|American Anthropologist 77:505–525, 1975.|
I have to credit Brian Hayden (Emeritus Professor at SFU) with introducing me to George Cowgill (Professor Emeritus at ASU). This insightful article makes sense on so many levels, common and anthropological. It has something for everyone. There’s a take-down of the population pressure model used to explain intensification and innovation, and which I fear still underpins many arguments for culture change. Also in it is a rejoinder to the bigots who’ve always claimed that brown people don’t know any better than to breed and starve. Best of all, it explains why at certain places and in certain times states grew up when elsewhere people were ‘content’ to live the happy, affluent forager life (as if).
It’s a pity that so few archaeologists have assimilated Cowgill’s article (if the Google Scholar citation numbers can be believed). There might not be so much blather in the literature about the determinants of cultural elaboration and the growth of socioeconomic inequality.
So, if you’re just starting out in this field, get it and read it now–you’ll never regret it. If you’ve been in this business for a while, you should have read it by now. Established archaeologists could do worse than to remind themselves of its contents. And, if you’re as long in the tooth as George Cowgill, I’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten that you ever read it!
Truly a touchstone.