Agency, practice, and chronological context: a Bayesian approach to household chronologies

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Overholtzer, Lisa

Overholtzer, Lisa. 2015. Agency, practice, and chronological context: a Bayesian approach to household chronologies. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, vol. 37:pp 37–47


This article proposes a methodological change within social archaeologies of household agency and practice, specifically a move to prioritize the development of precise household chronologies. Chronological precision can allow scholars to historicize household practice and remain anchored in social, political, and economic context, and thus, chronology is a vital part of archaeological studies of agency at the microscale. Given the field's recent focus on detailed stratigraphic excavations, microstratigraphy, and the reconstruction of genealogies of practice, I suggest that the easiest way to improve chronological precision is Bayesian statistical modeling of a large number of stratified radiocarbon determinations from household contexts. I illustrate the value of such an approach through the case study of the Structure 122 household at Xaltocan, Mexico. I create a precise chronology using Bayesian statistical modeling of 14 AMS radiocarbon dates from stratified deposits, which allows me to not only determine the precise timing of individual deposits, but also to interrogate previous findings of ethnic shift with broader political-economic changes. This sample, while small, hints that chronological imprecision may have led to the incorrect attribution of transformations in practice to elite, imperial actors, and demonstrates how Bayesian household chronologies may help archaeologists better identify agential practices.

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