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Apples and Oranges? A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Burial Data from Northeast China

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image of Journal of East Asian Archaeology

The analysis of burial data from two or more archaeological cultures is a common strategy in cross-cultural studies. Because burial data can be quantified (e.g., by number of burial goods, labor investment in man-hours, etc.), they lend themselves to statistical analysis. We must keep in mind, however, that such remains are those of ritual activity, and the statistical analysis performed here must be based on the reasonable assumption that each society is marked by sets of sumptuary rules. In the absence of an explicit theoretical consideration of this issue, anyone who looks at burial data cross-culturally therefore runs the risk of comparing "apples and oranges." This paper offers a suggestion as to how this problem can be overcome and how meaningful cross-cultural comparisons of burial data can be carried out. Using burial data from the Lower Xiajiadian (ca. 2100-1600 BC) and Upper Xiajiadian (ca. 1100-600 BC) Culture periods, I attempt to compare the level and type of social complexity attained by different Bronze Age societies in northeast China.


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