The social lives of forts: Reconsidering the social construction of ancient fortified settlements and their diverse roles in political organization

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

In the past, populations often shifted their settlements to more defensive patterns, settling in nucleated, fortified villages and towns, or in the shadow of hilltop redoubts. The monumental scale and/or strategic position of fortified constructions have historically led to a limited view of fortresses as engines of war. In this session, we look beyond the walls to consider the underlying social, political, and ritual dynamics that are entailed by phases of defensive settlement. What were the sociopolitical ramifications of living in fortified communities? How did the diverse economic, territorial, and political stakes of conflict shape these communities? Were horizontal divisions in identity or specialization within fortified communities emphasized, or elided? While fortified communities may have afforded new opportunities for political leaders, they may also have been associated with resistance to vertical distinctions and an ethos of conformity and solidarity. Participants from a broad spectrum of geographic and theoretical positions explore the diverse ways in which past populations (re)organized themselves in contexts of threat, however constituted. Papers will advance the study of fortifications beyond military strategy, and into anthropological arenas of social practice, economic organization, political landscape production, and regional scale interactions that unfolded under the shadow of such conflict.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-10 of 10)

  • Documents (10)

  • Beyond Defense: The Political Implications of Defense in Contact-era New Guinea (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Roscoe.

    At contact, New Guinea polities were uniformly at war, either episodically or permanently, with at least one of their neighbors. As a result, they all adopted significant defensive measures, commonly some mix of advanced warning systems, settlement nucleation, and natural or artificial fortifications. These measures were crucial to survival but they had numerous social and cultural implications. In this paper, I outline some of the more important of these consequences, before focusing on the...

  • Building Community: The Heuneburg Hillfort as Monument and Metaphor (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bettina Arnold. Manuel Fernandez Goetz.

    Walls are assumed to serve as systems of containment and protection in response to social divisiveness but they may also serve to reduce or mask conflict within a society. Their physical form may be entirely expedient, largely symbolic, or some combination of the two. Early Iron Age settlements in west-central Europe were often situated on promontories with wall and ditch systems encircling portions of the occupied terrain but because of the daunting task of excavating such hillfort sites, which...

  • Coalescence and conformity at the Ayawiri hillfort, Peru: A social experiment under duress (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Arkush.

    Defensive settlements are often places of relatively rapid, dense nucleation by people with few viable alternatives, resulting in the imperative need to establish new consensual rules for living together. In the Titicaca Basin of Peru, after the collapse of the Tiwanaku state, old political relationships were abandoned and defensive security became essential. In the post-collapse period, large hillfort towns formed by the aggregation of multiple families. What behaviors and attitudes were...

  • Emergence of Walled Towns in the Neolithic Jianghan Plain: Warfare or Flooding Control? (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Dongdong Li. Wenjing Wang.

    The late Neolithic in the Jianghan plain is characterized by the emergence of a new kind of settlement pattern. In this period, highly nucleated large local communities were walled as regional centers. In the past decades, the emergence of walled sites has caused hot debates on its social dynamics, particularly on function and causal factors. Most explanations for the emergence of walled sites fall into warfare model and flooding control model. To evaluate those models, we investigate into both...

  • Fortifications in Mukaranga, northern Zimbabwe (1600-1700 AD): a socio-political perspective (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Innocent Pikirayi.

    Portuguese written sources mention ‘great stone buildings’ including state capitals and fortified hilltops and trading centres in their accounts of the Kingdom of ‘Monomotapa’ (Mutapa State) in northern Zimbabwe in the late 16th and 17th centuries. On the one hand, feiras, the trading centres frequented by the Portuguese, served primarily commercial functions, and only fortified themselves when confronted with external military threats. On the other, the monumental, stone- built structures...

  • The Fortified Settlement of Pujini and Implications for a Swahili Urban Landscape (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adria LaViolette.

    During its lifespan from the mid-fifteenth to early sixteenth century AD, the fortified settlement of Pujini shared Pemba Island, Tanzania with numerous, undefended, more typical Swahili settlements ranging from earth-and-thatch hamlets to stone-built urban centers. The site expresses a unique combination of qualities on the Eastern African coast: complex ramparts around nearly two hectares of space, in which stood some dozen domestic and special-purpose features. Archaeological evidence from...

  • Fortified Settlements as Forces of Social Change Among the Ancestral Pueblo Peoples of the Northern San Juan Region (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kristin Kuckelman.

    The sociopolitical landscape of the ancestral Pueblo peoples residing in the northern San Juan region of the American Southwest was influenced and shaped in significant ways by a variety of pressures associated with the construction and habitation of fortified communities during periods of heightened social tensions and increased violence. Evidence of the formation of fortified communities and the implementation of various defensive strategies dates from at least three major periods of...

  • The Fortress Refigured: Authority and Community in the South Caucasus (ca. 1500-300 BC) (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lori Khatchadourian. Ian Lindsay.

    In many world regions, the mountain fortress has long stood as little more than a practical instrument of institutionalized force. Such reductionism obscures more than it reveals, for fortresses are equally salient as projects of communal labor, mediators in the making of subjects and authorities, and objects of contestation, curation, and commemoration. In the South Caucasus, fortresses played a crucial role in the reproduction of polities from the Late Bronze Age to the mid-first millennium...

  • Identity and Specialization in the Urartian Settlement at Ayanis (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Paul Zimansky.

    From its beginning in the 9th century BC the infrastructure of kingdom of Urartu was built around fortresses. In the early 7th century, the fortress network was enhanced by the construction of new group of massive fortified administrative centers, associated with extramural settlements. Of the latter, Ayanis is the most extensively investigated. Survey and excavations conducted from 1997 to 2009 investigated the relationship between the inhabitants of this settlement and the contoling...

  • Life, land and labour at Yayno (AD 400-800), a Recuay fort in the north highlands of Peru (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only George Lau.

    This presentation examines the domain of work as part of the social life of fortified settlements. In particular, it is interested in the gargantuan commitment – physical and symbolic – evidenced in defensive architecture. Using data from Yayno, a large mountaintop citadel in the north highlands of Peru (Recuay culture, AD 200-700), work estimates are presented to demonstrate the great labour expenditure in its stonemasonry constructions. Builders combined massive stone blocks (local granites,...