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Societies against the Chief? re-assessing the value of ‘heterarchy’ as a concept for describing European Iron Age societies

Author(s): David González Álvarez ; Tom Moore

Year: 2017

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As a reaction against the dominant warrior chiefdom model of European Iron Age society, much of recent scholarship has emphasised the negotiated nature of power in these societies. Such approaches frequently characterise these societies as ‘heterarchical’ yet the dynamics of how communities operated above the level of the household remain relatively under-theorised. This paper reassesses the value of concepts of heterachy for two regions of Europe, southern Britain and North-western Iberia. It will explore the extent to which the social organisation of these regions share any similarities which makes this overarching term useful and, through exploration of the work of the likes of Pierre Clastres, discuss the underpinning mechanisms which might explain these heterachical social forms.

A better understanding of the social dynamics of these communities will also allow for a more nuanced assessment of the apparent emergence of more centralised, hierarchical societies at the end of the Iron Age. Was this really the emergence of proto-states as so often argued? Or does the apparently fluid nature of Kingship in the Late Iron Age suggest these power structures were more heterarchical than we imagine and owe a greater debt to the social systems of earlier centuries than is normally suggested?

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Societies against the Chief? re-assessing the value of ‘heterarchy’ as a concept for describing European Iron Age societies. David González Álvarez, Tom Moore. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430571)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15784

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America