This dissertation develops a multidimensional approach to examine the ways in which people in small-scale societies create, perpetuate, justify, and overcome social inequality. Inequality can exist within a number of independent domains, some of which are likely to be subtle and dissimilar from those familiar to Western society. The advantages and disadvantages of inequality can shift between various groups and across social scales. Recent ethnographic work suggest that the most common domain of inequality in small-scale societies may involve status accrued to founding lineages. This hypothesis is examined in relation to four additional domains, each inspired by ethnographic data from indigenous groups of the U.S. Southwest: differential access to productive resources, ritual knowledge and practice, nonlocal objects and styles, and material wealth. Analyses are carried out with data from seven archaeological sites in the Mimbres region of southwestern New Mexico, spanning a period from approximately 250 to 1130 C.E. Results show that inequality was present throughout the Mimbres archaeological sequence but that it shifted over time, across space and social scales, and varied in magnitude in non-directional ways. Results also identify persistent factionalism wherein groups vied for moral authority based on differences in residential antecedence and justified via religious differences. Insight from this research benefits the social sciences by developing a number of methodological approaches, particularly to the archaeological study of primacy and antecedence, by demonstrating the necessity of a nuanced, multi-faceted approach to inequality, and by revealing the complex and plastic nature of inequality.
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