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Structure and Evolution of Economic Networks in Neolithic Walled Towns of the Jianghan Plain: A Geochemical Perspective

Sturm, Camilla (2017) Structure and Evolution of Economic Networks in Neolithic Walled Towns of the Jianghan Plain: A Geochemical Perspective. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This research examines development of early complex societies in the middle Yangzi River valley of China during the late Neolithic (c. 3100 – 2000 BCE). The most conspicuous marker of these societies are large and densely-populated walled settlements that emerged across the region in the late fourth millennium BCE. Settlement survey of a region encompassing two such walled towns, Taojiahu and Xiaocheng, has shown that for over a thousand years, nearly all inhabitants of the region lived together in tightly nucleated communities within the walled enclosures. This distinctive settlement pattern highlights the presence of strong and persistent sociopolitical forces that drew together and integrated these communities.

This dissertation investigates the degree to which controlling, managing, or profiting from the production and distribution of basic goods contributed to the ability of aspiring leaders at Taojiahu and Xiaocheng to project their political authority. More specifically, it examines how changes in utilitarian economic networks corresponds with the centralization and decentralization of these walled towns. Geochemical analysis of 1,150 pottery sherds collected during the Taojiahu-Xiaocheng regional settlement survey were used to reconstruct the organization of ceramic exchange networks during the Qujialing (3100 – 2500 BCE) and Shijiahe (2500 – 2000 BCE) periods.

Results of this analysis indicate that late Neolithic pottery was made by several distinct producer groups based out of different areas of the study area. Ceramic vessels were circulated through open, unrestricted networks that linked together households in different neighborhoods and in different towns. The organization of these networks was surprisingly stable through time despite population growth and centralization at Xiaocheng and population decline and decentralization at Taojiahu, suggesting that economic control was not a source of political power for local elites. The longevity and robustness of economic ties between the two towns finally offers evidence that relations between the communities was based more strongly in cooperation than conflict.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sturm, Camillac.sturm@pitt.educak95
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDrennan, Robert D.drennan@pitt.edudrennan
Committee MemberAllen, Kathleen M.S.kmallen@pitt.edukmallen
Committee MemberBarton, Loukasloukas@pitt.eduloukas
Committee MemberLinduff, Katheryn M.linduff@pitt.edulinduff
Date: 28 September 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 18 May 2017
Approval Date: 28 September 2017
Submission Date: 5 August 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 185
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Chinese Neolithic; economic networks; pottery; compositional analysis; complex society; walled towns
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2017 00:48
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2017 00:48

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