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Social Differentiation among Commoners at Erlitou: A Household Archaeological Perspective

LI, XIANG (2023) Social Differentiation among Commoners at Erlitou: A Household Archaeological Perspective. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Consecutive field excavation from 1959 has exposed an ancient urban settlement and a capital site of the first territorial state at Erlitou, China. In order to better our understanding of the complex society in the Erlitou state, this research investigates 34 household units excavated in 1999-2006 to see how the Erlitou commoners interacted and contributed to the whole community.
A set of 19 variables was used to characterize the artifact assemblages of these 34 households and was the basis of a multi-dimensional scaling analysis in order to investigate social differentiation in four principal dimensions within the household sample. This analysis suggests that Erlitou commoner household units were not just an undifferentiated mass but experienced detectable wealth differentiation, prestige differentiation, ritual differentiation, and productive differentiation, although, compared to the Erlitou elites, the Erlitou commoners were indeed plain, less prestigious, and mundane, although there were some opportunities for them to engage in entrepreneurial activities.
These findings offer a new window to look at the commoners’ life in the Erlitou territorial state. The commoners could accumulate some wealth through their emphasis on certain productive activities and thus better their standard of living. Some of them were especially engaged in agricultural activities and some of them were especially involved in other household-based production so that they contributed to the Erlitou economy through the production of daily necessities and craft goods and/or extra food to support the whole community, thus augmenting the workshop-based production and food tribute from the hinterland commonly supposed to be main elements in the Erlitou economy. Some of the commoners were slightly more prestigious than others and the commoners had some modest access to divination, although they were still in the low range of the whole prestige spectrum and excluded from most ritual activities and duties.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
LI, XIANGxil195@pitt.eduxil195
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDrennan, Robert
Committee MemberBermann,
Committee MemberHanks, Bryan
Committee MemberPeterson, Christian
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 18 May 2023
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 12 July 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 191
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: China, the Bronze Age, Household Archaeology, Social Differentiation, Complex Societies
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2023 16:58
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2023 16:58


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