- Jan 2022
Wendat society was not ‘economically egalitarian’ in that sense.However, there was a difference between what we’d considereconomic resources – like land, which was owned by families,worked by women, and whose products were largely disposed of bywomen’s collectives – and the kind of ‘wealth’ being referred to here,such as wampum (a word applied to strings and belts of beads,manufactured from the shells of Long Island’s quahog clam) or othertreasures, which largely existed for political purposes.
Example in literature of wampum being described as wealth existing for political purposes.
- Dec 2021
When we simply guess as to whathumans in other times and places might be up to, we almostinvariably make guesses that are far less interesting, far less quirky– in a word, far less human than what was likely going on.
Definitely worth keeping in mind, even for my own work. Providing an evidential structure for claims will be paramount.
Is there a well-named cognitive bias for the human tendency to see everything as nails when one has a hammer in their hand?
Women’s gambling: women in many indigenous NorthAmerican societies were inveterate gamblers; the women ofadjacent villages would often meet to play dice or a gameplayed with a bowl and plum stone, and would typically bet theirshell beads or other objects of personal adornment as thestakes. One archaeologist versed in the ethnographic literature,Warren DeBoer, estimates that many of the shells and otherexotica discovered in sites halfway across the continent had gotthere by being endlessly wagered, and lost, in inter-villagegames of this sort, over very long periods of time.36
- DeBoer 2001
Warren R DeBoer. 2001. ‘Of dice and women: gambling and exchange in Native North America.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8 (3): 215–68.
Might it be possible that these women were actually gambling information relating to their "gathering" or other cultural practices? By playing games with each other and with nearby groups of people, they would have been regularly practicing their knowledge through repetition.
How might we provide evidence for this? Read the DeBoer reference for potential clues.
Dreams or vision quests: among Iroquoian-speaking peoplesin the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was consideredextremely important literally to realize one’s dreams. ManyEuropean observers marvelled at how Indians would be willingto travel for days to bring back some object, trophy, crystal oreven an animal like a dog that they had dreamed of acquiring.Anyone who dreamed about a neighbour or relative’spossession (a kettle, ornament, mask and so on) couldnormally demand it; as a result, such objects would oftengradually travel some way from town to town. On the GreatPlains, decisions to travel long distances in search of rare orexotic items could form part of vision quests.34
- On ‘dream economies’ among the Iroquois see Graeber 2001: 145–9. David Graeber. 2001. Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. New York: Palgrave.
These dreams and vision quests sound suspiciously familiar to Australian indigenous peoples' "dreaming" and could be incredibly similar to much larger and longer songlines in North American cultures.
Most contemporaryarchaeologists are well aware of this literature, but tend to getcaught up in debates over the difference between ‘trade’ and‘gift exchange’, while assuming that the ultimate point of both isto enhance somebody’s status, either by profit, or by prestige,or both. Most will also acknowledge that there is somethinginherently valuable, even cosmologically significant, in thephenomenon of travel, the experience of remote places or theacquisition of exotic materials; but in the last resort, much ofthis too seems to come down to questions of status or prestige,as if no other possible motivation might exist for peopleinteracting over long distances; for some further discussion ofthe issues see Wengrow 2010b.
David Wengrow 2010b. ‘The voyages of Europa: ritual and trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, c.2300–1850 .’ In William A. Parkinson and Michael L. Galaty (eds), Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, pp. 141–60.
Read this for potential evidence for the mnemonic devices for information trade theory.
But we often find such regional networks developinglargely for the sake of creating friendly mutual relations, or having anexcuse to visit one another from time to time;33 and there are plentyof other possibilities that in no way resemble ‘trade’.
There is certainly social lubrication of visiting people from time to time which can help and advance societies, but this regular visiting can also be seen as a means of reinforcing one's oral cultural history through spaced repetition.
It can be seen as "trade" but in a way that anthropologists have generally ignored for lack of imagination for what may have been actually happening.
The founding text of twentieth-century ethnography, BronisławMalinowski’s 1922 Argonauts of the Western Pacific, describes howin the ‘kula chain’ of the Massim Islands off Papua New Guinea, menwould undertake daring expeditions across dangerous seas inoutrigger canoes, just in order to exchange precious heirloom arm-shells and necklaces for each other (each of the most importantones has its own name, and history of former owners) – only to holdit briefly, then pass it on again to a different expedition from anotherisland. Heirloom treasures circle the island chain eternally, crossing
hundreds of miles of ocean, arm-shells and necklaces in opposite directions. To an outsider, it seems senseless. To the men of the Massim it was the ultimate adventure, and nothing could be more important than to spread one’s name, in this fashion, to places one had never seen.
Not to negate the underlying mechanism discussed here, but there's also a high likelihood that this "trade" was in information attached to these objects being used as mnemonic devices.
Read further into the anthropology of these items, their names and histories.
- kula chain
- mnemonic devices for information trade
- Massim Islands
- hammer and nail bias
- Bronisław Malinowski
- want to read
- long distance trade
- Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies
- spaced repetition
- cognitive bias
- vision quests
- hunter gatherers
- mnemonic devices