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Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant: Exchange, Ritual, and Emergent Social Complexity in the Late Archaic Western Great Lakes

How do social networks and trade function to combine distant populations into meaningful social entities? How do these networks affect issues of social and economic inequality and complexity? Social networks connect individuals in distant societies, providing access to specialized material goods, ritual knowledge, resources, labor, and/or marriage partners. Networks are often developed and expressed through trade, where material goods are exchanged as "gifts," items of religious or spiritual importance, or commodities depending on the nature of the relationship between individuals. Exchange relationships create obligations, debt, and responsibilities. Networks integrate distant groups into larger social entities, permitting individuals with connections to improve their social position an early expression of the "rich get richer" phenomenon. These issues affect the world today as people struggle with the challenges of globalization, yet they are neither new nor exclusive to the modern world. People have struggled with these issues throughout our past; most notably during periods when small-scale societies abandoned their egalitarian social contracts and formed larger, more complex social and political institutions.<br/><br/>Among the social sciences, archaeology has the advantage of examination of social change over long periods of time. While social networks are important in our globalizing world, a thorough understanding of their role in the initial development of social complexity and inequality benefits from a longer temporal perspective. This research examines the development of social networks over three thousand years ago in the western Great Lakes of North America, and their role in the early foundations of social complexity and inequality. Under the direction of Dr. Andrew Duff, Mark Hill will document the extent of these ancient networks by analyzing raw materials used for stone tools and copper artifacts to locate their geological sources, and to map their subsequent distribution. Artifacts from mortuary contexts will be used to assess the social value of these materials, and to document the relationship between access to socially valued goods, networks, and social position. Combined, these approaches will provide a detailed examination of the role of social networks in growing social distinctions and the development of larger and more complex social entities. Lithic and chemical compositional analysis has previously been applied to tracing the exchange of goods. However, coupling this accepted analytical method with mortuary analysis used to determine the social value of exchange goods improves our ability to observe prehistoric social networks with the detail necessary to observe the functioning of past ritual and political economies. <br/><br/>Resulting in the completion of a dissertation, this work will also provide insight into the origins of social complexity and will help social scientists and the public to better understand the nature of trade, exchange, and inequality. Today, trade operates on an international scale, yet the principles of access to social networks and social power function in much the same way as they did in the past By examining this issue at small scales, one can study specific elements to develop insight into the ways in which these systems lead to, or enhance socioeconomic inequalities

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