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Structure and Dynamics

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Ethnological Problems and the Production of Archaeological Kinship Research


Ethnology traditionally guides most research on kinship practices. However, diachronic hypotheses are inadequately tested when using synchronic and normative information from limited periods of ethnological observations. Archaeological kinship analysis on residence, descent, and marriage, using middle-range factual correspondences between social practice and material remains, enable plausible inferences on variation and change in kinship practices over long periods of time. Therefore, archaeology is ideal for independently evaluating diachronic hypotheses. Taíno, Maya, and Hohokam case studies are presented and the results obtained from archaeological kinship analyses are summarized. These analyses show that variation and change are prevalent, thereby defying normative characterizations. Several long-standing functionalist hypotheses on the emergence of residence and descent practices are evaluated, and several of these find little support from long-term diachronic archaeological testing.  In addition, archaeological kinship analyses can provide new insights on kinship practices unavailable to ethnology, further demonstrating the archaeological subfield’s capacity to become a major contributor to the contemporary expansion of kinship research.

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