Hohokam Economy: Large-Scale Intensified Agriculture in the Absence of Social Complexity


Robert C. Hunt - Brandeis University


Abstract: The relationship of social complexity and large-scale intensified agriculture has been of interest to our discipline from very early days. It would appear that there is no large complex society without intensified agriculture. Large scale intensified agriculture is usually associated with the production of surplus, in large part to provision the various sectors of a complex society. Phoenix Basin Hohokam relied on very large irrigation systems, one major form of agricultural intensification. But the Hohokam were relatively egalitarian, with no cities, extensive division of labor. or marked social stratification. In the absence of social complexity why was there large-scale intensified agriculture? We use the Hohokam case to explore concepts of social complexity (particularly surplus), and agricultural intensification. We propose that the large-scale intensified agriculture did produce an agricultural surplus, but of cotton rather than of food. The demonstration of a surplus hinges on the identification of sources of demand for the putative surplus. Some suggestions for the destination of the cotton surplus are suggested. Finally, we explore a revised general rule for the relationship of large-sale intensified agriculture and social complexity.