Term Paper: Political Economy of Food in Moche Society

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Moche Food

Most of the artifacts traditionally recognized as part of the Moche culture revolve around a restricted and exclusive social domain (Bawden 1996). Huge pyramids, elaborate art, and exquisite crafts, all are indicative of this New World people. To the Moche, however, the aesthetics came second to what these artifacts and buildings symbolized in their social structure. "They were the active material symbols of an ideology of power, produced at the behest of an exclusive body of rulers, calculated to assert and sustain its authority." Given the size and complexity of this culture, as well as other archaeological finds and knowledge of Peruvian societies as the Incas, it is possible that the Moche also had a monopolistic control of food resources by the elite class.

It is recognized that the Moche was a hierarchal society by the time the mounds were built. In the Jequetepeque Valley, for example, a high-status female was buried with an array of items that confirmed her high status. She was covered with large hammered metal sheets, wore a large headdress with gilded silver tassels and entombed with a goblet and blackware dishes that depicted the Sacrifice Ceremony.

The middle part of the Early Intermediate period from 400 BC to AD 800 was one of the first regional states in the Andean region. This Southern Moche state was a highly centralized, stratified and organized political system in which leaders exercised considerable economic, military, and ideological power (Bawden 1996; Billman 1996; Uceda 1997). The state's authority directed the construction of these massive pyramids, led the conquest of a large section of the north coast of Peru, and organized the production of unprecedented amounts of finely crafted gold objects, pottery, and textiles

One of the questions that arises is how this nation state developed, considering the rarity of such an occurrence at this time. Billman (2002) used the Wittfogel and Steward hydraulic model as a heuristic device to analyze the initial development of the Southern Moche state. This hydraulic hypothesis theorizes that the administrative necessities for construction and maintenance of irrigation systems performed a critical role in the creation of state-level polities in specific arid environments.

Researchers define the concept of "state" in myriad ways, based on varying characteristics. Although designations vary, there is agreement that states are a general category of social organization that is dissimilar from other forms in that they (1) have relatively permanent institutionalized forms of leadership (not transient rule by charismatic leaders); (2) develop specialized, hierarchical and bureaucratic systems;

3) are organized based on land, as well as kinship; (4) finance political activities through some for of tribute collection; and (5) gain political control by the utilization of positive and negative sanctions. Research conducted over the past several decades demonstrate that Moche political organizations probably had all five of these key attributes of the state (Bawden 1996; Billman 1996; Mosley 1992; Schaedel 1985).

It is therefore believed that irrigation systems provided leaders with the opportunity to expand their political power base and economy. Political structures have been proposed by Moseley (1975) and Haas (1982, 1987) for the central Andean coast. Based on their constructs, physical control of irrigation canals by a developing elite social stratum, rather than population pressure or management, resulted in increased political centralization during the Initial period (1800-900 B.C.). That is, the level of political centralization was not related to the scale and complexity of the productive system, but to the opportunity for individuals to manipulate the productive system and create social inequality and political control (Billman, 2002).

Blanton and colleagues (1996) and Feinman (1995) recognize "corporate" versus "network" or "exclusionary" leadership strategies or modes of political economy, which have led to a concentration on the variable ways for leaders to build their political foundation in complex states. The "dual-processual theory" by Blanton et al. (1996) emphasizes similar distinctions formerly named "staple" versus "wealth finance" and "group-oriented" versus "individualizing chiefdoms" (D'Altroy and Earle 1985; Renfrew 1974). These authors' focus is based on power and its control. That is, whether elites monopolize power sources or if instead power is shared across distinct groups, the sources of this power, and whether political action is oriented to external exchange networks or to relations within the group (Earle 1997; Hayden 1995; Mann 1986).

