Reconstructing the Social Organisation of Prehistoric Societies

1395 Words6 Pages
Reconstructing the Social Organisation of Prehistoric Societies

While social anthropologists can interact directly with people in

order to draw conclusions of social organisation, which Barnard and

Spencer (1996:510) describes as "the sum total of activities performed

in a given social context", archaeologists have only the physical

remains of a society as their tools to reconstructing prehistoric

social organisation. This essay aims to show that while there are

limitations on reconstructing social organisation, there are a great

number of tools at an archaeologist's disposal that can help uncover


The anthropologist E. Service suggests that social organisation

spreads from dependence on food, clothing and shelter. Service shows

that in the animal world, herds only form as it becomes necessary to

acquire food or in order to gain protection from predators, and this

is how humans act - seeking food or protection, humans form

settlemens and societies (1971:25-26). Each of these settlement sites

is unique, but consideration must be given to its place in the wider

area. A hunter-gatherer base is going to be significantly different to

a large conurbation, and as a result, the first step in many cases is

to use geographical, not archaeological, techniques in order to

determine how 'important' this site was in relation to others in its

area of influence (or 'hinterland'). One method used is Walter

Christaller's Central Place Theory, which describes how on an

isotropic surface (one which is not contoured or broken by routes of

rivers), settlements will naturally form in a hexagonal pattern, and

the settlement in the centre will ...

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nature of archaeological evidence.


Johnson, G.A., "A Test of the Utility of Central Place Theory in

Archaeology" in Tringham (ed) Urban Settlements - the Process of

Urbanization in Archaeological Settlements. Massachusetts, 1973

Parker Pearson M., "The Archaeology of Death and Burial".

Gloucestershire, 1999

Renfrew & Bahn, "Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice" 3rd

Edition, London 2000

Service, E. R., "Primitive Social Organization: An Evolutionary

Perspective" New York, 1971 (1962)

Shennan, S., "The Social Organisation at BranÄ" in Antiquity 49, 1975.

Wilkinson, T. J., "The Development of Settlement in the North Jezira

Between the 7th and 1st Millennia BC" Iraq, 1990

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