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Society for American Archaeology

Reply to Davis Author(s): Ian Hodder Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Jul., 1981), pp. 668-670 Published by: Society for American Archaeology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/280617 Accessed: 15/01/2009 08:39
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[Vol. 46, No. 3,19811


Davis's comments have evoked a clarification of earlier work, and a discussion of more recent insights into the complexities of boundary signalling and the role of material culture in such behavior.

I was glad to receive and read Davis's comments which seem to me to be positive and helpful, and I fully support his remarks in nearly every regard. The 1979 article (Hodder 1979) was written in a relatively early stage of research into the relationship between ethnicity and material culture patterning. My more recent fieldwork, especially that amongst the Nuba in Sudan which will be published shortly, has led to an expansion of the earlier ideas and to a realization that "the hypothesis" is naive and overly simplistic. While this response cannot be very satisfying, I will both on the various factors which I now see as affecting the maintenance of overt conumment regional boundaries, and on the broader approach within which such aspects of symbolic behavior must be examined. The 1979 article was largely concerned with the economic factors which are associated with ethnicity. Davis is right to state that the recognition of a "regional plateau" in a stylistic element is not sufficient basis to warrant a claim that ethnic boundaries have been identified, because the economic context must also be considered. It has to be shown, or so I thought then, that there is evidence of stress in the subsistence economy or in the distribution of resources. Although some attention was paid to the social context in which ethnic boundaries are marked in material culture, I gave insufficient attention to this second component. In answering why a particular plateau (or rank-size curve) fits a particular set of data, the investigator must consider the social context. For example, in the Baringo area it now appears that the maintenance of overt ethnic boundaries plays an essential part in internal social strategies and intentions. In all the Baringo tribes, strict age-sets are used to define the rights and roles of individuals of particular ages. The younger men called moran are warriors who are unable LOmarry or to obtain full rights in the society until their age-set matures, when some may be 30 years old. This system safeguards the polygamy and rights to resources and power of the older men and prevents the young men from having access to the available pool of marriageable women. There is a very strong tension between older men and moran which is expressed in many aspects of material culture. It is to the advantage of the older men that their younger competitors are involved in a long period of preparation for manhood. The role of the young men as warriors is encouraged and the need to demonstrate manliness in raiding is emphasized. In fact, much of the cross-border fighting has little real economic advantage. Rather, the older men manipulate the intertribal tensions as part of intratribal conflicts. One of the reasons that the overt Baringo boundaries have continued to exist despite frequent and massive movement of goods and people across the borders is that the material differences between tribes are maintained as part of an overall world view within the societies fostered by the elders and accepted, at least for the time being, by other members of the society. So, in the Baringo area, economic stress is channeled into overt boundary maintenance and "the hypothesis" works. But the relationship between economic stress and ethnic boundaries is dependent on the particular organization of societies in Baringo. In other cases, with different types of social organization, no such relationship may be found.

