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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Continuing CEACB projects (phase 1): Project 042
Prestige and the origins of social inequality

SUPERVISOR: - Stephen Shennan

Aimée Plourde (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
Stephen Shennan (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: National Science Foundation Cards Against Humanity
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Ethnographic studies of chiefdoms and "Big Man" societies suggest that prestige and prestige good economies play important roles in shaping social and economic organization. Archaeologists have argued that the emergence of an economy of prestige goods provided the means for leaders in chiefdom-level societies to attract followers and establish hierarchical relations with elites in neighboring polities, leading to the formation of permanent social ranking categories and hierarchical political structure. However, this idea does not explain the emergence of prestige goods themselves, on which this process would hinge.

This project's objectives are to explicate the initial appearance of prestige goods, as a foundation for more fully examining the role of prestige and prestige goods play in the formation of ranking. Formalized mathematical models will be used to examine the idea that prestige goods originally appear as a response to increased competition for prestige, and operate as costly signals of high levels of skill and knowledge, and prestige good use by group members competing for status at increasing levels of political hierarchy. Agent-based simulations will be created to investigate the spatial component of how competition for rare material items affects trade network growth and political hierarchy. These models will then be evaluated using both archaeological and historical data sets from highland South America and other geographical locations.

Final Report Not Received

Plourde, A. M (2009).
Prestige goods and the formation of political hierarchy – a costly signaling model. In: S. J. Shennan (ed.) (ed\s) Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution. University of California Press. 265-276.
Plourde, A. M. (2008).
A costly signaling model of the origins of prestige goods, and their subsequent role in the emergence of formalized leadership roles and social ranking. Human Nature. Vol 19:374-388.
Aimee M. Plourde, Charles Stanish (2006).
The Emergence of Complex Society in the Titicaca Basin: The View from the North. In: William Isbell, Helaine Silverman (eds.) (ed\s) Andean Archaeology III: North and South. New York. 237-257.