Sociocultural Complexity In The Indus Civilization

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The essay will discuss a paper written by anthropologist Gregory Possehl – Sociocultural complexity without the state: the Indus Civilization. It will first present the usual classification when approaching ancient civilisations and briefly summarise Possehl’s main argument. The essay will then dig more deeply into the Indus case, relying on archaeological findings, to see how far Possehl’s position can be supported.
Archaeologists and anthropologists are usually classifying social groups considering their social organisation and material culture – one widely accepted classification recognizes four levels of development: (1) the band, a hunter-gather, kinship-based group, (2) the tribe, an organised collection of bands, (3) the chiefdom, a centrally organised kinship-based group with hierarchy and single leader, and (4) the state, a complex, hierarchical, centrally organised, non-kinship-based social organisation (Young 2014:19). Such a classification has stirred debates among scholars, as it conveys the preconceived idea that social groups ‘progress’ following this linear trajectory – furthermore, it is difficult to define the moment and the circumstances associated to a change of status (when does a band become a tribe?) (Young 2014:19). In addition, this framework implies that sociocultural complexity is the striking feature of the state – or, at least, characterises social groups that are in the process of becoming one. In his paper, Possehl goes against this view by
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