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Pottery Production and Social Complexity of the Bronze Age Cultures on the Chengdu Plain, Sichuan, China


This dissertation attempts to explain the organization of pottery production on the ancient Chengdu Plain during the early and middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800-800 BC) and its relationship with social complexity. It investigates the formation of production controls and traditions in different dimensions and at various manufacturing stages of pottery production, and compares and classifies ceramics mainly from three site clusters, Sanxingdui, Shi'erqiao, and Jinsha, using a series of analyses. First, metric measurement and coefficients of variation are used to assess the degree of standardization in vessels and whether the metric dimensions form specific model values. The results suggest that different production loci, while producing the same type of pottery vessels, had varying degrees of production control over these metric dimensions and distinctive concerns about production details. Second, mineralogical and chemical analyses show that, under the same cultural influence, potters in different locations processed and fabricated their generally available raw materials in distinctive fashions and according to unique formulae. If we broaden our point of comparison to the Sichuan Basin and beyond, the cultural idiosyncrasy of these social groups is even clearer, which forces us to consider the circumstances of individual production traditions.

The spatial arrangements and use contexts of multiple categories of craft production in these settlements reveal that the production activities of the Chengdu Plain were loosely organized at co-residential households or at the community level in response to local subsistence and social needs. Despite such loose organization and the lack of managing supervision, working groups in different loci interacted to some degree and shared manufacturing ideas. Production norms and traditions, on such occasions, were thus most likely shaped by repetitive practices of routine production procedures, rather than by institutionalized power. The accumulation of local communications allowed these domestic economies to produce intensively and distribute products across a large geographic area, signaling mutual influence across the Chengdu Plain and its neighboring regions. Through this intensive communication, social relations were created, altered, and integrated into complex networks.

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