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Captives and Culture Change

Author(s): Catherine M. Cameron

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. 2 (April 2011), pp. 169-209
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
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Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011 169

Captives and Culture Change

Implications for Archaeology

by Catherine M. Cameron

Captives were found in societies of all social levels throughout much of history and prehistory. They
were frequently women, and they could be potent agents of culture change. In some societies they
entered a highly stigmatized slave class, while in others they might be fully incorporated into the
society of their captors. Regardless of their social position, captives played an important role in the
transmission of cultural practices and ultimately in culture change, but few studies have explored
the role of captives in culture change, especially in nonstate societies. I begin that process, using
ethnohistoric, historic, ethnographic, archaeological, and other data. I document the prevalence and
antiquity of captive-taking around the world, its gender selectivity, and the rights of social personhood
that captives were accorded in captor societies and assess factors that affected captives’ ability to
effect culture change. The focus is especially on craft activities, because captive influence is likely to
be most evident to archaeologists in the production of craft goods.

tory in most parts of the world: the introduction of captives.

The wives and children of those whom they had defeated
I argue that captives, who were frequently women, brought
were frequently made slaves. (Ellis 1828:147)
into the society of their captors novel technologies, ideologies,
The Huron took prisoners in war. . . . They seldom put to and social behavior, transforming that society in the process.
death women and children, but kept some for themselves Captives were typically obtained during raids or warfare,
or made presents of them to those who had previously lost although some were traded, given as gifts, or taken for re-
some of their own in war. (Tooker 1991 [1964]:31) payment of debt. They were also accrued as capital and oth-
erwise treated as commodities. The scale of captive-taking is
The major motives for warfare [among contact-period peo- startling. Captives, especially captive women, were present in
ple of the Llanos of South American] seemed to be to societies of almost every sociopolitical level from bands to
capture women and children and loot villages and gardens. states and in societies on every continent. Cavalli-Sforza
(Morey 1975:282) (2000:82) has noted that captive women likely affected gene
On their return [from war], they handed any prisoners flow, and other biological anthropologists and archaeologists
over to the relatives of their victims: Women and children are beginning to use isotopic data to identify slave populations
for enslavement, men for torture and death. (Galloway (Cox et al. 2001; Price, Tiesler, and Burton 2006). Linguistic
and Jackson 2004:607) studies on the effect of captives on captor language have
commenced (D. Fleck, “The Mayourna Languages of the Pa-
Intercultural interaction encompasses a large segment of ar- nona Family,” unpublished manuscript; see also Steward and
chaeological research, including trade and exchange, culture Faron 1959:322). Archaeologists documenting the intensity
contact, and migration. Archaeological approaches to inter- and ubiquity of warfare in prestate societies report that the
cultural interaction have been criticized for their unidirec- capture of women was a constant characteristic of prestate
tional and macroscale focus (Cusick 1998b; Stein 2002), and warfare (Golitko and Keeley 2007:339; Keeley 1996:86; Le-
we have recently seen calls for a reassessment of how inter- Blanc 2002:362, 2003:71, 208; see also Ferguson and White-
cultural interaction produces culture change (Kristiansen and head 1999a:23–24; for raiding for wives, see also Barnes 1999;
Larsson 2005). In this paper, I consider a single type of in- Bowser 2008; DeBoer 2008; Jorgensen 1980; McLennan 1865),
tercultural interaction that was common throughout prehis- but archaeology rarely considers the potential effects of cap-
tives on culture change.
Catherine M. Cameron is Professor in the Department of Both historic and prehistoric archaeology recognize the ac-
Anthropology at the University of Colorado (233 UCB, Boulder, tive role that subordinate individuals play in cultural con-
Colorado 80309-0233, U.S.A. [cameronc@colorado.edu]). This paper struction and transformation (Blanton and King 2004; Cusick
was submitted 15 V 08 and accepted 23 VII 09. 1998c; McGuire and Paynter 1991; Stein 2002, 2005a, 2005b;

䉷 2011 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2011/5202-0003$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/659102
170 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

Wilkie 2000), and the study of captives builds on and expands side more familiar processes that moved people around the
these emerging perspectives (Cameron 2008). Archaeologists landscape, including marriage, migration, and refugee situa-
are developing methods for identifying captives in prehistoric tions. This section consists of three subsections. The first,
societies (e.g., Donald 1997:201–213; Kohler and Kramer “Captives in Prehistory,” assesses evidence for the antiquity
2006; Martin 2008), and some have shown the importance of captive-taking from archaeology, biological anthropology,
of captives as a strategy for power acquisition in prehistoric oral traditions, linguistics, and other sources and not only
societies (e.g., Ames 2001, 2008; DeBoer 1986; Robertshaw establishes that captive-taking extends far back into prehistory
1999). Especially important for this study are recent efforts but also highlights the place of captive-taking among these
to understand how cultural practices were transmitted and other processes of population movement. In the second sub-
then adapted to a new social setting (see, e.g., Kristiansen and section, “Personhood in Captor Society,” I document captives’
Larsson 2005). Here I argue that in many cases, cultural prac- identity and social personhood within captor society. Finally,
tices were transmitted by young female captives, and I begin in “Captive as Laborer,” I consider how the nature of captives’
the process of assessing the circumstances under which labor conditioned their effects on captor society and captives’
captive-introduced practices would have been accepted by visibility within captor society and therefore their archaeo-
captor society. I contend that unless we recognize the potential logical visibility.
contributions of captives, our explanations of culture change Building on these understandings of how captives articulate
are destined to be incomplete or even incorrect. This is a twist with their captor’s social and material world, I then explore
of the kaleidoscope that I hope will allow archaeologists to the parameters that condition the acceptance of cultural prac-
bring into focus people who, after suffering violent displace- tices introduced by captives in “Captives as Agents of Social
ment, disappear into a foreign society. There is good evidence Change.” These parameters—discussed in three subsections—
that in spite of living often marginal lives, captives made include the characteristics of the captive at the time of capture
lasting contributions that archaeologists have not recognized. (“Characteristics of Captives and Cultural Transmission”), the
While culture change is frequently linked to trade or migra- attitude of captor society toward the captive (“Attitudes of
tion, uprooted young women may also have been a driving Captor Society”), and the nature of the material culture they
force behind the transmission of cultural practices. produced (“Captives and Material Culture”). Captives had
Because the evidence of captives is so extensive and because constraints on their ability to participate fully in the society
of my areas of expertise, I focus on nonstate societies—tribes of their captors, but nevertheless their influence is likely to
and chiefdoms—with the acknowledgment that the pervasive be socially significant and potentially evident in material cul-
practice of captive-taking enmeshes societies of all social levels ture. Gender is a very significant aspect of this problem; be-
in what have been called “predatory landscapes” (Bowser cause of the frequent capture of reproductive-age women,
2008; Stahl 2008). While I focus on nonstate societies, societies effects on captor societies may be strongest and more evident
of other social levels are discussed where appropriate, in- in female-linked cultural practices.
cluding the extensive literatures on classical slavery and the
Atlantic slave trade. Captives in nonstate societies made con-
tributions to technological, social, and ideological aspects of
Intercultural Interaction and the Trans-
ancient societies, but I emphasize especially captives’ effects mission of Cultural Practices
on material culture because those will likely be most evident
in the archaeological record. The following is a brief overview of theoretical perspectives
This paper has four major sections. I begin by describing that this examination of captives draws from and contributes
recent approaches to the study of intercultural interaction to, including culture-contact studies (which have focused pri-
(“Intercultural Interaction and the Transmission of Cultural marily on the historic period), studies of trade and exchange
Practices”) from both historic and prehistoric archaeology, among prehistoric groups, and migration. This study con-
highlighting those aspects of current theory and models most tributes to the development of microscale models involving
important for a study of captives. The second section con- the actions of individuals in the introduction and especially
siders the terms “captive” and “slave” to clarify the meaning the adoption and modification of cultural practices. The shift
and overlap in these terms and defines “captor” as an im- to microscale models in some theoretical arenas and a focus
portant social actor in the taking and keeping of captives on gender, power, and identity hold new promise for under-
(“Captive, Slave, and Captor”). The third and fourth sections standing processes of culture change through intercultural
(“Captives in Global Perspective” and “Captives as Agents of interaction. Captives were important social persons whose
Social Change”) develop the principal argument. role in these processes should be investigated.
“Captives in Global Perspective” examines how and where Culture-contact studies have focused, until recently, on the
captives were obtained and the frequent capture of women historic period, especially on colonial encounters between Eu-
and children, using ethnographic, ethnohistoric, historic, and ropean and traditional societies (e.g., the Columbian Conse-
archaeological data from nonstate societies. Captive-taking quences series: Thomas 1989, 1990, 1991). Investigations of
was surprisingly widespread and should be considered along- prehistoric intercultural or interregional interaction have been
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 171

dominated by studies of trade and exchange, generally aimed strata of society, partly because so many studies of intercul-
at explaining the development of complex social systems (e.g., tural interaction concentrate on the development of complex
Schortman and Urban 1992). Both historic and prehistoric societies. For example, Schortman and Urban (1992) suggest
archaeologists have rejected unidirectional models for culture that “the social faction most likely to have been involved in
change. The culture-contact field discarded the acculturation [intercultural interactions] . . . is the local elite and their
model (developed in the 1930s) that saw Western cultural agents” (237; see also Kristiansen and Larssen 2005; Schort-
traits as actively imposed by Western colonizers and passively man and Urban 1998). However, even Stein’s approach ig-
accepted by colonized people (Cusick 1998a:135; Schortman nores a large social group of unwilling travelers—captives—
and Urban 1998:103–107; Stein 2002:905). Scholars of pre- whose contributions to cultural change, including the devel-
historic intercultural interaction have emphasized problems opment of social complexity, were also likely to have been
with world-systems models that see domination of a subor- significant.
dinate periphery by a superior core (Schortman and Urban In spite of the important developments outlined by Stein
1998; Stein 1999, 2002). (2002, 2005a), Kristiansen and Larsson (2005) still find that
In culture-contact studies, movement away from unidirec- archaeologists have not developed useful models for the trans-
tional models of culture change has refocused study on mi- mission of cultural practices. They argue that any study of
croscale aspects of power relations and especially the appre- the transmission of cultural traits must be accompanied by a
ciation that subordinate individuals were an active part of theoretical concern with the processes through which alien
cultural construction, participants in a constant engagement cultural practices are assimilated in the recipient culture. They
between domination and resistance (Joyce, Bustamante, and emphasize that we need to develop new approaches to un-
Levine 2001; Paynter and McGuire 1991). Scholars of New derstanding the variety of ways that cultural practices were
World plantation slavery found that slaves maintained a sub- transferred among social groups in the past and then given
culture separate from that of their white masters, sometimes meaning in the culture to which they were introduced. This
retaining elements of their African identity (Ferguson 1992; study responds to Kristiansen and Larsson’s call by proposing
Ruppel et al. 2003; Singleton 1995, 1998). New concepts such a set of parameters under which captives would be most likely
as ethnogenesis, transculturation, and creolization emphasize to contribute to culture change. Captives entered society at
the cultural and genetic exchanges that occurred among in- the lowest rung of the social ladder and were forced to adjust
digenous New World populations and European and African to alien cultural traditions, but as this paper shows, their
newcomers (Armstrong 1998; Deagan 1998; Singleton 1998; presence, knowledge, and actions could be transformative.
Stein 2005b). Most important for this study is the recognition Theoretical approaches to migration are especially impor-
by scholars of New World slavery that slaves could actively tant for this study because captives were a unique but com-
affect the culture of their masters. For example, Armstrong mon type of prehistoric migrant. Study of migration died
(1998) demonstrates that in Jamaica, white slave owners almost completely during the heyday of processual archae-
changed the style and use of their dwellings (especially the ology. Although migration studies were revived over the past
use of outdoor space), following some of the practices of their two decades, they have only recently moved beyond study of
African slaves. Although New World plantation slavery has migration causes, the process of migration, and seeing mi-
been described as perhaps the most unusual system of slavery grants in the archaeological record (Anthony 1990; Cameron
known worldwide (Reid 1983b:2; Walvin 2006:4) and thus is 1995). There is a growing recognition of the importance of
unlike most of the systems of capture and enslavement con- understanding the nature of interactions between migrant and
sidered here, these studies establish that even in the most native and the implication of different types of interactions
restrictive situations, captives are potentially powerful agents for seeing migrants in the archaeological record as well as
of culture change. understanding their influence on culture change (Ortman and
Stein (2002) has argued that among scholars who study Cameron 2011; Stone 2003). Burmeister (2000) highlights the
prehistoric intercultural interaction, a new paradigm is de- importance of power differentials between migrant and native
veloping that has replaced unidirectional concepts of culture and age and sex selectivity in the migration process, both of
change (from colonizer/core to indigenous/periphery) with a which affect migrant visibility and impact. New methods of
“multiscalar” approach. This new approach explores inter- identifying migrants in the past using material-culture indi-
action from “top-down” and “bottom-up” perspectives, em- cators, especially those that distinguish between material that
phasizes human agency, and incorporates concepts of gender, actively signals ethnic identity and objects that are the result
class, and ethnicity in analyses of culture contact (e.g., see of nondiscursive aspects of daily practice (e.g., approaches
Lightfoot, Martinez, and Schiff 1998; Silliman 2001). Studies such as “technology of style”; Stark 1998; see also Clark 2001),
in Stein’s (2005a) edited volume show this new approach in may become especially useful in understanding the role of
action for the colonization of states and empires, including migrants in the transmission of cultural practices, and they
many prehistoric cases (Stein 2005b:12). This is an important are applied to captives below.
development because prehistoric archaeologists studying in- Study of captives, especially captive women, should be an
tercultural interactions have tended to focus on the upper important element of new models for understanding how
172 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

