The Domestic Mode of Production and the Development of Sociopolitical Complexity: Evidence from the Spondylus Industry of Coastal Ecuador

Alexander Javier Martin

PhD Thesis 2009

Archaeological evidence from the prehistoric Spondylus industry of coast of Ecuador is analyzed to clarify how the production of export items was structured and the role that it played in the development of social complexity. The reconstruction of the trajectories of social change of the prehistoric population of the Machalilla National Park suggests that the region retained very low population numbers and very little evidence of social stratification until the end of the Regional Development Period (ca. A.D. 700). At around this time, a large population boom, increased evidence of supra-local forms settlement organization, more status distinction between settlements, and more architectural investment in elite structures suggest a marked rise in social and political complexity. These developments occurred at the same time that central Andean states began demanding locally produced Spondylus objects. Evidence for the manufacture of such items within the study area is widespread. Many models of social development propose that elite cooption of specialized craft production can serve as a useful avenue through which elites can acquire differential status and institutionalize their leadership. However, contrary to the expectations of these models, the data analyzed here suggest that craft production of sumptuary goods was an activity essentially carried out by household units for the benefit of the domestic economy. The appearance of large consumer markets of Spondylus items in the central Andes seems to have promoted local social stratification by providing the centripetal forces that pressured population nucleation and the derived managerial formations needed to permit smooth social articulation of large numbers of people residing in close proximity to one another.