Recall that the overall cultural evolutionary perspective that structures the material in this course. At this point in the course we narrow our focus to three areas in Mesoamerica and begin to consider the changes in social organization accompanying a major change in food production technology -- the adoption of agriculture and the associated settlement in fixed locations throughout the year.

To do this in a systematic way, we need to have some vocabulary for describing different kinds of social organization. In fact, we need to understand two different ways of describing social organization and have a rough idea of how one translates between descriptions in each vocabulary. One vocabulary, employed in much of the reading outside the principal textbook for this part of the course ( Blanton, et. al. 93) focus mainly on social institutions. The other, introduced in this text, focuses on more concrete features of social systems somewhat like those used in describing thermodynamic systems.

Blanton, et. al 93, believe that describing societies as social systems (my terminology) is more fruitful than describing them in terms of social institutions for at least three related reasons:

  1. One is more likely to be able to develop a theory of social evolution using the social systems concepts;
  2. Social systems concepts are more directly connected with archaeological data;
  3. Many different configurations of social institutions are observed to occur in societies that are isomorphic described as social systems.
Their argument for 1) and 3) is essentially the exposition in the rest of the book. However, they provide us with some concise, explicit discussion of how they relate archaeological data and social systems concepts.

Colorado School of Mines
Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies
Dr. Joseph D. Sneed