Excavations from Monte Alban in Mexico prove the theory that war is waged by the rich so that it makes the state even richer
Present and past meet in the research of anthropologists Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus from the University of Michigan (recently published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)). Archaeological findings dated by the radiocarbon method create a chronology of political life in Oaxaca from 2000 v.Chr. until 250 n.Chr..
The Zapotecs in the valley of Oaxaca (All images: Nationalcademy of Sciences of the USA, Proceedings of National Academy ofSciences (PNAS.1934526100)
State formation in statu nascendi is one of the major challenges for anthropologists, because the early period can seldom be established by written documents, and the tradition is subsequently glossed over or heroized by historians. The findings in Central Mexico are therefore in many ways a fortunate circumstance for research: for the region no other state formation than that of Oaxaca has been handed down, moreover the multi-layered superstructures under which elsewhere the past is lost are missing.
Also in Oaxaca there is the archaic period, namely the time of gatherers, hunters and early agriculture. Between 25-30 members pay the nomadic families; this lasts until the time of corn cultivation. When from 1700 v.Chr. the archaeologists estimate 19 villages in the plain of San Jose Mogote. The population is in the hundreds. People build houses and storage facilities for grain. Palisade fences and burnt-down buildings bear witness to rival battles, and temples and houses of the rich and privileged to the increasing organization of coexistence. 1000 years later, archaeologists now count 75-85 communes, 2000-3000 people move to Mount Alban, the former buffer zone between the rival main settlements.
Urbanization thus covers about one-third of the population at the time and is recruited primarily from the central and northern areas of the San Jose Mogote plain. The townspeople build a stone wall, create a bureaucracy and begin a warlike expansion. First to Suden against Tilcajete, which is a day’s march away. In the following 200 years, the area of influence expanded continuously and finally reached a radius of 150 km. If necessary for the well-being of the city, villages are burned down to make room for watering systems and other city facilities. The sphere of influence is secured by castles and military posts. Resisters are killed, and their heads are staked up as a deterrent.
Reconstruction of the fence with the pinned up damage
Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus see in the chronology a confirmation of the hypothesis of R.C.Kelley, which he published three years ago in his book "Warless Societies and the Origin of War" drawn from comparative analyses. According to this analysis, habitual criminality exists as long as the population is disorganized. This changes at the moment when groups and group affiliations crystallize. In matriarchal and patriarchal societies, family affinity is the unifying element; in other populations, common ancestry; in still others, faith or special interests.
R.C.Kelley describes the structuring as "social substitutability". It ensures that the killing of a group member is perceived as an attack on the group as a whole and is met with revenge. What is initially explained by certain incidents escalates with increasing population density. In addition, there is a further segmentation, which can be very complex, and from actions and reactions within the state-bearing population becomes the driving moment for armed conflict. Most peoples have waged war and continue to do so, summarizes R.C.Kelley.
Witnesses of war: killed prisoners with name hieroglyphics (right: sexually silenced)
For the early cultures R.C.Kelley observes a remarkable pattern of behavior: wars do not start between poor peoples, but predominantly originate in rich societies, "where societies can afford to have enemies for neighbors". Why can the rich afford to have enemies?? R.C.Kelley attributes the escalation to two moments. The next is the war gain in economic terms: this increases with increasing population density, better stockpiling and coarser stockpiles. On the other hand, the increase of the population causes an increase of segmentation. This means increasing particularistic interests, and with that the basic willingness to go to war increases.
However, according to anthropologist H.T. Wright out, not all populations are state-bearing. The most important prerequisite for state-building is a functioning decision-making hierarchy. It can mostly be traced back to four levels and is reflected in the corresponding management structure. The goal is the delegation of state authority. In the center, not all functions can be bundled in one hand. Furthermore, the authority must also be present on the periphery, several days’ march away, which means that the military commander usually represents the lowest level.
The analyses of Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus tell an exciting story. Once upon a time? By no means. From the unvarnished point of view, the similarity to the present is striking. If one follows the idea that man is intrinsically evil or is made evil by group dynamics, then the decline of powerful empires is explained: they take over themselves. Be it because the war strategy of the opponents changes, be it because the supposed war profit is eaten up by the costs or becomes a burde.