The study of specialized craft production – its emergence, organization, and associated technologies – has a long and esteemed history in archaeological research (see Wailes 1996). Specialized production, of subsistence resources and durable craft goods, has been viewed as a defining characteristic of sociopolitical complexity and its study as key to understanding economic and sociopolitical structures of complex societies (particularly states and empires) and, increasingly, of so-called “egalitarian” societies as well (see Bayman 2002; Mills and Crown 1995; Sassaman 1998; Spielmann 1998, 2002). In complex societies, social, ideological, and occupational differences serve to distinguish among categories of people, and specialized labor becomes a normative means for the production and provisioning of certain categories of subsistence and other goods. States and empires in particular are characterized by a highly elaborated division of labor, based ultimately in the ability of communities or societies to produce subsistence surpluses that can be used to support individuals and communities who do not engage in food production.
Factors underlying the emergence of specialized craft production have been explored by a number of scholars (e.g., Arnold 1976, 1985, 1993; Brown 1989; Childe 1951; Costin 1986; Rice 1981, 1991), and remain a pressing issue in the study of the nature and development of formalized systems of social inequality in human societies. Questions of ultimate origins are not, however, relevant to the study of Vijayanagara. Vijayanagara organization built upon at least 2,000 years of economic and sociopolitical complexity in South India.