Decentralized Societies and the Development of Secondary States
Tina Thurston Principal Investigator
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With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Tina Thurston will conduct three seasons of fieldwork in the Thy region of Denmark, where she studies the Iron Age period during which a state level society first emerged. Most archaeological studies focus on 'Primary' states, which develop spontaneously from less politically complex societies. Dr. Thurston is interested in a different process: states that develop from contact with and response to already existing states. Called 'Secondary' states, they usually arise from several pre-existing groups brought together by political leaders to create a single entity. Much less is known about this process, although it is more common, and parallels can be observed in historic times as empires and 'super-powers' interact with peripheral groups, spawning social, economic and political shifts. Through comparison of such individual cases, insight is gained into the social processes underlying emergent political complexity. The early Danish state is also unusual because of its 'corporate' nature, in which a type of primitive democracy was favored, and extreme differentiation between leaders and followers was suppressed while labor, food production, social groups and even rulership were controlled through broad integrative ritual and ideological means. Denmark's corporate nature means that palaces, monuments, temples and other markers of political power are unavailable for use in studying state development. Thus, with prior NSF support, Dr. Thurston developed a methodology for reconstructing the organization of such differently-organized states, which relies not on examining one site, but on determining trends and processes in regions to understand who controlled important institutional structures: market economy, networks of central places, agrarian production, military command, and religious practice. During state-building, control of these will ultimately shift from local, pre-state leaders to central rulers. How this occurs -- peacefully or violently, quickly or slowly, for example -- gives insight into central rulers' strategies and the level of cooperation or resistance they receive from those incorporated into a new polity. <br/><br/>To this end, Dr. Thurston has been studying a sub-region that during the state-building era underwent changes typifying processes seen in the greater nation. During four previous seasons of NSF supported fieldwork, full coverage survey identified over 250 sites using soil phosphate testing and associated surface artifact distribution (indicators of human occupation), and 106 test excavations were conducted at 36 locales to date and reconstruct forms of settlement, determine village social organization and economic activity, and how this changed over time. Based on data collected at a military levy site, economic centers, elite compounds, and villages with evidence of unusual agrarian expansion and forced migration, a number of marked changes in institutional control are indicated, accompanied by violent opposition to growing state dominion over local affairs. Dr. Thurston will now excavate several sites to answer the questions of when, how, and under what circumstances state intervention in local systems occurred. At the same time, she will continue to train both undergraduate and graduate students, and hopes to enhance discourse on the modern era, where the making/breaking of states and the forced resettlement of populations has become a common occurrence.