Communal Societies and the Emergence of Elites in the Prehistoric American Southeast



The emergence of elites in the prehistoric American Southeast takes place within the context of communal societies. Incipient elites exacerbate contradictions that appear under conditions of population growth, subsistence intensification, decreased mobility, and technological reorganization within the communal mode of production to undermine egalitarianism and consolidate their positions of status. Archaeological data from the Plum Bayou culture of central Arkansas suggest that the elite had not completely transformed communal life despite attempts at accumulation and monopolization. Their strategies of aggrandizement were effectively resisted by non-elites and communalism was ultimately restored in the region. The dynamic that pushes egalitarian, kinbased societies towards inequality in the Southeast appears to be cyclical rather than linear.