The Comparative Study of Chiefly Communities in the Eurasian Steppe Region

Authors: Drennan, Robert D.; Hanks, Bryan K.; Peterson, Christian E.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 10, Number 1 / March 2011


The chiefdom has been taken by many scholars to be a highly specific and unvarying societal type, but the emergence of the larger human communities that have often been labeled chiefdoms took a number of different paths in different regions. Comparative analysis of the kinds of archaeological evidence most directly relevant to the social organization of these chiefly communities demonstrates considerable variety within the Eurasian steppe. Chalcolithic Tripol'ye central communities grew exceptionally rapidly to very large size, with equally large hinterland populations; their developmental dynamic likely centered strongly on the accumulation of wealth based in the agro-pastoral subsistence economy. Larger communities and regional-scale sociopolitical organization also characterized Bronze Age Sintashta and Iron Age Gorokhovo-Sargat communities. Although these were later in time, they contained fewer inhabitants and showed less indication of different standards of living for different households. Much greater elaboration of burial ritual and fortifications suggests more elite emphasis on prestige competition and warfare in these two latter cases. This contrast between the scale and basis of social hierarchy in Tripol'ye communities, on the one hand, and Sintashta and Gorokhovo-Sargat communities, on the other, does not match the way in which a greater dependence on specialized mobile herding sets Gorokhovo-Sargat subsistence and settlement systems apart from the other two.