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Tribe versus Chiefdom in Lower Central America

  • Winifred Creamer (a1) and Jonathan Haas (a1)

Abstract

It has commonly been argued that chiefdoms were the dominant form of prehispanic political organization in Lower Central America. Reexamination of the data base, however, reveals that tribal forms of organization were also present in Lower Central America at the time of Spanish contact and before. The salient characteristics of both tribes and chiefdoms are discussed, and criteria for identifying tribes and chiefdoms in the archaeological record are outlined. Data from the Central Provinces of Panama and the Gulf of Nicoya are then examined in light of these criteria. We argue that while a chiefdom form of organization prevailed in Panama, the Gulf of Nicoya was occupied by tribal groups immediately prior to contact with the Spanish.

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Tribe versus Chiefdom in Lower Central America

  • Winifred Creamer (a1) and Jonathan Haas (a1)

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