You need to
understand the main concepts used
use case studies to apply and test the key concepts
grasp the strengths and weaknesses of the techniques used by archaeologists to reconstruct society from physical evidence
develop your ability to write evaluative essays.
Hawkes (▶p. 138) identified the archaeology of past social systems like that of ritual as a difficult topic for archaeologists. Despite this, most archaeologists have written with confidence on the societies they have studied and used a wide range of models (particularly from ethnography) to help interpret their sources.
Social archaeology can usefully be divided into three main subsections. How societies organise themselves ranges from the basic units of family, kin and bands to the political organisation of states. Divisions within society include different treatment based on age or gender and also stratification according to wealth, power or status. Finally there is social action and change. This can include phenomena like warfare or how and why societies changed in the past.
When studying this topic, an anthropological or sociological textbook (for example Giddens 1989) is a useful source of help with terms. Since this is the last thematic chapter of this coursebook there is danger of repetition. Where possible, we have cross-referenced issues here to studies in earlier chapters. We have also tried to include critical points in each subsection to help you write evaluative essays.