Charles S. Spencer

American Museum of Natural History

Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2007)

Research Interests

I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in the cultural evolution of complex societies. I have combined aspects of biological evolutionary theory with concepts from social and political anthropology to construct models of the evolution of chiefdoms (societies with centralized but not internally specialized leadership) and states (societies that are governed by centralized and internally specialized bureaucracies). I have applied these models to archaeological data that Dr. Elsa Redmond, my wife and collaborator, and I have recovered in Mexico and Venezuela. In Barinas, Venezuela, we documented that chiefdom society appeared around A.D. 600 in a context of demographic growth and increasing competition for prime agricultural land in our study region, at the interface between the llanos (savanna grasslands) of the Orinoco Basin and the Andean piedmont. In Mexico, we have spent the past three decades investigating the rise of the early Zapotec state, which emerged around 300 B.C. with its capital at Monte Alban in the Oaxaca Valley. Our research indicates that the evolution of an internally-specialized government here was closely linked to a dramatic shift in the prevailing warfare strategies that Monte Alban's rulers pursued, from sporadic raids to long-term territorial conquests. We have shown that this early state's pattern of territorial growth was markedly asymmetric, as Monte Alban initially extended its control into certain distant regions occupied by relatively weak polities, and only later turned its attention to closer areas with stronger polities which had managed to resist, for a while, incorporation into the early Monte Alban state.

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