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Wealth and Things: the view from the coast: Comment on Local dynamics and the emergence of social inequality in Iron Age Botswana

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JournalCurrent Anthropology
DateAccepted/In press - 11 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - 25 Aug 2017
Issue number5
Volume58
Pages (from-to)166-167
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Since the earliest class-based societies, social leveling mechanisms have limited, actively as well as unconsciously, social stratification. Understanding how such power structures have operated in the past and present requires the integration of social dimensions to the political economy in a way that does not assume that elites and/or urban centers drive the course of history. Here, the Middle and Late Iron Age in southern Africa (AD 900–1650) highlight the importance of these local dynamics in tandem with broader regional changes. At a time when protoglobal trade links Africa to the Middle East and Asia, cities emerged up to 1,000 km inland along with the material evidence for hereditary inequality. Yet the population at the trade center of Bosutswe at the eastern edge of the Kalahari responded flexibly to environmental and social variables, which, perhaps unintentionally, limited the consolidation of power in the hands of the elite. The following case study of Khubu la Dintša, a small agropastoral site near Bosutswe, reminds us that, even as hegemony exists, an emphasis on the social networks that tie together local and disparate groups results in not just daily patterns of behavior but also significant social change.

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