cultural practices are transmitted and incorporated in a new be maintained within subaltern groups through generations
social context. In fact, the capture of women is one of the and transmitted to the dominant group even under the most
main phenomena that should prevent scholars from consid- oppressive conditions (Armstrong 1998; Ferguson 1992; Sin-
ering intercultural interaction as a process with two (or more) gleton 1995, 1998).
players (migrant/native, colonizer/indigenous, trader/cus- Although slavery is well documented, captive-taking is only
tomer, core/periphery; see Voss 2008). The capture of women beginning to be studied (see Brooks 2002; Santos-Granero
can result almost immediately in multiethnic households and 2009). War captives have been occasionally reported in his-
multiethnic children, and these multicultural individuals are toric and ethnographic accounts, but these individuals are
entangled in a web of ethnicities and social roles from which generally male enemy combatants; women and children taken
they must chose, or are forced to select, their identity. As Stein captive at the same time are usually mentioned only in pass-
(2005b:27) points out for situations of colonization, the for- ing, as the quotes at the beginning of this paper illustrate.
mation of novel identities through processes of transcultur- Especially if they are absorbed as wives or adoptees, captives
ation, ethnogenesis, or hybridization is fundamental to un- become invisible to history. Captives appear to have been
derstanding the process of intercultural interaction. Captives common, perhaps universal, in the past (Taylor 2005). Nu-
were common and key players in such processes. merous accounts demonstrate that captives taken during war-
fare and raiding were the major means of enslavement in both
small-scale and complex societies (Donald 1997; Goody 1980:
Captive, Slave, and Captor
24; Lovejoy 2000:4; Patterson 1982:113; Santos-Granero
“Captive” and “slave” are overlapping terms and are used 2009). Regardless of whether they became slaves, wives, or
somewhat interchangeably in the following discussion; some some intermediate category of social person, all captives are
clarification is necessary, however. “Captives” are people— of interest for the purposes of this study (with the possible
women, children, and men—who are unwillingly and often exception of those too young to have been enculturated in
violently seized from their natal society and forced into a new their natal society) because the focus here is on the trans-
social group, bringing with them different cultural practices. mission of cultural practices.
Sometimes the new society is that of their initial captors, and In the drama that results in captive-taking, captors are
sometimes they are sold or traded to a distant group. The essential actors. Because of the association of captive-taking
social roles assigned to captives in captor society range from with warfare, initially captors are almost exclusively male war-
separation into a highly restricted and stigmatized slave class riors. In nonstate societies, when a captive is returned to the
to adoption with all or most of the rights of full members. warrior’s home, the face of the captor often changes when
In other words, not all captives become slaves; instead, slaves she is given away to others within the community or traded
are a subset of the category of captives (except for slaves born or sold beyond the community. In the discussion that follows,
into that status). the captor is not only the person who initially takes the captive
We know a great deal more about slaves than we do about but also those individuals or groups (“captor society”) that
captives. Slavery literature is used often in the remainder of hold the captive during her life in captivity and to whom she
the paper, but some explanation is necessary for the per- may pass elements of her natal culture.
spective taken here. The word “slave” conjures up images of
long-established systems of labor exploitation in the American
Captives in a Global Perspective
South, ancient Greece and Rome, and elsewhere, and there
is an enormous literature on ancient and colonial institutions The slavery literature (although it generally ignores captives
of slavery. The practice plays out in such a variety of ways in who become wives or are otherwise adopted) provides a sense
different parts of the world that scholars have spent a con- of the pervasiveness of the practice of captive-taking and en-
siderable amount of time defining slavery (Bonnassie 1991: slavement. Scholars who have undertaken global studies of
16–25; Copley 1960 (1839):4–9; references in Davis 1966:31– slavery reveal a practice that was, until about 200 years ago,
35; Engerman, Drescher, and Paquette 2001; Patterson 1982: almost universal (Davis 2006:1–2; Hochschild 2005; Patterson
13; Reid 1983b). Because this study focuses on the transmis- 1982; Taylor 2005). Hochschild (2005:2) makes the startling
sion of cultural practices, it is less important to determine observation that at the end of the eighteenth century, more
whether captives fit definitions of “slave” than to determine than three-fourths of the world’s population was in bondage
how they were integrated into the society of their captors and of one type of another (slaves, serfs, indentured servants); he
the social roles they played in these societies (Bowser 2008; adds Seymour Drescher’s assessment that “freedom” was the
Brooks 2002). These are the factors that determined their “peculiar institution,” not slavery. In their introduction to the
effect on cultural development in their captor’s society. Slaves Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery (1998:viii), Finkel-
born into their status might seem to be of less interest to the man and Miller note that “With the exception of marriage,
purposes of this paper, but studies of New World plantation the family, and religion, slavery is perhaps the most ubiquitous
slavery have shown that alien cultural practices—such as social institution in human history.” Reid (1983b) agrees:
pottery-making or the organization of household space—can “There are few institutions which appear to be so universal
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 173

as ‘slavery’” (1). Even Nieboer (1910 [1900]), who wrote the a broad characterization of the regions of the world where
earliest ethnographic study of slavery among what he called captive-taking in nonstate societies was especially prevalent.
“the savage tribes,” observed that “Slavery has played a great The emphasis on broad characterization necessitated the gloss
part in the social history of mankind” (xxi). of some temporal and spatial variability within regions. Table
The slavery literature does not present the full picture of 1 presents narrative data on captives in each region, providing
captive-taking, however. For this study, I have gathered data a sense of the pervasiveness of the practice of captive-taking,
on captive-taking societies from around the world, not only its origin in violence and warfare, and the frequent focus on
those with formal systems of slavery but also societies in which the capture of women and children. Tables 2–4 present data
captives attained some measure of integration into the social from these same regions concerning other aspects of captives’
system of their captors as secondary wives or even full mem- lives in captivity that are used below to document evidence
bers of the group. These data—from three regions of the Old for the antiquity of captive-taking and captives’ contributions
World and five in the New World, focusing primarily on to culture change.
nonstate societies—were acquired from historic, ethnohis- Captive-taking is one of a set of processes that move people
toric, and ethnographic accounts as well as occasional ar- across the landscape. Others include voluntary migration, ref-
chaeological reports (table 1). In northern, central, and east- ugee situations, and marriage practices. Captive-taking is dis-
ern Europe, data pertain to the period from about 1000 BCE tinguished from voluntary migration and marriage practices
to 1000 CE and include archaeological evidence of the use of by its coercive nature and from either voluntary or refugee
slaves in Iron Age mines, systems of slavery among Germanic migration by the selective targeting of women and children.
tribes during the Roman era, and the depredations of Viking While captive-taking might seem to be most difficult to dis-
raiders, who engaged in an extensive slave trade. In Africa, tinguish from marriage practices that circulated women over
data are mostly from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century large regions, DeBoer (2008) uses a substantial set of eth-
accounts of internal systems of capture and enslavement from nohistoric data from the Americas to show that women were
sub-Saharan Africa. Islamic practices of capture and enslave- captured from beyond the boundaries of the area where wives
ment, especially in east Africa after about 700 CE, as well as were normally recruited. This suggests that captive women
the devastation wreaked on African societies by the Atlantic should be archaeologically distinguishable from normal mar-
slave trade, require cautious use of these data. In Southeast riage partners even if they are integrated as wives.
Asia, accounts of maritime raiding by aggressive chiefdoms, In each of the regions included in table 1, captives were
small states, and larger polities date from the twelfth to the obtained primarily through raiding and warfare, although kid-
nineteenth centuries and cover vast expanses of ocean, island, napping, trade, debt, the sale of children, judicial and religious
and mainland. proceedings, punishment for crimes, and other social factors
Four regions in North America have extensive evidence for also resulted in the transfer of individuals between social
the taking of captives, with historic and ethnohistoric ac- groups. Warfare and raiding were most common among
counts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries neighbors and were especially common where complex so-
and archaeological and other evidence extending these prac- cieties bordered acephelous or small-scale groups. While this
tices into the prehistoric periods. In the Northeast, the might suggest that captives would not travel far, this was not
seventeenth-century accounts of Jesuit priests living among always true (table 1). In many regions, long-distance raids
the Huron and other groups provide the most detailed ac- were also undertaken. In Europe, Southeast Asia, parts of
counts of captive-taking and captive adoption. In the South- tropical South America, the Caribbean, and other places
east, accounts come from the earliest European explorers and where maritime raiding occurred, long-distance raids were
later ethnographic and historic studies. In the Southwest and often the norm. Furthermore, many accounts report efforts
the adjacent High Plains, archaeological data document cap- to move or trade captives far from their homes to reduce the
tive Pueblo women in Plains sites, earliest travelers’ accounts possibility of escape or efforts at rescue. Captives in many
report the presence of captives in indigenous settlements they parts of the world could be traded, moved, or recaptured
visited, and later historic documents detail extensive trade in again and again, meaning that they were likely some of the
captives among Native American groups and the Spanish. On most well-traveled members of any society.
the Northwest Coast, the earliest European accounts from the Captives were overwhelmingly women and children in so-
early nineteenth century document widespread practices of cieties around the world (table 1). Warfare and raiding in
warfare, capture, and formal systems of enslavement that ex- nonstate societies were lethal practices that resulted in a high
tended from Alaska to northern California. In South America death rate for male combatants (Keeley 1996:59–69; LeBlanc
and the Caribbean, accounts date from the late fifteenth cen- 2003:151, 161), but women and children were usually part of
tury to the twentieth century and are primarily from Ama- the plunder of war, and in some cases (especially the North-
zonia and adjacent areas. Among the tribes and chiefdoms of west Coast, South America, and Southeast Asia) their acqui-
these areas, warfare and captive-taking were endemic, with sition was a primary goal of warfare. Males were sometimes
the focus often on capture of women and children. captured and enslaved, but they were dangerous and difficult
In the compiling of these data, efforts were made to provide to transport and keep. The Atlantic slave trade was unusual
Table 1. Captives in the Old and New Worlds

