Population Nucleation and Functional Interdependence in Prehistoric Coastal Ecuador

Author: Martín, Alexander J.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 16, Number 2 / September 2017


Increased specialization within communities is often explained as an epiphenomenal effect of political expansion and surplus accumulation. Here, I examine the possible role that community demography and settlement structure might have in promoting (or inhibiting) full-time specialization and interdependence in the functions of various social institutions. Through the use of multivariate iconographic representations and diversity indices this article puts forth a methodology for the systematic large-scale comparison of archaeological remains and tests it on three prehistoric settlements in coastal Ecuador. The results indicate that nucleated communities exhibit more evidence of internal functional differentiation and interdependence in social roles than dispersed ones. This suggests that larger networks of interaction might provide ripe social environments for increased specialization of activities. By contrast, dispersed settlement arrangements and the smaller networks of interaction they make available seem to pressure households into becoming increasingly autonomous and self-reliant, resulting in strong tendencies towards functional redundancy.