3818 - Did Chiefdoms Once Exist in the Upper Xingu?

It was in 1955 that Kalervo Oberg first introduced the concept of “chiefdom” as a multi-village polity governed by a paramount ruler, and it was in 1962 that Elman Service incorporated this idea into a socio-political evolutionary sequence: Band, Tribe, Chiefdom, State. This paper defines the specifics of what constitutes a chiefdom, clarifying the importance of this stage of socio-political evolution. It presents a comprehensive outline of the factors that most strongly suggest the existence of a chiefdom in an attempt to offer a uniform tool that anthropologists can use in the future to discern the likelihood of the presence of a chiefdom in any region. To model an application of this method, this paper presents a case study of the prehistoric Arawak settlements of the Upper Xingu . In particular, it draws on the findings from Michael J. Heckenberger’s substantial fieldwork and excavations in this area, as presented in The Ecology of Power (2005). Heckenberger’s findings are examined anew and compared to a chart of characteristics that anthropologists have cited as strongly suggesting the existence of a chiefdom in order to determine whether this level of socio-political structure was actually present in the Upper Xingu . As part of the application of this prototypical chiefdom model to the features of the prehistoric Upper Xingu , this analysis interprets Heckenberger’s observations of the potential of the environment to both attract and support substantial populations (resource concentration). Additionally, this investigation assesses evidence of a catalyst that would have prompted the transcending of autonomy (warfare). Furthermore, this study considers the physical evidence described by Heckenberger that suggests that substantial populations once inhabited the Upper Xingu (multiple, interconnected villages). Ultimately, it becomes apparent that the data suggest that chiefdoms did, in fact, once exist in the Upper Xingu . Thus, with the conjunction of both ethnographical and archaeological perspectives, this paper will not only demonstrate the process of discerning a group’s socio-political structure, but will serve as a testament to the scholastic value of clearly defining the concept of “chiefdom.”

Keywords: Chiefdoms, Upper Xingu, Socio-political Evolution, Michael Heckenberger

Author: Wildey, Amanda Jo (American Museum of Natural History, Ud States of Am / USA)
Co-Author: Carneiro, Robert (American Museum of Natural History, New York, Ud States of Am / USA)


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