Geographic Proportion of slaves

area/culture Approximate date Source of captives Distance taken Gender of captives in society References
Old World:
Northern, 1000 BCE–1000 CE Raiding, warfare, slave trade After about 800 CE, Viking In battle, Germanic warriors Taylor (2001:38) argues that Arnold 1988; Bonnassie
central, raids took slaves from (first–fifth centuries CE) the Scythians of eastern 1991; Golitko and
and east- Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and were more likely to kill Europe in the first millen- Keeley 2007; Karras
ern Eu- Celts male enemies and enslave nium BCE held enormous 1988; Keeley 1996;
rope mostly women and chil- numbers of slaves, the Kristiansen 1998, Len-
dren; however, both male slave population outnum- ski 2008; McDonald
and female slaves were bering native Scythians 10 and Snooks 1986; Pel-
common because Ger- to 1 teret 1981; Taylor
mans had a well-devel- 2001; Woolf 1997
oped system of chattel
slavery (Lenski 2008)
“Slave raiding was a major Warfare among Anglo-Saxon Female slaves were the larg- Of Celtic society (450–150
commercial activity of the kingdoms in Britain dur- est of the four categories BCE) Kristiansen (1998)
Viking Age and later. Vi- ing second half of first of adults during the Long says, “Slaves were . . . al-
kings not only sold slaves millennium CE resulted in Iron Age (free men, free ready a substantial part of
to the eastern Islamic many captives, who were women, unfree women, society by this time, cap-
countries but possibly often sold in Europe: unfree men) in portions tives being a necessary
traded captives taken in “The Anglian or Saxon of Europe away from the outcome of raids” (324–
Britain and Ireland to slave was a common sight Mediterranean (Woolf 325)
Muslim Spain. . . . Scan- in the markets of Gaul” 1997)

dinavians came to think (Bonnassie 1991:33)
of all slaves as foreigners”
(Karras 1988:49–50).
Vikings raided Britain and “Just as the continental Ger- An account of a traveler Between one-quarter and
Ireland for slaves, both mans had exported their from Baghdad to the Bul- one-third of the material
young women and men; slaves to the Roman gars of the Volga in the in the Germanic law codes
Norwegian Vikings also Empire, so the Anglo-Sax- tenth century CE de- (first–fifth centuries CE)
raided the Norse settle- ons [in England, fifth cen- scribed Swedish people deals with enslaved or
ments of Britain and Ire- tury to 1066 CE] exported selling only female slaves semiservile individuals,
land (Karras 1988) their slaves across the here, but Karras questions suggesting the prevalence
seas” (Pelteret 1981:104) this sex selection (Karras of slavery (Lenski 2008)
The Germanic law codes Slavs were the main target “From the 5th to the 8th
suggest that enslavement population for Viking and centuries, war was perma-
through capture, birth, Arab slave trade, and their nent in western Europe
purchase, or self-enslave- name is the source of our and it remained funda-
ment because of debt or word “slave” (Taylor 2001: mentally a manhunt. . . .
other misfortune had long 35) The Anglo-Saxon con-
been part of Germanic quest was accomplished
tradition (Lenski 2008) by the large-scale enslave-
ment of the Celtic popu-
lation” (Bonnassie 1991:
“Slaves [in medieval Europe] The Domesday Book census
tended to be of foreign of 1086 reported that 10%
origin, often distinguished of England’s population
from their masters not was slaves; proportions of
only by nationality but slaves were highest in the
also by religion” (Karras west and southwest (as
1988:14) much as 25%) and lowest
in the east (5%; Mc-
Donald and Snooks 1986:
“[In Scandinavia] a typical
farm of the twelfth cen-
tury would have had three
slaves” (Karras 1988:78)
“It is possible that in eastern
Denmark during the Vi-
king Age, slaves make up
almost the entire popula-
tion, perhaps with royal
stewards to oversee them”
(Karras 1988:85)
Africa Early nineteenth to Warfare, raiding, kidnapping, Slaves were moved away The internal African slave Kopytoff and Miers (1977: G. Brooks 1998; Lovejoy
early twentieth cen- debt, trickery, witchcraft from home so that they trade focused on women 60–61) report more slaves 2000; McDougall 1998;
turies CE, except accusations, judicial and could not escape (Baier and children (Kopytoff in complex societies than Meillassoux 1971,
where noted religious proceedings, and Lovejoy 1977:399; and Miers 1977:21, 53,72; in small-scale societies. Of 1991; references in

punishment for crimes Klein 1983:77; Kopytoff Lovejoy 2000:16; Meillas- the small-scale societies, Miers and Kopytoff
and Miers 1977:53) soux 1983:56; Olivier de Margi was 1%–2% slaves 1977; Robertshaw
Sardan 1983:130; Robert- and Sena 10%, but Kongo 1999; Robertshaw and
son and Klein 1983b:4) was 50%. There were Duncan 2008; Robert-
more slaves in small-scale son and Klein 1983a,
societies when they were 1983b; Stahl 2008;
involved in trade. Watson 1980a; Wright
Among the Aboh, the num-
ber of slaves was reported
to be greater than the
number of free people;
most were held by wealthy
chiefs (Nwachukwu-
Ogedengbe 1977:140–141)
Of the more complex socie-
ties, Wolof, Sereer, and
others in Sudan were one-
third slaves, Hausa was
50%, and western Sudan
was 30%–60% (Kopytoff
and Miers 1977:60–61)
Table 1 (Continued)
Geographic Proportion of slaves
area/culture Approximate date Source of captives Distance taken Gender of captives in society References
Southeast Twelfth–nineteenth Maritime slave raiding, debt Female slaves taken through- The majority of slaves in The proportion of slaves Campbell and Alpers
Asia centuries CE bondage out Philippine archipelago Southeast Asia, Asia, and among the Batak of North 2005, Junker 2008;
and as far as Vietnam, Indian Ocean Africa were Sumatra and the Toraja of Reid 1983a, 1983b;
Thailand, and Sumatra girls and young women South Sulawesi was 30%; Terwiel 1983; Warren
(Junker 2008) (Campbell and Alpers among the Nias (near Su- 1981
2005; Junker 2008) matra), 15%; among the
Kayan, Kenyah, and Me-
lanau on Borneo, 10%
(Reid 1983a:161–162)
Slavery at Angkor may have
reached 50% of the popu-
lation. Slaves were cap-
tured or bought from the
surrounding hill people or
neighboring states (Mab-
bet 1983:57; Reid 1983b:
12). In early nineteenth-
century Siam, perhaps
25% of populace were
slaves (Terwiel 1983:129).
More than half the labor

force in some Southeast
Asian polities consisted of
captured and debt-bonded
slaves (Junker 2008)
New World:
Northeastern Seventeenth–nineteenth Warfare with other groups: Slaves taken primarily from Most accounts suggest that Warfare caused heavy losses Callender 1978a, 1978b;
North centuries CE “The ultimate aim [of neighboring groups, but women and children were of population. Captives Fenton 1978; Heiden-
America warfare] was to return longer-distance raids were more readily adopted into were adopted to maintain reich 1978; Peregrine
(Iroquoian with captives” (Heiden- also undertaken. Gallay captor society than men, or increase population. Je- 2008; Sioui 1999;
groups reich 1978:386) (2002) reports that the Ir- but men were also suit missionaries reported Starna and Watkins
and Illi- oquois made long-distance adopted (but see Trigger that in the mid-seven- 1991, Tooker 1991
nois, Fox) raids into the Southeast. 1969:47–48) teenth century, two-thirds (1964); Trigger 1969,
Captives might also be or more of the people in 1976, 1978
given or traded to a dis- Iroquois villages were
tant tribe. adopted.
Southeastern Prehistoric, ethnohisto- Slaves were obtained almost Historical accounts report For most groups, captive Data available report only Anderson 1994; Bright-
North ric, historic (seven- entirely through frequent long-distance raids and men tended to be killed figures for Native Ameri- man and Wallace
America teenth–nineteenth warfare; slaves were also the trade of captives over and women and children cans as slaves of Europe- 2004; Campisi 2004;
centuries CE) traded extensively and great distances either enslaved or ans Fogelson 2004; Gallay
could be given as gifts adopted; men could also 2002; Galloway and
adopted or enslaved Jackson 2004; Hudson
1976; Lankford 2004;
Marquardt 2004; Per-
due 1979; Rudes,
Blumer, and May
2004; Saunt 2004; Us-
ner 1992; Walker 2004
Southwest Sixteenth–nineteenth Raiding among Native Captives could be sold re- Eighteenth-century records By the late seventeenth cen- Bailey 1966; Brooks
and centuries CE American groups and by peatedly and often trav- show that two-thirds of all tury, 21% of Spanish co- 2002; Brugge 1993,
southern the Spanish eled large distances; captives in colonial New lonial New Mexicans were 1968, 1999; Habicht-
High Brooks (2002:48) notes Mexico were women and non-Pueblo slaves (Brooks Mauche 2008
Plains, that “in the vast region girls (Brooks 2002:147; 2002:50)
North crisscrossed by trade in also Brugge 1968:109).
America meat, hides, maize, jew- Habicht-Mauche (2008)
elry . . . women might argues for the presence of
have been the most mo- captive Pueblo women
bile and negotiable item among the mobile bison
of exchange” hunters of the southern
Northwest Prehistoric, late eigh- Warfare and raiding were Slaves were often taken from Women and children were On the Northwest Coast, Ames 2001, 2008; Cybul-

Coast, teenth–early/mid- primary sources; also neighbors and near neigh- preferred as slaves: “When slaves composed 15%– ski 1979, 1990; Donald
North nineteenth century trade in slaves, debt, and bors, but an extensive a war party attacked a set- 25% of the population; 1997; Hajda 2005;
America CE slave by birth slave-trade network meant tlement . . . their initial there were more slaves in MacLeod 1929; Mitch-
that captives could pass efforts were concentrated northern part of the re- ell 1984; Oberg 1973
from hand to hand, end- on killing or driving into gion than in the south
ing up far from home. retreat the men . . . who
Sometimes long-distance were of fighting age”
raids were undertaken: “a (Donald 1997:112)
Ginakangeek Tsimshian at
Fort Simpson told [a
trader] . . . of old wars
and ‘terrible trips they
made far to the south to
capture slaves’” (Mitchell
South Amer- Protohistoric, early his- Captives were taken during Conibo raided near neigh- In Yanomamo raids, men are Chagnon (1992:106) reports Bowser 2008; Carneiro
ica and toric (early sixteenth warfare and raiding. They bors but sometimes more killed and women and that 12%–17% of Yano- 1991; Chagnon 1992;
Caribbean century CE), and were also traded and sold. distant groups (DeBoer children are captured mamo wives had been DeBoer 1986, 2008;
historic (seven- A slave market was re- 1986; Santos-Granero (Bowser 2008) captured in raids Santos-Granero 2005,
teenth–twentieth ported in the Cauca Valley 2009); for example, Santos 2009; Socolow 1992;
centuries CE) by earliest European ex- Granero (2009:56) reports Spencer 1991; Trim-
plorers (Trimborn 1949: raids of up to 600 km born 1949
200, 204, cited in Carneiro
Table 1 (Continued)
Geographic Proportion of slaves
area/culture Approximate date Source of captives Distance taken Gender of captives in society References
Santos-Granero (2009) pro- The Kalinago of the Lesser The capture of women and Santos-Granero (2009) re-
vides detailed information Antilles conducted long- children were the primary ports the following pro-
on six “capturing socie- distance maritime expedi- goals of warfare in the portions of slaves in Am-
ties”: the Kalinago of the tions against Arawak- Llanos area of Colombia erindian societies:
Lesser Antilles, the Conibo speaking people of the and Venezuela (Morey Kalinago at contact, about
of eastern Peru, the Tu- Greater Antilles and Gui- 1975:282), among the 5% (p. 54); Conibo, 110%
kano of Colombia and ana coast (Santos-Granero Conibo in Amazonian (p. 57); Tukano 8%–28%
Brazil, the Chiriguaná of 2005:46, 2009:49–51) Peru (DeBoer 1986:233), (higher figure includes at-
southeastern Bolivia, the and among indigenous tached servant groups; p.
Calusa of southern Flor- groups in colonial Argen- 70–71); Chiriguaná 20%–
ida, and the Guaicurú of tina, who raided the 80% (unclear what pro-
Paraguay; for these groups Spanish (Socolow 1992:83) portion were captives and
he describes “permanent what proportion were at-
raiding, pillaging, and the tached servant groups; p.
taking of captives, gener- 79)
ally children and young
women” (Santos-Granero
Socolow (1992) reports Santos-Granero (2005:44)
Spanish captives taken to notes that women and
different indigenous dis- children were the most
tricts (distances not pro- common war captives
vided) among non-Arawak Am-
erindian slaving societies,
as adult men and older
women were generally
killed (see also Santos-
Granero 2009)
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 179

