Complex chiefdoms are subject to oscillating cycles of regional political centralization under the domination of a paramount chief, followed by political dissolution, and frequently, the rise of a rival paramount chiefdom. A macroregional scale of investigation offers the best opportunity to examine the development of centralized, hierarchical leadership and the trajectories of such regional control at successive paramount centers. We present the results of recent archaeological investigations in the tropical savannas of western Venezuela, which document the development of the earliest complex chiefdoms that emerged here around A.D. 500. Regional and community-level investigations in neighboring river valleys of Barinas, Venezuela enable us to examine the development of the regional polities centered at El Gaván and El Cedral from a macroregional perspective, and tentatively to propose that they were subject to the cycling pattern of growth and dissolution characteristic of complex paramount chiefdoms.
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