-Haimendorf 1939). These ethnographies also contain information on the occurring monument types, the construction period, as well as the participation of workers. Of special importance are always the “Feasts of Merit”. These festivities, or sequence of festivities, are arranged in a specific succession and are subject to strict rules and taboos. The right to build a megalithic monument is often associated with the execution of these “Feasts of Merit”. The exploration of northeast Indian megalithic tradition got little attention during the last decade (e.g. Ǻrhem 1988; Rao 1991) and has a high potential for further research.
On the contrary, research on Indonesian megalithic tradition was subject of several investigations in the recent past (see Adams 2009/2010; Hoskins 1986; Sukendar 1985). Equally to Nagaland, there is a close connection between megalith building and the organisation of big feasts or sequences of festivities. The erected dolmen-graves are on the one hand important points of reference of ancestor worship, on the other hand also visible signs of wealth and influence of the builder and/or the community. The building-process of these tombs is complicated and associated with different taboos and restrictions. All in all, the tradition of megalith building can be seen as an important means of social regulation and representation of competing individuals and communities.

The ethnographic examples show that sometimes the participation of workers outside the directly affected community is required. Especially for costly festivities a surplus production is sometimes needed and represents an important factor of social structures. Social recognition and influential positions are also generated in conjunction with the arrangement of festivities and megalithic construction. Accordingly, these practices are an important element of social differentiation processes.

Research questions and goals of the project

- The enlargement of the ethno-archaeological database is used to analyse recent examples of megalithic-traditions on the island of Sumba and in Northeast-India. Of particular interest is the question, how economic potential of communities and/or possibilities of single households are influencing the construction of megalithic monuments. One key aspect could be the effects of possible competitive situations on the social structure of related communities.

- A compilation and evaluation of social-archaeological models and theories of Neolithic or Funnel Beaker communities. This will facilitate a modelling taking into account ethno-archaeological data and new insights of the SPP. In order to integrate newer and alternative approaches, further social-, economic- and cultural theories will be integrated into the analyses.

- Based on this compilation proxies should be developed, which allow retracing aspects of theories and models in the archaeological and ethnographical dataset.

- Lastly, archaeological case studies of Funnel Beaker communities will be examined. Of central interest will be questions regarding the economic framework conditions, diverse specifications of megalithic building and comprehensible communicative and ritual structures. This raises the question to what extent the workload of megalithic and monumental constructions is reflecting the economic potential, or output of a community. For this effort calculations are compared on small regional scale and compared with other markers of economic activities, such as the occurrence of axes and exchanged or traded products such as copper.