in seeking male agricultural laborers for plantation work in [Hajda 2005:573].) In another study, Ames (2008) uses ar-
the New World, and African slavers targeted males for this chaeological evidence for household productive capacity to
external market, while within Africa the internal and Islamic show that slaves were essential to maintaining the status of
markets focused on female captives (Klein 1983; Lovejoy 1989, elite titleholders in prehistoric Northwest Coast societies, im-
2000:16; Patterson 1982:159). plying that slavery was an ancient practice here. Donald (1997:
The proportion of captives in societies around the world 205–209) examines Northwest Coast languages that have
is startling. Figures range from 10% to almost 70% in some terms for “slave” and argues that in these languages the terms
groups, and for most groups, the proportion of captives seem to be ancient, not recent loan words. In a study of
ranges between 20% and 50%. Data in table 1 have been Northwest Coast oral traditions, Averkieva (1966, cited in
taken primarily from historic sources, and some scholars sug- Donald 1997:45) reported that slaves appear as a normal part
gest that warfare and enslavement were increased by encoun- of the social scene in these accounts, suggesting that they had
ters between Europeans and indigenous groups (Fage 1969; considerable antiquity.
for warfare, Ferguson and Whitehead 1999b; for the American In portions of South America and the adjacent Caribbean,
Southeast, Gallay 2002:29; for the Northwest Coast, see dis- early travelers’ accounts show that practices of captive-taking
cussion in Donald 1997:35–40; for New Zealand, see Vayda and enslavement were highly developed at the time of first
1961). There is significant evidence, however, that warfare and European contact. Santos-Granero (2009; see also Santos-
captive-taking were ancient precolonial practices in all of the Granero 2005) argues that scholars have tended to ignore
regions discussed here, although proportions of captives may evidence for stratified societies in these regions during the
have been somewhat smaller before Western contact (table precontact period and shows that indigenous forms of ser-
2). The studies discussed here confirm the antiquity of vitude were characteristic of many societies here prehistori-
captive-taking, suggest directions that archaeologists can take cally. He uses accounts from the fifteenth to the nineteenth
to identify captives in the past, and highlight the ways captive- centuries, including reports from chroniclers who were part
taking converges with other types of movement across social of Columbus’s second voyage to America, to describe the fate
boundaries. Data come from archaeology, osteology, isotopic of male and female captives in six Amerindian societies. Sim-
studies, linguistics, oral history, and early travelers’ accounts. ilarly, the first Europeans to visit the Cauca Valley of Colombia
in the early sixteenth century described elaborate chiefdoms
with well-developed systems of captive-taking, enslavement,
and trade in slaves, including slave markets (Carneiro 1991,
Captives in Prehistory
citing Trimborn 1949). Finally, DeBoer (1986) shows that
Examples from the Northwest Coast, South America, and the competitive feasting and captive women were historically part
American Southwest suggest the types of information that are of male strategies for power acquisition in Amazonian Peru
beginning to be used to demonstrate the presence of captives and uses ceramics to suggest that the same patterns had op-
in prehistory (table 2). An elaborate system of slavery among erated in prehistoric times (see below).
the tribes of the Northwest Coast has been documented his- In the American Southwest, the earliest Spanish chroniclers
torically, but some scholars have argued that it was the result reported that captive people from the Great Plains were held
of engagement with the Euroamerican trade in fish and furs in Pueblo villages (Brooks 2002), and Habicht-Mauche (2008)
(J. Brooks 1998:54). Others have presented abundant evidence demonstrates the presence of captive Pueblo women among
from human remains, language, oral tradition, and labor es- buffalo hunters in the adjacent Plains. A recent detailed ar-
timates that warfare, captive-taking, and enslavement were chaeological study of Grasshopper Pueblo, a fourteenth-
ancient practices in the Northwest Coast (Ames 2001, 2008; century site in east-central Arizona (Lowell 2007), also implies
Cybulski 1979, 1990:58, 1992:49–51; Donald 1997; see also the presence of captives (although this is not the author’s
Hajda 2005; Maschner and Reedy-Maschner 1998; Mitchell interpretation) and allows us to consider (along with Habicht-
1984), with Donald’s (1997) study being the most compre- Mauche 2008) the convergence of captive-taking with prac-
hensive. Cybulski (1979, 1990, 1992) studied skeletal remains tices of marriage and migration. Lowell (2007) describes an
from two Northwest Coast archaeological regions and found excess of women in the burial population at Grasshopper and
fewer women in the population with the highest rate of his- argues that they were female war refugees who migrated from
toric slavery. Cybulski (1990) reports on the remains of in- the north during a time of intensive warfare. The women
dividuals discarded at death rather than formally buried and were apparently incorporated as wives, and this case illustrates
argues that slave women were not buried in the same location the blurring of the categories of migrants, marriage partners,
and manner as other members of the group, accounting for and captives. Lowell (2007:103–104) discards the possibility
their low numbers in the burial population and providing that these individuals were captives because they do not show
evidence for the antiquity of the practice of the capture and obvious signs of trauma or casual burial. Although trauma is
enslavement of women. (Early travelers’ accounts from the one indicator of captive status (Martin 2008), not all captives
Northwest Coast describe dead slaves left for dogs or crows, necessarily retained skeletal evidence of physical abuse, and
thrown under logs or in rivers, or left lying on the beach while slaves were often buried informally or their bodies sim-
Table 2. Evidence for the antiquity of captive-taking

Geographic area/culture Evidence

Old World:
Northern, central, and eastern Europe A 20,000-year-old figurine from southern Russia presents an image that suggests a shackled pregnant female (Taylor 2005)
Keeley (1996) and Golitko and Keeley (2007) provide archaeological evidence for significant levels of warfare in the European Neolithic.
Gronenborn (1999, cited in Taylor 2001) argues that some form of slavery was in existence in central Europe from at least the begin-
ning of the Neolithic, given evidence of warfare and human sacrifice.
Kristiansen (1998:116–117) presents evidence of use of slave labor in the Urnfield culture of central Europe (1100–750 BCE)
Arnold (1988) presents archaeological and literary evidence for slave raiding and trading in the Iron Age cultures of the late Hallstatt
(800–600 BCE) and La Tène (600–100 BCE) periods as well as archaeological and literary evidence for an indigenous less-privileged
population. Although some scholars link European slave trade to Greek stimulus, Arnold (1988:185) suggests that the idea of treating
human beings as commodities existed before Greek contact.
Iron shackles and gang chains provide material evidence of slavery in the later Iron Age of the first millennium BCE (Taylor 2001:28; see
also Arnold 1988:180)
Patterson (1982:149; citing Fox 1945) reports a slave gang chain at a site on the island of Anglesey off the coast of Wales, indicating that
slave trading was well established by the time of the Celtic La Tène culture, first century CE
Archaeological evidence of Germanic peoples raiding the Roman empire for slaves includes Roman objects in Germanic sites, evidence

that Roman metalworkers had been captured, Germanic hoards that included shackles, and funerary inscriptions that discuss slave
dealers (Lenski 2008)
“Slavery existed in Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. . . . The word wealh, with the original meaning of ‘Celt’ or ‘Welsh’
came by the 9th century to have a distinct meaning of ‘slave’” (Karras 1988:30; see also Pelteret 1981).
“The [Viking Age] sunken huts in eastern Denmark have been interpreted as slave dwellings” (Karras 1988:84)
“Slaves were an integral and numerically important part of English society during the Anglo-Saxon period. They appear in the earliest
English law code promulgated between 597 and 616.” (Pelteret 1981:99)
Lack of formal burial is common treatment for slaves; Taylor (2005:230) provides an account of a man who traveled from Baghdad to
Kazan on the Volga river in the 920s CE and reported dead slaves scattered on midden heaps and being eaten by dogs
Africa African slaves present in ancient Greece and Rome were likely a product of a trans-Saharan trade through western Africa (via oasis towns
of the Fezzan) that was well established at the latest during the time of the Roman Empire (K. Bradley, personal communication,
November 2007)
During the period 1100–1500 CE in West Africa, horse warriors engaged in warfare and conquest. West of the Niger bend, Madekan-
speaking horse warriors created centers that included large numbers of slaves either captured during warfare or purchased (G. Brooks
Robertshaw (1999) suggests that large polities had developed in western Uganda by the middle of the fifteenth century and mobilized
followers for raiding and warfare, obtaining captive women needed for agricultural labor
Keim (1983:145) reports that slaves are present in Mangbetu oral history, although he does not use this to suggest antiquity of the prac-
Lovejoy (2000) notes, “That slavery probably existed in Africa before the diffusion of Islam is relatively certain. . . . People who were
kidnapped, seized in war, or condemned to be sold as a result of a crime.” (21)
Archaeological evidence of the slave trade is presented by Kusimba (2006), although these sites date to the past 400 years
Southeast Asia Reports (as early as the thirteenth century) of slave raids and the presence of foreign slaves in many parts of Southeast Asia document
the antiquity of the practice (Junker 2008)
Reid (1983a:157–158) presents early European travelers’ accounts of the very large numbers of slaves held in Southeast Asia
Pottery designs provide clues to the presence of captives; Junker (2008) reports that designs on earthenware pottery were introduced by
captives from small-scale societies to larger societies
New World:
Northeastern North America (Iroquoian Warfare in the Northeast is thought to have been common prehistorically (Trigger 1969:32). Homogeneity in pottery types suggests the
groups and Illinois, Fox) movement of captive women (Trigger (1969:159–161). Starna and Watkins (1991:44) note that captives’ fingers are mutilated upon
capture and that this may be a mark of enslavement. They also report linguistic evidence for the antiquity of slavery (Starna and
Watkins 1991:48–49).
Southeastern North America Early European accounts report slavery. Chiefs gave the conquistador De Soto their “slaves” for use as burden bearers.
Hudson (1976:77) and Alt (2008) suggest that prehistoric evidence of human sacrifice indicates the presence of captives
Anderson (1994:95, 133) notes that De Soto’s expedition found large buffer zones between warring groups, and similar depopulated areas
are evident in the prehistoric period; these depopulated areas may indicate warfare and captive-taking
Southwest and southern High Plains, A collection of traumatized female human remains from the La Plata Valley dating to the period 1100–1300 CE has been suggested to
North America represent captive women (Martin 2008)
Sex ratios showing a female bias in populations of human remains are found in Chaco Canyon during the eleventh century. Female-
biased sex ratios are found at Aztec ruins during the thirteenth century, and a male bias is found in the Mesa Verde region to the
north at the same time. Kohler and Kramer (2006) interpret these patterns as raiding for women.
Pueblo-style ceramics found at sites occupied during the protohistoric period (1500–1700 CE) by southern Plains bison hunters are inter-
preted by Habicht-Mauche (2008) as evidence for the presence of captive Pueblo women there
Coronado, the first Spanish explorer to visit the Southwest in the early sixteenth century, found Plains captives among the Pueblo people.
A Spanish expedition in 1583 obtained Querecho women from Hopi Pueblo (Brooks 2002:85–86).
Northwest Coast, North America Archaeology, osteology, ethnohistory, early travelers’ accounts, and linguistics all suggest that slavery was an ancient practice
There is archaeological evidence of slavery by at least the Late Pacific period, if not earlier (500–1775 CE; Ames 2001)
Cybulski (1979, 1990) uses skewed sex ratios and unconventional burial methods to document prehistoric slaves at sites dating between
1500 BCE and 500 CE
Archaeological evidence for warfare and raiding as well as increased labor needs suggest the presence of slaves (see especially Ames 2008

