Political economy in prehistory: A marxist approach to pacific sequences

Timothy Earle, Matthew Spriggs

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    69 Citations (Scopus)


    Development of strong leaders and social stratification in prehistory is suitable for a political economy approach to the longue durée. Our goal is to encourage archaeologists to formulate prehistoric research that draws on historical materialism, the Marxist reasoning for understanding political economy. Three prehistoric cases from the Pacific (Lapita, Vanuatu, and Hawai‘i) help us evaluate the steps required to do this. Most importantly, we identify economic bottlenecks (constriction points) based on property rights for land or on production and trade of prestige goods. Resources can be mobilized by emergent elites at such bottlenecks to support strategies that enmesh land managers, captains, warriors, and priests to centralize power. A political economy approach in prehistory can help explain striking parallels observed for independent sequences as well as conjunctures and divergences in specific world culture areas.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)515-544
    Number of pages30
    JournalCurrent Anthropology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


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