Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
This study investigates the role of administrative sealing practices in the emergence of social complexity in Early Helladic (EH) period (ca. 3100-2000 BCE) Greece. Archaeologists associate emerging complexity in mainland Greece with key developments in the EH period, including sealing practices, long-distance exchanges, monumental architecture, and craft specialization. Seals and sealings are a particularly sensitive proxy for complexity because of their economic and political potential as administrative devices, a pre-literate form of record keeping. Although Mycenaean elites used seals to control resources in the palatial political economy in the Late Bronze Age, there is no evidence that incipient elites did the same in the EH period. Nevertheless, EH society is described in neo-evolutionary terms as a chiefdom, a phase of development intermediary between Neolithic egalitarianism and Mycenaean state-level society. This study re-investigates the role of sealing practices in the process of social change, and departs from previous elite-based approaches by integrating collective action theory to consider the communal context of sealing as a social practice. It is argued that sealing was a form of collective action that demonstrates the central role that cooperation and non-hierarchical social dynamics played in the emergence of complexity in the Aegean.
A contextual approach to the archaeological evidence for sealing is used to reconstruct depositional patterns for seals, clay sealings, and seal-impressed objects. The results of contextual analysis reveal regional and chronological variation that demonstrate the diverse historical trajectories of mainland communities and reflect the different ways that mainland communities adapted foreign influences locally. Contextual analysis further reveals that sealing and communal feasting were closely associated, and EH sealing practices are identified as a cooperative strategy for small-scale communities to mutually monitor feast contributions to prevent free-riding on the benefits of feast participation. Feast contributions are described as neither public nor private goods, but rather as pooled resources (club/toll goods) that sealing transformed into a collective fund accessible to feast participants. From this perspective, seal designs were group emblems rather than the personal signatures of administrative elites. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of the social dynamics of emerging complexity in the Aegean by re-conceptualizing complexity beyond hierarchy.
Beeler, Maggie. "The Social Dynamics of Early Helladic Sealing Practices: Seal Use and Social Change in Early Bronze Age Greece." PhD Diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2018.