Craft Specialization and the Emergence of the Chiefly Central Place Community of HE-4 (El Hatillo), Central Panama

Adam Clayton Joseph Menzies

PhD Thesis 2009

The development of chiefdoms has received considerable attention from archaeologists, but there remains little consensus with respect to the underlying causal mechanisms. In particular, the importance of an economic foundation to the emergence of chiefdoms has been the focus of some debate. Some scholars have argued that the mobilization of key resources such as land, labor, agricultural surplus or craft production is critical to the development of chiefdom polities as it implies a material foundation for political power. An alternative view places more importance on status competition and the display and exchange of prestige goods among emergent elites. Because it may be used to support either strategy, craft specialization has figured prominently in discussions of these two kinds of chiefly political economy.

The focus of this dissertation is the degree to which specialized craft production was a significant factor in the development of chiefdoms at the central place community of He-4 in the Río Parita valley of Central Panama. The results of this dissertation show that craft specialization was relatively unimportant to the emergence of chiefdoms in the Río Parita valley during the Cubitá phase (A.D. 550-700), suggesting a social hierarchy based more on non-economic forms of social power, perhaps including feasting activities, warfare or involvement in local trade. The data from He-4 also show that the social hierarchy seen in the burial record after A.D. 700-900 develops in tandem with differences in household status that are apparent as early as the Cubitá phase (A.D. 550-700). These differences in household status become increasingly well developed over time; however, they are never as dramatic as the differences seen in the mortuary record for Central Panama. There is also no real connection between the emergence of the social hierarchy at He-4 and craft specialization. It is only during the Parita phase (A.D. 1100-1300) that craft specialization involving the final stages of axe manufacture and use of polished stone chisels becomes important activities in high status households at He-4.