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Nov 30, 2015 | 15:11
Studies of social stratification in ancient Mesoamerica have taken two approaches. One is to identify legal or emic status positions as these may be defined by indigenous documents (nobility, commoners) or by prior theory (elite). Archaeologists using the direct historical approach can look for material patterns consistent with the historically named social categories. The archaeology then illustrates what is already known. The other approach is etic and offers inductive description of the social distribution of wealth. Commonly used indicators to rank individuals or households are domestic architecture, burials, and portable artifacts. These items are recovered from systematic excavations or systematic surface collecting. The objectives of the two approaches are not precisely identical, since wealth status may not coincide with status as defined by office, occupation, or law.
Our paper takes the second approach. We describe the degree of wealth differentiation among households in a Late Postclassic city in Oaxaca. The results show a distribution broader and more continuous than would be expected if wealth were accessed strictly by noble or commoner legal status. Comparison with other cases in Classic and Postclassic Mesoamerica suggests a similar conclusion, although there was variation over time and across space. Characterizations using only native legal categories fail to identify this important aspect of Mesoamerican society and economy.

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