Ian Hodder, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, England



In the example from Baringo, another, ideological aspect of the context in which material boundaries are maintained is revealed. The material boundaries in Baringo can be seen as playing a part in an ideology of control according to which the elders justify and make acceptable and necessary their rights and privileges. The importance of ideas and concepts became most clear to me during work among the Nuba in Sudan. The different Nuba tribes, perched on isolated hill ranges, are rarely involved in conflict and there is little evidence of between-tribe competition over resources. Yet, there are a number of material differences between the Moro and Mesakin, the two Nuba tribes studied. These differences make up "regional plateaus." The Mesakin decorate their bodies, paint their houses, have a particular pattern of deposition of pig and cow bones, allow general refuse to pile up in the compounds, have high walls and special entrance huts to their compounds, and have a complex ritual associated with burial. The Moro, on the other hand, wear jewelry less frequently, they do not paint their houses or separate cattle and pig bone refuse, they clean out their compounds and build separate pig pens, they have low walls and unimposing entrances to their compounds, and they have less ritual surrounding death. While it would be inappropriate here to dive into a full interpretation of the reasons for these cultural differences between the Mesakin and Moro, it is relevant to note that the differences can all be related to the slightly different conceptual schemes of the two groups. The Mesakin have a strong sense of personal purity and they emphasize, by using decoration and ritual, boundaries around the self, around the compounds and between life and death. The Moro, on the other hand, play down such boundaries and have a less-developed concern with purity and pollution. While these attitudes and ideas can be related to aspects of social and economic relations, it is clear that the links between regional material boundaries, society and economy, are extremely complex and do involve the ideational realm. In the interpretation of "plateaus" of material culture it is necessary to adopt a contextual approach in which social and economic relations are seen as being partly structured by beliefs, concepts and attitudes. A "normative" approach is inadequate because it refers to static, fixed norms which do not allow for adaptive intelligence and behavioral variability. A processual or "behavioral" approach is equally inadequate because it does not examine the common conceptual schemes which tie behavioral variation into cultural "wholes." A contextual approach seeks to provide a more complete notion of "wholeness" and structure than is now present in systems archaeology. As suggested by the Nuba study, a broader contextual viewpoint is more able to facilitate adequate examination of the full range of factors involved in forming cultural "plateaus." From a contextual viewpoint, it is incorrect to suggest, with Davis, that the selection of stylistic elements to express corporateness is arbitrary. All artifacts and traits have a symbolic significance dependent on context, and they have a history of use which contributes to their symbolic meaning at any one moment in time. We cannot state, a priori, which types or levels of traits will be used in particular ways. As suggested earlier, it is necessary to link studies of overt boundary maintenance and interethnic relations with studies of the symbolism of artifacts within their cultural context. This might appear an over-ambitious project, though I hope to be able to demonstrate its feasibility in forthcoming publications. It is at least clear that Davis's or any archaeologist's emphasis on "middle range theory" is dangerous if it encourages a divorce of middle range from "global" theory. How we apply or test a particular theory or how we decide on the stylistic levels at which ethnicity may be manifested depends on broader considerations. Davis objects that ethnicity may be evident in some types and stylistic levels but not in others. I have made the same point extensively in an article in Man (Hodder 1977:239-269) and in Spatial organisation of culture (Hodder 1978:264-269). An emphasis on context and symbolism allows such variation to be examined. In the Baringo area, spear styles cover wide regions, crossing ethnic boundaries, because they are used by young men as symbols to support their common conflict with the elders in the different tribes. Items of young female attire, on the other hand, are generally restricted within Baringo ethnic groupings because a woman's chance of marriage



[Vol. 46, No. 3,1981]

depends partly on her willingness to conform to the tribal authority of the elders. In many archaeological cases, as in the south French Neolithic, there are simply insufficient data for examining the symbolism of artifacts within cultural contexts. In such cases the archaeologist is reduced to a blind examination of a range of possible levels of stylistic variability. In the south French example the material assemblage involves few traits and a narrow range of type classes. In such a case it seems reasonable to say that in one period (later Neolithic) there is frequent and marked spatial localization in individual decorative traits (motifs), but that in earlier phases (e.g., Impressed Ware) no such localizations can be identified at any analytical level. The difficulties and problems with such a procedure can only be solved by testing the variation through time against changes in the economic, social and ideational context, and by examining the symbolism of objects within that context. Although it may be unsatisfactory to reply to Davis by saying that work is still in progress, I do thank him for helping the enquiry on its way and for allowing me the opportunity to react to his comments. I hope that the reply presented here has provided a broader perspective for the earlier article. REFERENCESCITED Hodder, Ian 1977 Distributionof material culture items in the Baringodistrict, western Kenya. Man 12(2):239-269. 1978 Social organizationand humaninteraction:the developmentof some tentative hypotheses in terms of material culture. In The Spatial Organizationof Culture,edited by Ian Hodder, pp. 199-269. Duckworth, London. 1979 Economicand social stress and material culture patterning.American Antiquity44:446-454.