for use of labor estimates to determine the prehistoric presence of slaves)
Linguistic studies find that words for slaves are ancient (Donald 1997:202–209)
South America and Caribbean The formal system of slavery found among the Tupinamba was recorded in detail by some of the first explorers in this area in the mid-
1500s (Bowser 2008)
For the Peruvian Amazon, DeBoer (1986) provides archaeological evidence of links between competitive feasting and raiding for women,
suggesting that captive-taking was an ancient practice
The earliest European accounts by travelers to the Cauca Valley and the Llanos report slaves as an important social class (Morey 1975;
Trimborn 1949, cited in Carneiro 1991)
Santos-Granero (2005, 2009) presents accounts from the earliest European travelers in the Caribbean and South America (including Co-
lumbus’s second voyage), as well as linguistic evidence, documenting that precontact captive-taking and enslavement were common
among Caribbean and South American groups (he discusses extensively the Kalinago, Tukano, Conibo, Chiriguaná, Guaicurú, and Ca-
lusa in Santos-Granero 2009)
Note. Dates, characterization of captives, and references for each region are provided in table 1.
182 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

ply discarded (Ames 2001:5; Donald 1997:203; Hajda 2005: amining how the captive’s rights of social personhood come
573; Martin 2008), captives incorporated as wives into the to be meaningfully ascribed through the process of incor-
social system of their captors might not have suffered such poration into a community. (268)
treatment. The distinction between voluntary (and likely des-
We can begin the process of exploring the nature of social
perate) refugee and violently acquired captive is difficult to
personhood for captives by considering factors that affected
discern archaeologically. However, the abundant accounts
how they were incorporated into the society of their captors.
worldwide that describe the long-distance transfer of captive
These factors include characteristics of the captive, such as
women and their integration into ethnically different social
their age, gender, and sexuality; the social status of their cap-
groups must be contrasted with the dearth of accounts of
tor; and, according to some scholars, the source of wealth in
numerous women traveling many miles through war-torn ter-
the captor’s society.
ritory who are then safely accepted into ethnically different
Gender and age conditioned the experience of the captives,
communities. Habicht-Mauche (2008) similarly shows the al-
from their initial selection during combat and their treatment
ternate possibilities of long-distance marriage partners and
violently acquired captives. Lowell’s (2007) innovative study upon entering captor society to the ways in which they were
of female-linked migrant traits is used below to explore factors incorporated into captor society, their opportunity for social
that condition captives’ roles in cultural transmission. development in that society, and (of most importance here)
Isotopic studies of human remains are beginning to be used their potential to introduce their native cultural practices into
to identify individuals who were transported out of their the culture of their captors. Voss and Schmidt (2000:2–3,
homelands, likely through capture. Isotopic ratios vary with following Rubin 1984) suggest that gender (defined as the
the elements present in foods a person ate during life, and a “cultural organization of biological sexual differences”) and
foreign-born person may have isotopic ratios that are different sexuality (defined as “sexual activities, eroticism, sexual iden-
from those of native-born individuals. Cox and her colleagues tities, sexual meanings, and sexual politics”) are different,
(2001) used stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes to identify although related, arenas of social practice. One could argue,
foreign-born individuals who were likely first-generation however, that these two arenas come together at the moment
slaves buried in a colonial cemetery in Cape Town, South of capture. Captors were almost universally male, while cap-
Africa. Price, Tiesler, and Burton (2006) used strontium iso- tives were very often female, and captives’ sexuality, as well
topes as well as dental mutilation to identify first-generation as their procreative abilities, was usually a key part of their
slaves from West Africa in an early colonial burial ground in immediate and long-term value. Once the life of a captive
Campeche, Mexico. Similarly, Alt (2008) reports that some was embarked on, however, gender roles could break down
individuals buried at a Mississippian site in eastern North and the “nonbeing” emerge, for example, in the assignment
America had isotopic signatures that indicated a nonlocal of female captives to tasks typically accomplished by males
origin and evidence that they had been sacrificed, which sug- and vice versa.
gests that they were captives. Isotopic studies are of special As indicated in table 3, women were most likely to be
interest in the study of captives because they have the potential offered membership into the society of their captors as wives,
to identify place of origin. while males were more often made slaves (e.g., the North
American Southeast and Southwest and South America). Cap-
tive women could provide wives or concubines without in-
Personhood in Captor Society
curring bridewealth or other payments for the captor, and
Captives were thrust into an alien society where they had no this was a strong motivation for capturing women in South
kin and no place in the social structure, and they often un- America, Africa, and elsewhere (see especially DeBoer 2008).
derwent violent rites of passage as their fate in that society Kopytoff and Miers (1977) note that in Africa, captive women
was decided and their captors determined what sort of social had no kin and therefore no divided loyalties. Men would
persons they would become. Fowler’s (2004) call for the ar- have more direct control over the children these captive
chaeological study of varying concepts of personhood is par- women produced.
ticularly appropriate for the investigation of captives in the Age at capture was also important in determining the rights
past because in most societies, captives occupied social po- of social personhood offered to captives, and child captives
sitions that were strongly marked off from the rest of the were often highly valued (table 3). As Brooks (2002) notes
population, even when they were not part of a formal system for the Comanche of the American Southwest Borderlands,
of slavery. “children capable of easy assimilation fit into the traditional
As Bowser (2008) notes, pattern of adoption and acculturation” (187) In some soci-
Generally, captives experience a loss of social personhood eties, for example, the Conibo of tropical South America,
that is complete at the time of their capture. They are com- capturing children was as important as capturing women
pletely vulnerable, disposable persons with no rights, (Santos-Granero 2009:61). Young captive girls were raised by
including the right of life. . . . It is useful to shift from the Conibo to be future concubines for their captor’s sons,
examining the meanings of categories of servitude to ex- although they were forced to have sexual relations at a much
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 183

earlier age than native Conibo women (Santos-Granero 2009: been limited, their alien origin never completely forgotten.
152). Among the Kalinago of the Caribbean, young boys were Some examples suggest the liminal nature of even some “for-
kept as servants until they reached adulthood and could be mally adopted” captives. Starna and Watkins (1991) have
sacrificed in ritual ceremonies. Childhood did not necessarily questioned the completeness of captive adoption in the
offer young captives protection from abuse, however (e.g., see Northeast, noting that, as in Africa, kin terms applied to
Bowser 2008:276–277 for treatment of captive children in captives were not intended to suggest the closeness of a re-
Amazonia). Brooks (2002:187) adds that while younger boys lationship but authority and subordination (see also Kopytoff
were adopted into Plains tribes, older boys were enslaved. For 1982:215; Patterson 1982:62–65; Trigger 1969:49). Bowser
purposes of this study, we might distinguish infants and very (2008) also emphasizes the vulnerable position of captive
young children who would be enculturated in captor society women in the Amazon who were without kin in the captor
from older children who might retain some practices of their society. After being claimed as wives, they had no relatives to
natal group, although even very young children who are cap- defend them if their husband abused them, and their captive
tured with a mother or other adults may continue to learn children could be subject to abuse by other children or adults.
practices from their culture of origin. Both Brooks (2002) and Brugge (1993) document the elab-
The status of the captor could affect the rights of social orate fictions of kinship and claims of saving souls by which
personhood afforded to captives, and captives were often held Spanish families in the Southwest disguised the practice of
by the most prominent members of society: chiefs, rulers, and capturing, trading, and holding Native American women,
wealthy families. This was because rulers and the wealthy most children, and men, most of whom became domestic labor,
often initiated and funded the wars and raids in which captives the women doubling as concubines or drudge wives.
were obtained and, as a result, also kept the lion’s share of Regardless of the social role into which captives stepped,
the human and other booty. The prominence of their owners they had a potentially transformative effect on captor society.
could sometimes result in an enhanced status and rights for The relationship of owner to captive is intrinsically hierar-
captives. For example, Robertson and Klein (1983b:16–17) chical, and the introduction of captives into society imme-
note that in Africa, female slaves might achieve an influential diately creates a system of inequality. In fact, Carneiro (1991:
position as wives or retainers of a king. Marriage with slaves 179) argues that keeping captives alive and enslaving them
was an advantage to African rulers because, as noted above, was a major evolutionary step (a perspective also taken by
slave women were without kin ties and were unlikely to have the early social evolutionists of the nineteenth century, such
their loyalties divided between their husband and their natal as Tylor, Morgan, and also Marx; see Koyptoff 1982). Simply
family. In a study of Spanish women captured by Indians in by their presence as outsiders, captives could also strengthen
Argentina in the seventeenth–nineteenth centuries, Socolow or define social boundaries both within captor society and
(1992) suggests that these women actually gained social status between societies (Brooks 2002:246–247; Perdue 1979:17).
in moving from being the wife of a Spanish peasant to being It is important to note that captives often functioned as
the wife of an Indian chief. As discussed below, the status of more than simply social persons. Around the world, captives
a captive’s owner or husband could afford captive women were repeatedly described as media of exchange (Brugge 1993:
expanded abilities to transmit their natal culture. 97; Taylor 2001:35; Warren 1981:186, 201). Patterson (1982:
Some scholars have suggested that the ways in which cap- 167–199) describes the many places in the world where slaves
tives are incorporated into slave-owning societies, at least in functioned as money. For example, in Ireland, the cumal, or
Asia and Africa, have to do with sources of wealth (Watson female slave, was equivalent to 3–8 cows or 3 ounces of silver.
1980b:11–12, following Goody 1971:32). In Africa, where Because of their humanity, however, captives’ value could be
wealth was built through control over people, captives in- different than that of other units of exchange. They were the
corporated as wives or concubines increased the population ultimate gift, used to establish and maintain ties among dif-
and hence the prestige of the group (see also Nieboer 1910 ferent groups. In describing the French involvement in the
[1900]). In contrast, in Asia, where land was the primary indigenous warfare and slave raiding in late-seventeenth- and
source of wealth, captives were rarely invited into kinship early eighteenth-century New France, Rushforth (2003) shows
systems where they would have claims on kin land. This di- how Native American groups in the Northeast used captives
chotomy in sources of wealth can also be applied to the North- as symbols of alliance, power, and spiritual renewal. They
west Coast’s intensive foragers, where wealth and prestige were offered captives to seal diplomatic agreements, to signify
based on control of property, including resources such as friendship, and to secure valuable trade goods. The practice
salmon-fishing locations. As Donald (1997:101–102) shows, was also a familiar one to European colonizers. In a recent
this emphasis on control of property resulted, as in Asia, in look at the early years of colonial Jamestown, Clausen (2007)
a closed system of slavery in which slaves were never invited reports that a teenage English boy who arrived with a group
into the kinship system of their captors. of settlers in 1608 was given to a Powhatan chief as a hostage
However, even in societies where captives were married, in exchange for the chief’s “servant.” This exchange of hos-
adopted, or otherwise appear to have been fully integrated tages was intended to encourage friendly relationships be-
into captor society, their rights of social personhood may have tween the two groups.
Table 3. Captives in captor society

