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Reverse engineering collective action: complex technologies in stateless societies

Objective

Cooperation is a markedly human mix of innate and learned behaviour, and a key to tackling some of our greatest concerns. Paradoxically, studies of social dynamics often focus on hierarchies, state formation and political structures ruled by coercive power, with comparatively little regard to the mechanisms whereby humans voluntarily collaborate. Encouragingly, new research on collective action is reconciling classic anthropology with game theory and empirical studies of group resource management, thus heralding a fundamental transformation.
Archaeological collective action studies have mostly concentrated on subsistence and relatively simple technologies. There is a perplexing lack of research on cooperative production of luxury items, i.e. those materialising exceptional investment in materials, skill and/or labour, and not geared towards subsistence. Evidence for goldwork, polychrome textile-making and lapidary work in stateless societies provides compelling proof that complex technologies could be sustained in the absence of coercive powers, but explanations are lacking.
How can complex technological systems be sustained in the absence of coercive political administrations? To address this question, REVERSEACTION will deploy archaeological science methods to the reverse engineering of archaeological artefacts made of multiple materials, combined with environmental studies, and fostering exploratory collaborations with anthropology, sociology, management studies and crafts.
A key focus will be placed on two stateless societies of Pre-Columbian America: Muisca and Nariño. These offer a wealth of relevant materials, including goldwork, ceramics, lithics and textiles. Incorporating technological studies, raw material sourcing, and formal analyses of skill and knowledge transmission, the data will be used to test hypotheses on the role of cross-craft interaction in ensuring resilience, and on the relationships between ritual, complex technologies, and innovations.

Call for proposal

ERC-2020-ADG
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Host institution

THE CHANCELLOR MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Address
Trinity Lane The Old Schools
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 2 484 690

Beneficiaries (1)

THE CHANCELLOR MASTERS AND SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 2 484 690
Address
Trinity Lane The Old Schools
CB2 1TN Cambridge
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments