Presidential Forum: Orderly Anarchy in Prehistoric California

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

In his recent book, Orderly Anarchy: Sociopolitical Evolution in in Aboriginal California (U.C. Press 2014), Robert Bettinger develops a provocative new model to explain the emergence of the exceptionally small socio-political units observed in most of Native California at the time of contact. He proposes that the key development that promoted the evolution of California's unusually small polities was privatization of stored plant food, which incentivized the intensive use of abundant but costly plant foods (pinyon and acorn). Such privatization is argued to have resulted from the appearance of bow and arrow technology which permitted the formation of smaller, family-centered social units more inclined to invest in costly resource procurement because proceeds went directly to offspring and close relatives. Over time, these developments led to decreased opportunities for movement and inter-group alliance, encouraging instead extremely small-scale, family-size units that interacted via a system that Bettinger terms “orderly anarchy.” In this session scholars from inside and outside California will discuss and evaluate Bettinger's case for socio-political evolution in indigenous California.

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  • Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups in California and the Great Basin: The Rise of Orderly Anarchy (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robert Bettinger.

    Socio-political development in aboriginal California follows a trajectory quite different from that in much of western North America, culminating in very small socio-political units, in some places independent family groups approximating those characteristic of the Great Basin. The key development leading to this family-level organization was in both places the privatization of stored plant food, which incentivized the intensive use of plant foods (pinyon and acorn) that were abundant but costly...