The political economy of ancient Samoa: Basalt adze production and linkages to social status

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Title: The political economy of ancient Samoa: Basalt adze production and linkages to social status
Author: Winterhoff, Ernest H., 1977-
Abstract: This dissertation examines the role of stone tool production as a strategic resource in the development of chiefly authority in prehistoric Samoa. The evolution of Polynesia's complex chiefly systems is a long standing issue in anthropology, and prior archaeological research has identified that specialized goods were a significant factor in the elevation of elite status in many Polynesian contexts. Before Western contact, Samoa was a stratified chiefdom with leaders claiming exclusive privileges and participating in an extensive trade network within the Fiji-West Polynesian region during the Traditional Samoan period (c. A.D. 300-1700). However, Samoa's political structure was quite different in the earlier Polynesian Plainware period (c. 500 B.C.-A.D. 300). Archaeologists, with the aid of historical linguistics, have documented a simple hereditary system operating among small horticultural communities. To address this political transformation, I investigate coeval changes occurring in stone adze production recovered on Tutuila Island. Based firmly in the theoretical perspective of political economy, I ask three inter-related questions in my dissertation: were adze specialists present in ancient Samoa; if so, what was their connection to chiefly prerogatives; and what further relationship did these adze producers have with Samoa's emerging elite? To answer these questions, I utilize mass flake analysis and typological classifications to document technological and spatial changes in stone tool production. I also employ settlement studies and geochemical characterization to chart how leaders managed and controlled raw materials, as well as the distribution of basalt adzes in exchange networks. From my research, I record numerous nucleated workshops of adze specialization on Tutuila dating as far back as 800 years ago. As a new form of economic organization, these adze specialists acted as catalysts for increased political complexity and stratified authority. In addition, I trace how Samoan elites used their bourgeoning authority in restricting access to basalt sources and the distribution of the finished products during this same time period. In the larger Samoan political economy, I conclude that Tutuilan chiefs, located in an otherwise economically-impoverished island, utilized these newly-developed adze specialists and high-quality basalt as strategic resources for accumulating material surplus in prestige competition.
Description: xviii, 264 p. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
Date: 2007-12

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