Geographic area/culture Role and status in captor society

Old World:
Northern, central, and eastern Europe Despite variations through time and across the continent, in most cases slaves formed a separate, stigmatized social class. Bonnassie (1991:

16–25) provides evidence from medieval European legal documents that slaves were considered subhuman. Bonnassie (1991:5) suggests
two kinds of slavery in medieval Europe: (1) rural slavery of the early Middle Ages and (2) slave trade of the late Middle Ages (urban
slavery, artisanal or domestic). Bonnassie (1991:28–31) also notes that in the first millennium CE, the Catholic Church was the largest
slave owner; slaves often worked on large estates owned by the church.
In Iceland, slaves were classified as a single ethnic group (Karras 1988:50). “The stereotype of the slave as ethnically different was part of
the social construction that made the slave an other” (Karras 1988:56).
Germanic law codes after the mid-fifth century CE show that Germans conceived of their slaves as property; in many laws the slaves were
treated the same as livestock (Lenski 2008)
Africa Captive women were often incorporated as wives, secondary wives, or concubines. Slave wives were often preferred because they were
without kin (Robertson and Klein 1983b:6). Kopytoff and Miers (1977) argue that in Africa, slaves were outsiders and slavery was an
institution that allowed slaves to be incorporated into captor society: a slavery-to-kinship continuum (see also Watson 1980b:2–9).
For the Sena, Isaacman and Isaacman (1977:111) note that while marriage allowed for incorporation into a lineage, captives still held
marginal social positions, did less desirable tasks, and in a crisis were more likely to be sold
The more valuable a slave, the more likely he or she was to be integrated quickly into the new society; value depended on the slave’s
intelligence, speaking ability, fertility, and skill at farming or handicrafts (Keim 1983:148–149)
Captives could be held by kings or powerful rulers: women as part of large harems (see, e.g., Bay 1983) and men as retainers, bearers,
canoe paddlers, etc. (see, e.g., Nwachukwu-Ogedengbe 1977)
Southeast Asia Much of Southeast Asia had “open slave systems,” where captives were rapidly integrated into host communities because the control of
people, not land or capital, were keys to power, although closed systems were also reported (Junker 2008; Reid 1983a:157)
New World:
Northeastern North America (Iroquoian Most scholars argue that captives who were not killed were incorporated into the society of their captors as full members. Starna and
groups and Illinois, Fox) Watkins (1991) disagree, suggesting that even after adoption, captives formed a slavelike group (see also Trigger 1969:49). Young
women were especially at risk of ill-treatment until they had been assigned a husband, but even adopted men could be ill-treated or
killed. Starna and Watkins (1991:39) believe that during raids, women were more likely than men to be kept alive. This contradicts
Trigger (1976:70), who states that women and children were often killed.
Southeastern North America Captives could be adopted as members of the captor society or enslaved. The Cherokee Atsi nahsa’I formed a separate slave class that was
outside the kinship system. Women and children were more likely to have been adopted than men. Accounts from the sixteenth-
century De Soto expedition reported the “hamstringing” of male captives to ensure that they did not escape.
Captives were distributed by chiefs to their followers (Anderson 1994), suggesting that they were disproportionately held by the wealthy
or prominent members of a group
Southwest and southern High Plains, Captives were most often incorporated into the society of their captors as wives, concubines, or domestic laborers. Brooks (2002) notes
North America that “although captives were often assimilated through institutions of kinship, they seldom shed completely their alien stigma, and even
then their numbers were regularly renewed through capture or purchase, thereby reinvigorating the service classes” (31). Brugge (1993)
states that “some tribes, such as the Comanche and Chiricahua Apache, as their numbers dwindled through war and disease, supple-
mented their population with captives” (98).
Habicht-Mauche (2008) believes captive Pueblo women lived among the mobile bison hunters of the southern Plains as drudge wives
used to increase the production of buffalo hides
Northwest Coast, North America Captives became part of a highly stigmatized and separate slave class with few or no opportunities for manumission or incorporation into
the host society; captives were held primarily by “titleholders” who were the elite members of Northwest Coast society
South America and Caribbean Formal systems of slavery existed among the Tupinamba, who lived near the mouth of the Amazon River, the Yuqui in the Bolivian
Amazon (Bowser 2008), and the chiefdoms of the Cauca Valley of Columbia and adjacent areas (Carniero 1991; Morey 1975; Spencer
Captive women were incorporated as wives or secondary wives among the Yanomano of Venezuela and Brazil and the Waorani and
Achuar of the tropical portions of Ecuador (Bowser 2008)
Captive women were made wives among the Conibo, but young boys were made slaves or servants (DeBoer 1986)
Bowser (2008) shows the marginal lives led by captive women in Amazonian groups; like orphans, they had no kin and no one to protect
Santos-Granero (2005, 2009) finds that among Amerindian slaving societies of the Caribbean and South America, captives were physically
marked, maintained in servile positions, and considered less than human; however, some captives or their children or grandchildren
could eventually be incorporated into the society of their captors. For example, Kalinago captives had the following fates based on age

and sex: “Adult men were brought back home, killed, and eaten in cannibalistic rituals. Boys were emasculated and used as slaves until
they grew up, after which time they were killed. . . . Young women were taken as concubines or given as maidservants to their wives
[wives of captors]” (Santos-Granero 2009:49). However, he distinguishes between homogenous and hegemonic regional systems. In the
latter, the attitude of groups who had greater demographic and military strength toward their weaker neighbors was “almost as slave-
breeding populations” (Santos-Granero 2009:48).
Note. Dates, characterization of captives, and references for each region are provided in table 1.
186 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

The Captive as Laborer hay, cutting wood, herding, and hauling (Karras 1988:81). In
Southeast Asian chiefdoms, captive women were employed in
Although we tend to equate slaves primarily with labor-
agriculture and in the production of household equipment
intensive industries, captives in nonstate societies were ac-
and the luxury items used by their masters in a prestige-goods
tually involved in virtually every active field of endeavor, in-
economy. In the Sulu sultanate of Southeast Asia, captives
cluding food production, manufacturing of craft goods and
functioned as agricultural workers, fishermen, traders, con-
other goods, and mundane tasks such as gathering wood and
cubines, wet nurses, and attendants, and they participated in
fetching water (table 4). They generally participated in the
slave raids like those in which they had been captured; more-
same range of activities as other members of captor society,
skilled captives became craft workers, tutors, and healers
although they might be required to work longer and harder
(Warren 1981:215–226).
at those tasks or undertake the most difficult or unpleasant
Archaeologists should be especially interested in the role
tasks (table 4). Because they were generally owned by high-
of captives in the production of crafts that may be visible
status members of the society, captives provided their masters
archaeologically. It is here that we might be most able to see
and mistresses relief from daily chores. The more complex
captives’ role in the transmission of cultural practices. Table
the society, the more specialized the available tasks became 4 shows that captives produced containers, tools, textiles,
and the more specialized the labor of captives. Although we houses, boats, and other objects. Although Costin (1998:8)
might expect captives to be restricted to the production of reports a general association between the status of craftspeople
the most mundane objects, at times they were involved in the and the value of the crafts they produce, she also notes cases
production of symbolically charged or ritual objects. where high-value goods are produced by craftspeople of low
Donald’s (1997:318–321) study of slavery in the Northwest social status. For example, Wright (1998) reports that slaves
Coast provides an informative list of the tasks slaves carried produced crafts during the Ur III period in southern Mes-
out in this area (see also table 4). Captives here were primarily opotamia. In the classical world, many slaves were involved
owned by “titleholders,” the elite members in these forager in craft production, and some were skilled artisans. Finley
societies, although some were held by commoners, and there (1962:53) argues that sixth- and fifth-century signed Greek
are few activities in which slaves did not participate. Subsis- vases were painted by slaves. Patterson (1982:179–180) notes
tence tasks included picking berries, collecting shellfish, dig- that slaves dominated the category of skilled craftsmen in
ging roots, fishing, hunting, and preserving food. Household both Greece and Rome and that in many slaveholding soci-
tasks included carrying water, child care, cooking, fetching eties, slaves were acquired specifically to introduce techno-
wood, acting as a house servant, and serving food. Miscel- logical skills into that society (see also Lenski 2008:90, for
laneous tasks included accompanying their master on his or Roman metalsmiths captured by Germanic tribes, and Usner
her travels, carrying burdens, going on raids, serving as a 1992:54–56, for a New World case). Similar patterns of captive-
personal attendant, serving as a lookout or watchman, serving produced crafts and even tributary goods are evident in the
as a messenger, and paddling canoes. Slaves were also involved North American Southeast (Anderson 1994:101; Hudson 1976:
in the production of huts, temporary shelters (when travel- 264–267; Perdue 1979:15), Africa (Harms 1983:100; Keim 1983:
ing), and fish dams or weirs and with dressing skins, building 145; Klein 1983:85), Southeast Asia (Junker 2008), and the
and repairing houses, making canoes, making and mending Southwest and southern Great Plains (Habicht-Mauche 2008).
baskets and nets, and collecting cedar bark and rushes (Don- These examples demonstrate the key role played by captives in
ald 1997:127). As discussed below, talented slaves could be the production of craft goods that were employed in everyday
involved in production of ceremonial objects. activities and were sometimes used by their masters to gain
In the more complex societies of Africa, chiefdoms and wealth.
secondary states put captives to work not only in agricultural While captives might seem unlikely to produce high-value
and domestic tasks but also in textile or pottery production, prestige goods that were often a source of power for elites,
mining, and service as porters or canoe rowers. Robertson there is good evidence that they could be involved in that
and Klein (1983b) report that slave women in various parts activity as well. Especially in societies with formal systems of
of Africa “did domestic, craft, and/or agricultural work—the slavery, slaves were often considered subhuman, allowing
same things that free women did” (16). They grew indigo, them to be conceived of as “tools” (Romans called their slaves
made dye, helped to dye cloth, spun thread, mined gold, “tools with a voice”; Bonnassie 1991:30; see also Lenski 2007).
collected rubber and snails, served as cultivators, maids, and Because of their liminal position, slaves were sometimes able
porters, and drove cattle. In Europe during the Late Bronze to participate in activities that commoner members of the
Age, slaves labored in mines; in Britain during the eighth to same society could not. For example, in Northwest Coast
fifth centuries BCE, they labored in agricultural fields and on Chilkat society, slaves were not allowed to perform any cer-
the construction of hill forts (table 4). Later, during the Mid- emonial task, yet skilled slaves did sometimes carve masks.
dle Ages, some slaves toiled on large estates owned by the The resulting mask was considered to have actually been
Catholic Church (Bonnassie 1991:28–29), but in Iceland carved by the titleholder slave owner, and the slave was con-
slaves on small farms worked alongside their masters making sidered simply the tool used in its production (Oberg 1973:
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 187

