Rice Agricultural Intensification and Sociopolitical Development in the Bronze Age, Central Western Korean Peninsula

Kim Bumcheol

PhD Thesis 2005

This research explores the characteristics of regional and local political economy associated with an intensive form of rice agricultural technology during the Middle Bronze Age (800-400 BCE), in the central western Korean Peninsula. Focus is placed on how social components (e.g. regional polities, local communities, and individual households), in the context of emergent complexity, were related to each other in shaping a specific sociopolitical organization that utilized improved technology for primary agricultural production.

Relevant information has been generated by reconstructing MBA regional settlement patterns through the use of surface survey and excavation data, analyzing the spatial correlation between regional settlement hierarchy, and differences in abundance of rice soils, the necessity of cooperative water management, easy accessibility to important junctions of ancient transportation routes, and investigating household wealth/status variability.

This information is used to place MBA in a sociopolitical continuum shaped by top-down and bottom up perspectives on agricultural intensification.  The top-down models assume that suprahousehold-level organization and management of labor-pooling necessary to utilize intensive agricultural technology, while bottom-up ones emphasize the individual household and/or small kin-based group role in initiation and maintenance of the system. I conclude that there was a mixture of the two strategies mentioned above, in MBA rice-agricultural intensification, rather than the consistent compatibility to either strategy. Communities within individual polities were organized differently, indicating compatibility with either system, sometimes in substantially different manners.

This study attempts to make such a reconstruction more dynamic by emphasizing the possible strategies pursued by different social actors, especially elites who are likely to get more benefits from the intensive agricultural systems. A possible strategic activity subjected by elites is feasting. The rigorous participation of commoner households in the intensive production of wet rice is observed at certain centers, and it may have been encouraged and compensated by feasting activities.