Prehistoric territorial structures and exchange networks

In his ground-breaking work on Primitive Social Organization, Service (1971) proposed an evolutionary sequence of cultures, which he labelled bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. The three prehistoric culture forms all represent different types of social/kinship-based organization, characterized by increasing complexity. However, in all three cases, the social/kinship structure's upper level or levels hold land. These different territories and sub-territories are usually defined against each other by differences in their material cultures, such as different styles of lithic tools or different raw material preferences (as well as different ceramic styles, different styles of monuments, etc.). In a sense, the exchange system can be perceived as the glue that allows the individual prehistoric territories to form a territorial structure by reinforcing kinship relations.

It is my view that one of the most interesting aspect of Scottish lithic research at the moment is the way stylistic and raw material analyses allow us to:

  • define these different levels of territories geographically;
  • define the exchange systems that keep lower level territories together in larger organizational structures; and
  • (to a degree) define economical, social, and ideological differences between the various territories.

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The distribution of worked pitchstone across southern Scotland, and the division of the region into possible territorial units by the use of Thiessen polygons.

The distribution of worked pitchstone across southern Scotland, and the division
of the region into possible territorial units by the use of Thiessen polygons.

The research needed to deal with these questions must involve a high degree of ethno-archaeological input, and – as part of the analysis of raw material distribution – cooperation with geologists is essential. It is also important that lithics specialists work with, or consult, specialists in ceramics and specialists in mortuary, ritual and domestic structures, to test how territorial units defined by lithic styles and raw material preferences correlate with territorial units defined by other parts of prehistoric material culture.

The distribution of worked pitchstone across southern Scotland. Indication of possible centres via the construction of a fall-off curve for the pitchstone exchange (Ballin 2009).

The distribution of worked pitchstone across southern Scotland.
Indication of possible centres via the construction of a fall-off curve for
the pitchstone exchange (Ballin 2009).

Ornamented paddle from the submerged Ertebølle settlement at Tybrind Vig, Funen, Denmark (Ballin 2007) – a clear expression of style and territoriality ('That the oars have been patterned is understandable, when one considers that these implements are easily lost out in the territory and thereby having an extra significance as a means for personal – or group – identification', Andersen 1986, 104).

Ornamented paddle from the submerged Ertebølle settlement at Tybrind Vig, Funen, Denmark (Ballin 2007) – a clear expression of style and territoriality ('That the oars have been patterned is understandable, when one considers that these implements are easily lost out in the territory and thereby having an extra significance as a means for personal – or group – identification', Andersen 1986, 104).