87–88, cited in Donald 1997:174). Among the Tlingit, slaves Individuals captured as infants, toddlers, or even very
who were skilled at carving totem poles were highly prized young children could quickly lose memory of their natal cul-
and were loaned out to other people who were not skilled ture (including language) and immediately adopt the culture
carvers (Patterson 1982:179). of their captors. For the Amazon, DeBoer (2008) provides an
account of a boy captured by the Shipibo as a toddler. He
returned to his natal group as a young adult and became a
Captives as Agents of Social Change vocal booster of Shipibo culture. In considering the degree
Clearly captives had the potential to be important agents in to which young captives may have been able to retain and
the transmission of cultural practices. Kristiansen and Larsson transmit natal culture, however, we should recognize that to-
(2005) urge us to consider how alien cultural practices are day’s extended childhood is an anomaly. Cuneiform tablets
assimilated and given new meaning, although they focus on from sixth- and fifth-century BCE Babylonia suggest that
the elite in prehistoric societies. This is an important goal slaves began work around age five; in Anglo-Saxon Britain
that should also be undertaken by archaeologists investigating before the tenth century, individuals older than age 10 were
the role of captives in intercultural interactions, including considered adults (Crawford 1991).
studies of how captive-introduced practices are employed, Gender must have had a significant effect on the types of
whether they strengthen or weaken social boundaries, and skills introduced by captives because of the sexual division of
their role in cultural development. However, this study ad- labor and gender-determined social roles operating in vir-
dresses only one part of this larger task: exploring factors that tually all societies. For example, scholars have suggested that
condition the acceptance of cultural practices introduced by because of a gender bias in favor of male slaves on New World
captives. plantations, slaves in the Americas arrived with a simplified
Factors that are likely to condition the transfer of cultural subset of African cultural knowledge (Foster 1960, cited in
knowledge in nonstate societies include the characteristics of Singleton 1998:175; Otto 1975). Otto (1975) found that slave
captives and the attitudes of captor society toward captives. artisans reproducing African-styled objects mostly created ob-
Considering specifically craft production, captives’ contri- jects related to male activities. Similarly, DeBoer (2007) shows
butions to culture change could be constrained by the nature that in parts of Amazonia where raiding for women was com-
of the tasks they were assigned as well as the visibility of the mon, the most widely distributed material-culture traits were
material-culture practices they might try to introduce. While those used by women in domestic tasks rather than those
determining the characteristics of captives and the attitudes used by men.
of captor societies in the absence of historical records may In other parts of the world where captives were most fre-
be challenging, archaeologists are already beginning to de- quently women, we should also anticipate that a restricted set
velop tools that can be used to assess the contributions of of female-linked skills and knowledge would be introduced
captives to craft production. into captor culture. Lowell’s (2007) study of Grasshopper
Pueblo provides an example of this pattern and is a model
for the types of studies we should undertake to understand
Characteristics of Captives and Cultural Transmission
the contributions of captives in the past (acknowledging Low-
Captives did not form a representative or random sample of ell’s alternative explanations for the immigrants). Evidence
their natal society. During warfare or raiding, individuals were for immigrants at Grasshopper was confined to female-linked
targeted for capture based on their age, their sex, and some- (domestic, especially food-production) material culture, such
times their skills. Just as age and sex affected the rights of as pottery and hearth style. Male-linked material culture, such
social personhood offered to captives, such characteristics also as ceremonial architecture and projectile points, retained na-
affected the captives’ role in the transmission of cultural prac- tive patterns even after the influx of nonlocal women. Com-
tices. bined with the biological evidence of an excess of nonlocal
Age at capture is one of the key factors that condition the women and their low status, Lowell’s archaeological data open
impact of captives on captor society. As discussed above, avenues for exploring interactions between natives and im-
reproductive-age women and older children were most often migrant (likely captive) women at Grasshopper Pueblo.
targeted (table 1; see especially DeBoer 2008). Reproductive- Building on Lowell’s (2007) work, we should recognize that
age women could be expected to have been fully enculturated female-linked artifacts not only are key evidence of captive
by their natal society, acquiring the language, technological, women in the past but also form our primary evidence of
social, and at least some of the ritual skills that made them their interactions with their captors. We can move beyond
competent members of their group. Because elderly individ- artifacts into other realms of activity and daily practice, such
uals were generally not targeted for capture, highly developed as food production (see Lightfoot, Martinez, and Schiff 1998
technology or key ritual or cultural knowledge held by older for an example of how daily practice was organized in mul-
members of a society would often not be introduced, although tiethnic households). Because women in nonstate societies
sometimes these older individuals may have been targeted for often function as horticulturalists, scholars should explore the
capture because of their skills (see below). extent to which captive women may have introduced new
Table 4. Captive labor

Geographic area/culture Labor

Old World:
Northern, central, and eastern Europe Scythian slaves (eastern Europe, first millennium BCE) were used in horse dairying. They were blinded to keep them from escaping
(Taylor 2001:38).
During the Long Iron Age (1000 BCE–1000 CE), slaves were held in small agricultural households, presumably accomplishing the same
agricultural tasks as the rest of the household (Woolf 1997)
Archaeological evidence of slaves used as mine labor in the Urnfield culture of central Europe (750 BCE–1100 CE) is presented by Kris-
tiansen (1998:116–117). In Britain, for the period 450 BCE–750 CE, Kristiansen (1998:302) reports the use of slaves in agriculture and
the construction of hill forts. The spread of hill forts after 400 BCE may have been for protection against slave raiding.
During the Viking Age and later, slavery operated at the household level in the Scandinavian countries, with slaves working alongside
their masters (Karras 1988:78–79). Icelandic family sagas suggest that tasks of slaves were typical of what any farmer would do: hay-
making, woodcutting, herding, and hauling. Slaves may have had the less desirable jobs, such as dunging fields, and low-status jobs,
such as preparing food and swine herding. Female slaves could be concubines; they could do household tasks such as weaving and
grinding grain or serve as nurses or foster mothers (Karras 1988:81).
According to the Roman writer Tacitus, slaves in Germanic society were tenants on independent farms disconnected from the household
of their master (Lenski 2008). Germanic law codes after the mid-fifth century CE show that slaves were primarily employed in agricul-
ture. Some were specially trained as sheep, cattle, goat, or pig herders, horse grooms, or plowmen. Germans used some slaves as skilled
craftsmen: gold-, silver-, iron- and bronzesmiths. Slaves were also carpenters, masons, millers, vinedressers, shoemakers, and household
attendants. Germanic slaves (unlike Roman slaves) were not allowed to conduct business without the express permission of their own-

ers, so they were not involved in mercantile activities (Lenski 2008).
Africa Both male and female slaves might do the same work as freeborn people, but they often worked longer and harder. Female slaves did a
wide variety of productive work in Africa. They were agricultural workers, domestic servants, child-care givers, fishermen, craft workers,
and textile workers, and they worked in mines, operated as traders, and served as porters and herders and retainers to rulers (articles
in Robertson and Klein 1983a). Male slaves also participated in many of these activities as well as serving as warriors; sometimes
women did, too (see especially articles in Miers and Kopytoff 1977).
Southeast Asia “Slaves were reported in every conceivable occupation, as rice farmers, cash croppers, fishermen, seamen, construction workers, miners,
urban laborers, craftsmen of all sorts, textile workers, entertainers, concubines, domestic servants, retailers, traders, scribes, interpreters,
surgeons, soldiers, and even trusted ministers. . . . Weaving and textiles . . . seem to have been both the most important item of
manufacture and the one most given to large scale slave labor. . . . The most characteristic roles for slaves were as domestics and
entertainers” (Reid 1983b:22–23). Among stateless groups—Nias, Toba Batak, Toraja, Dayak, and Kenyah—certain types of labor, such
as carrying water, cutting wood, and handling the dead (both animal and human), were seen as slaves’ work (Reid 1983a:161).
Ethnographic and historic accounts from Philippine coastal chiefdoms show that women were the primary manufacturers of earthenware
pottery and textiles. Captives also did agricultural work and other craft work, and they served as household servants and oarsmen on
trading and raiding expeditions (Junker 2008).
In the Sulu sultanate, “Banyaga [slaves] were used in trading ventures, in diplomatic negotiations, as slave raiders, as concubines and wet
nurses, as tutors to their masters, as craftworkers, and as peasants and fishermen. . . . Men assisted their masters in clearing virgin forest, in
ploughing, in harvesting timber, in building and maintaining boats, and hauling water. . . . Tasks of female banyaga were sowing and
weeding in rice farming, pounding and threshing of rice, and gathering and preparation of strand products (Warren 1981:220).
New World:
Northeastern North America (Iroquoian Captives undertook all of the routine tasks of their captor society: they tended fields, gathered food, carried heavy burdens, etc. That they
groups and Illinois, Fox) relieved their owners of much labor is indicated by an account by Starna and Watkins (1991:51) of a seventeenth-century Seneca
woman (a Christian convert) who lamented to a Jesuit priest that her dead daughter would have to do her own domestic duties in
heaven because none of her slaves had yet died to go with her. Captives also went to war with their captors, sometimes even against
their natal group (Tooker 1991 [1964]:31).
Southeastern North America Captives seem to have done the same work as their captors. Perdue (1979) reports of the Cherokee slaves that “[they] worked alongside
their masters . . . accompanied men when they left to hunt, carried burdens, got bark for cabins, and other servile work, carried
messages back to the village, dressed deer skin, helped women in cultivation by clearing fields” (15). Hudson (1976:253) believed that
slaves were kept primarily for prestige, while Anderson (1994:101) argues that agricultural production and the production of tributary
goods would have increased their master’s wealth.
Southwest and southern High Plains, Captives held by Native American groups typically did the same tasks as other members of the society. Among the Navajo, captives were
North America set to agricultural and herding tasks (Brugge 1968:123). Captives served as intermediaries between different cultures, and they might
become part of military forces.
Habicht-Mauche (2008) presents evidence that captive Pueblo women were used by status-seeking males among the bison hunters of the
southern Plains to increase the production of bison hides. They also made pottery.
Captives held by the Spanish usually became domestic servants, and female captives were the traditional wedding gift to Spanish brides.
Indian children were a medium of exchange, used to pay debts and make purchases. Captives were trained as maids, weavers, herders,
and performed other tasks considered drudgery (Brugge 1993:97).
Northwest Coast, North America Subsistence tasks: picking berries, collecting shellfish, digging roots, fishing, hunting, preserving food. Household tasks: carrying water,
child care, cooking, fetching wood, serving as house servant, serving food. Miscellaneous tasks: accompanying master on travels, carry-
ing burdens, going on raids, serving as lookout or watchman, serving as messenger, paddling canoes. Slaves produced huts and tempo-
rary shelters, fish dams, or weirs; they dressed skins, built and repaired houses and built canoes; they made and repaired baskets, mats,
and nets; and they collected cedar bark and rushes. They served as personal maids and attendants. Slaves were used in numerous
ceremonies in which they were either freed, given away, or killed. Slaves were used as bodyguards, and they went to war with their
masters. They made a variety of handicrafts, built canoes, and repaired houses (Donald 1997:127, app. 6–9.)
Skilled slaves were allowed to make ceremonial objects when they possessed great talent; in these cases, the slave’s owner was considered
the actual producer of the object, and the slave was regarded as a “tool”
The labor of slaves was critical to the status of their owners, and they were important as an item of wealth (Donald 1997:130–138)
South America and Caribbean In Amazonia, captive women apparently carried out the normal tasks of wives, but captive boys paddled canoes or did other menial tasks
(DeBoer 1986)

