Tribes as Heterarchy: A Case Study from the Prehistoric Southeastern United States

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Abstract

Heterarchy is used as a basis for interpreting the archeological and ethnohistoric records of the Late Woodland social system of the upper Yadkin River Valley of North Carolina (ca. AD 1500). Modeling egalitarian (i.e., tribal) social relations according to heterarchical structuring principles yields a clearer picture of social organization in the upper Yadkin and points to the complex nature of egalitarian politics and decision-making processes in this region. Far from being a series of small, autonomous sociopolitical units, the tribes of the northwest North Carolina Piedmont are better understood as protean and interactive networks that were unbounded in terms of both personnel and space. This study has further indicated that recognizing heterarchically arranged social systems means that archeologists must modify their expectations of what constitutes meaningful patterning. Traditional archeological constructs that emphasize or reify the spatial boundedness of social groups may obscure patterning indicative of an egalitarian heterarchy.

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