In the corporate strategy, power is shared across different groups or segments of society and there are political structures, often kin-based, such as clans or lineages. The interrelationship of these groups is practiced with collective ritual activities, often based on fertility, which may consist of the collection of surplus food and the construction of public monuments. Socio-economic distinctions within the group are not emphasized. To the contrary, in a network strategy, individual leaders attempt to monopolize and control the sources of power, including prestige goods production. They establish a support network through kin relations as well as patron-client relationships and long-distance exchange systems. The distinction is made regarding individuals based on prestige and wealth.

Feinman (1995) contrasts these "corporate" versus "network" strategies of leadership as alternative avenues towards greater complexity: The corporate direction focuses on collective ritual and the potential for manipulation, public construction, integrated social segments, kinship affiliation, and relatively suppressed economic differentiation with greater egalitarian accessibility. The network direction puts the most emphasis on individual prestige and wealth accumulation, personal networks, long-distance exchange, exotic wealth exchange, and the specialized construct of status-related crafts.

Blanton et al. (1996) stress that a variety of societies with different levels of sociopolitical organization, for example tribes, chiefdoms and states, have these modes or strategies, instead of being evolutionary stages or types by themselves. Instead, Feinman (1997) argues that these are ends of a continuum cross-cutting other often-used typologies. Mesoamerican societies may have aspects of both strategies, and modes may change from one to another at different times, or cycle back and forth between corporate and network. Billman (2002) expects that differences will occur in the archaeological evidence of architecture, status and wealth distinction, and craft production and specialization among societies that emphasize these different leadership strategies. For instance, according to Blanton et. al (1996) and Feinman (1997), a change in monumental construction from platforms decorated with deities to huge royal tombs and representations of specific rulers may represent a shift in the leadership direction. Similarly, a change from collective to individualized burial handling and in mortuary display could signal a swing between corporate and network strategies. Greater wealth differentiation and status competition that is "materialized" through trade in exotic raw materials and production of prestige goods by specified craftsmen could indicate a network leadership strategy (DeMarrais et al.1996; Earle 1997).

Billman (2002) examined the change that occurred at about a.D. 1200 in the Mississippi River Valley Cahokia polity from stressing the status and prestige of communal groups through monumental constructions to emphasizing and maintaining the status and prestige of individual elites using prestige goods. He interpreted this as a transformation from a "corporate" to a "network" leadership mode. These two alternative strategies are found archaeologically in the construction of monuments, differentiation of wealth, production of crafts and in network exchange.

The time of Cahokia's decline is normally recognized at the Moore head phase, a.D. 1200-1275, due to decreased mound building and population levels. Billman's (2002) analysis of archaeological indications of household status and craft production after a.D. 1200 demonstrates maximal differences between household units in status and marine shell working; there is increased centralization of shell working and greater production by higher-status households. He attests that elite ownership of craft production, if present, was a late phenomenon. Instead of a decline at a.D. 1200, changes in the archaeological complexity indicators demonstrate changes how power was expressed and maintained by elites in Cahokian society.

Billman also uses evidence of monumental constructions and control of labor and resources for craft specialization as an indicator of centralization and hierarchical organization. Pyramids and mounds are massive and visible monuments that have been used by archaeologists as an indication of the ability of one sector of society to control the labor of others (O'Brien 1989; Trigger 1990). Craft specialization is recognized as an indicator of complexity since specialization entails a heterogeneity of responsibilities and functions, but also due to the connection seen between control of resources and labor and the emergence of elites (Brown et al. 1990; Brumfiel and Earle 1987). Archaeologists are now beginning to recognize greater variation in complex societies and to reevaluate the role of centralization, hierarchy, and differentiation (e.g., Crumley 1995; White and Pigott 1996) and what the indications of complexity actually mean.

To establish whether or not the Moche's network polity consisted of food control by the elites, it is necessary to look at other similar societies in this area. Huancaco in the Viru Valley existed approximately from 350 to 700 a.D. In the Early Intermediate Period (Bourget 2000). Despite sharing several iconographic symbols and architectural features, Huancaco cannot be considered a Moche site based on archaeological indicators such as the absence of Moche diagnostic ceramics. The variation in botanical in Huancaco… [END OF PREVIEW]

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