Where formal systems of slavery existed in the Cauca Valley and Llanos areas, slaves were used to till the fields of the chiefs and nobles
and also served as personal servants to the paramount chief (Trimborn 1949:201, cited in Carneiro 1991:175)
Among the Tupinamba, slaves were required to perform agricultural work, domestic labor, and domestic service for their masters. They
were obligated to work for their owners “like sons-in-law.” They were allotted land, grew their own food, and hunted for themselves
(Bowser 2008).
Santos-Granero (2009) describes the wide range of tasks accomplished by captives in the six Amerindian groups he has studied (see table
1). They were generally given the most difficult and labor-intensive jobs. Women captives accomplished all sorts of household work:
they cooked, prepared manioc, made beer, planted and tended gardens, fetched water and firewood, and served as porters. Male cap-
tives did the heaviest agricultural work: they served as porters, carried their masters, and served as guards, warriors, rowers, etc. Male
captives could be forced to do women’s work. Both men and women served as personal attendants. Both men and women did craft
work. Women wove mosquito nets, clothing, bags, baskets, and pottery. Men made canoes. Makú servile groups made ritual objects for
their Tukano patrons. Captives served important roles in ceremony as sacrificial victims. Santos-Granero (2009:127) emphasizes that
captives contributed to the prestige of their owners but not necessarily to their economy, except in cases where servant groups created
a large number of dependents.
Note. Dates, characterization of captives, and references for each region are provided in table 1.
190 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

plant species, propagation techniques, or soil-preparation to shear the hair of the female and infant captives. . . . Short
methods as well as harvesting or storing techniques. hair was seen as a sign of servitude. (Santos-Granero 2009:
Gender studies have stressed problems with assuming a 108)
strict sexual division of labor in any society, and studies of
The ability of captives to introduce new cultural practices and
captives may make gender distinctions even more complex.
behaviors should have been strongly affected by the attitude
One of the humiliations captives endured was that gender
of the captor society toward them. Captives engendered per-
roles could be ignored and males be required to undertake
ceptions that can range from reviled and evil to intriguing
tasks normally reserved for females and vice versa. For ex-
and powerful, and their influence was likely to increase as
ample, in the Northwest Coast, Donald (1997:134–135) re-
attitudes became more positive. Attitudes were likely to be
ports that slave labor was a solution to a shortage of female
most positive in instances where captives became well inte-
labor in activities such as salmon processing. Slaves were “un-
grated into the society of their captors and least positive where
differentiated labor power” because they were considered not
captives formed a low-status slave class, although this may
male or female but slave (see also Ames 2001:4; Hudson 1976:
not always have been the case. This section examines how
253 for the Southeast, and Meillassoux 1991:100–101; Rob-
these attitudes could be created by the initial conditions of
ertson and Klein 1983b:10 for Africa). While male captives
capture, attitudes toward captives with special knowledge or
might have been required to undertake female tasks, in cases
skills, the development of “subcultures” where multiple cap-
where these were novel skills for them, they might have been
tives are able to interact, and the effect of gender on attitudes
less likely to transmit natal practices than would women, who
toward captives, including captive women’s role in child care.
had greater familiarity with such tasks.
Initial conditions and the context of capture were impor-
Captors at times selected individuals for capture who could
tant in establishing attitudes toward captives. As suggested by
provide a craft skill or technological knowledge that was lack-
the quote above, after a raid or warfare, captives entered
ing in the captor society. Patterson (1982:179) notes that in
captor society accompanied by a wave of violent and negative
many slaveholding societies, slaves were acquired specifically
feelings toward the captives’ social group, especially if any
to introduce skills into that society. Usner (1992:55–56) re-
captor-society warriors were lost in battle. A fiction of su-
ports that African slaves imported into the Lower Mississippi
periority was often maintained, and raiders may have felt that
Valley during the eighteenth century arrived with skills as
they were “liberating” the women they had captured from a
woodworkers, weavers, and blacksmiths. Whether skilled in-
low and degraded existence (DeBoer 1986; Santos-Granero
dividuals or castes were specifically targeted by slave raiders
2005). Individuals who entered captivity through debt, crim-
in Africa is not noted, but it may have occurred. Similarly,
inal accusations, sale by their parents, and other means may
on the Northwest Coast, a white man, John Jewitt, was cap-
have entered captor society with a stigma of incompetence,
tured by the Mowachaht Indians in the first years of the
antisocial behavior, or low value that would dominate atti-
nineteenth century. His life was spared because he was a black-
tudes toward them. They may have been forced to discard
smith and could make iron harpoons for the chief who held
natal practices that were characteristic of their despised group
him (Ames 2001:4). In medieval Europe, a variety of new
(distinctive pottery forms or designs, particular styles of cloth-
technologies were introduced by Asian slaves imported
ing or body decoration, unique foods, etc.), and the natal
through Italy, including the vertical-axle windmill, the hot-
practices that they did retain may have been considered in-
air turbine, and a new type of governor (White 1962:116,
ferior or inappropriate, especially in societies where captives
cited in Patterson 1982:180). The sudden introduction of a
became part of a subordinate slave class. Furthermore, cap-
complete technological package into a society in which this
tives may have chosen to shun natal practices in order to
technology had not previously existed might be a sign of the
improve their position in their new society. Because archae-
presence of skilled captives. In their study of Bronze Age
ologists tend to look for the most obvious material evidence
Europe, Kristiansen and Larsson (2005) suggest that traveling
of migrants (especially architecture and pottery), such “re-
chiefs returned with special knowledge, especially of craft skills
programming” of captives makes them more difficult to see
such as metal-working, and were able to transform knowledge
in the archaeological record.
of distant societies and craft skill into power. It is also possible
DeBoer (1986, 2008) provides an instructive example of
that they returned with captives or hostages whose knowledge
the role that attitudes can play in the ability of captives to
and skill they put to use in the production of high-value
transmit their natal culture. He examined raids conducted
between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries by the Co-
nibo, an Amazonian group, on their near and distant neigh-
Attitudes of Captor Society bors. The Conibo viewed their victims as “cannibalistic, dirty,
and otherwise loathsome savages” (DeBoer 1986:238). He ar-
Once they arrived at their captors’ village, all war prisoners gues that at least some abducted women introduced into Co-
were subjected to the fury, insults, and beatings of the local nibo society and apparently fully incorporated into the social
people. . . . Almost immediately, Kalinago masters proceeded group as wives were slavish reproducers of Conibo pottery
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 191

designs. Their marginal position allowed them little latitude captive population. The fiction of the slave as “tool” allowed
for challenging established conventions by either introducing captor societies to exploit captive skills without acknowledg-
natal practices or their own novel interpretations (also DeBoer ing either the talents or the personhood of the captive. Study
1990). However, in more general study of the Amazon, Bowser should be made of how skilled captives set about introducing
(2008) argues that the presence of captive women here should their craft to their captors. Was knowledge willingly shared?
be evident in less obvious characteristics of pottery, such as Did skilled captives try to introduce impediments to the use
the use of different technological steps or quantitative analysis of the craft by their captors? Such detailed studies could do
of design style. much to help us understand the process of intercultural trans-
In some instances, captives from distant or exotic places, fer of technology.
especially those with special knowledge or skills, could en- Situations in which multiple captives from the same place
gender more positive, although likely guarded, attitudes. of origin remained as an interacting group in their captor’s
Helms (1988, 1998) has documented the power that knowl- society would have the best opportunity of preserving aspects
edge of distant places can impart to travelers and others (see of their natal culture, including language (Socolow 1992),
also Kristiansen and Larssen 2005). This suggests that captives social practices, and technology. This situation might be most
could use knowledge of their natal society or of other groups likely where the captor society made frequent raids against
to which they had been traded to negotiate a position of the same neighboring group, as is common where socially
influence in captor society. Captives could bring novel curing complex groups repeatedly attack their small-scale neighbors.
methods, medicinal treatments, religious rituals, or cultural Permitting groups of captives from the same society to form
practices (DeBoer 2008). Such special knowledge could make an interacting group might have been most common when
them intriguing but also dangerous individuals. Captives held captives were women and children, because they posed far
by the most prominent members of society might have been less risk of uprising or mass escape than would a group of
in an especially good position to transmit their natal culture. interacting alien men. The fact that captives were often moved
For example, in the West African kingdom of Dahomey, Bay or traded far from their homes shows that captors feared
(1983:340–341) reports that women slaves served as ministers escape and insurrection (table 1). Finley (1962:55) quotes an
of state, counselors, soldiers or commanders, provincial gov- ancient Greek scholar who advised that as a security measure,
ernors, and trading agents as well as favored wives. In these slaves should be of mixed nationalities both within individual
positions, they would likely have significantly enhanced abil- slave holdings and in cities. However, the stigma of capture
ities to transmit aspects of their natal culture. Bay (1983:347) and enslavement (sometimes physically marked with tattoos
emphasizes that female slaves were an important channel of or mutilation and stressed by the children women may have
cross-cultural influence, providing accounts of a female slave, had with their captors) dampened impulses to escape or revolt
held by a king, who introduced new deities into the pantheon and severely limited captives’ options to return home (Brooks
of local gods and others who transmitted other religious prac- 2008a; Donald 1997:93–94).
tices, including Islam. Similarly, Lenski (2008) documents the Attitudes toward captives may have had a gender bias.
role of captives in the spread of Christianity among the Ger- Women’s rights in many societies are circumscribed even for
manic tribes during the first few centuries of the Current Era. native-born full members, so we might expect that female
During captivity, captives might, of necessity, have quickly slaves would occupy particularly low-status positions and en-
become multilingual and function as mediators for their cap- gender especially negative attitudes. But because captive
tors during interactions with their natal society or with other women are much more easily incorporated as wives or con-
groups, bringing them enhanced status. In the Southwest, cubines then captive men, attitudes toward them and their
Brooks (2002) provides several accounts of multilingual role in the transmission of cultural practices might actually
women, most of whom had been traded from group to group have been enhanced. We should also consider the potential
after their capture, learning languages and customs as they roles that captive women played in cultural reproduction as
moved. For example, the Spanish used as a translator a Kiowa child-care providers for their captors and in some circum-
woman who had been captured by the Comanche, captured stances for their own children. Child care is a task that might
again by the Ute, and finally sold to the Spanish (Brooks have given captives an especially powerful role in the trans-
2002:65). Another woman, part Spanish and part Pueblo In- mission of cultural practices. In the African city of Mombasa
dian (likely the result of sexual abuse of her mother, a do- in the early twentieth century, Strobel (1983:128) notes that
mestic servant in a Spanish household), was captured by the female slaves who functioned as nannies played an important
Navajo and after being ransomed, continued to communicate role in socializing young freeborn children. Patterson (1982:
with her captors and became a wealthy trader and interpreter 88) reports that Greek slaves, both male and female, engaged
who facilitated economic exchanges among the three groups in child care. While he argues that such interactions did little
with whom she had ties (Brooks 2002:100–105). to soften attitudes of masters toward their slaves, he suggests
Even where attitudes toward captives were negative, those that slaves might have had an important role in the character
with significant skills could still be recognized and exploited formation of upper-class Greeks (see also Finley 1980:107–
by captor societies regardless of general attitudes toward the 108). Donald (1997:319) also reports that child care was a
192 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

common task for slaves in Northwest Coast societies but does not practiced in the society from which they had come. Their
not provide details of this activity. In neither the Greek nor unfamiliarity with the technology and different production
the Northwest Coast case is it clear that child care was pref- steps would have left them with little to contribute. On the
erentially assigned to female slaves, but women must have other hand, simpler technologies and ones with which the
been selected as wet nurses, and the significant numbers of captive was familiar could provide opportunities to introduce
female captives in nonstate societies argues that slaves un- modifications, improvements, or simply different “ways of
dertaking child care were usually women. doing,” as long as these changes were accepted or overlooked
by captor society. Where captives were obtained from near
Captives and Material Culture neighbors in areas with widespread cultural similarities, they
were likely to be familiar with a basic repertoire of cultural
The presence and influence of captives will be most visible practices and material culture that differed only somewhat
to archaeologists in ancient material culture. When captives from that of their captors. For example, Trigger (1976:159)
were forced to create and use a foreign material culture, their discusses extensive warfare and captive-taking among Iro-
involvement in these activities had the potential to change quoian peoples in the northeastern part of the United States
the material culture of their captors. Cultural identities can and suggests that an “index of female movement” (Trigger
be created and transformed through craft production, and by 1976:161) would be foreign pottery in the village of the cap-
recognizing the presence of captives in prehistoric societies, tors (made by captive women) and a lack of foreign pottery
we can begin to understand their role in this process. Because in the villages from which these women had been taken. He
captive-taking is a selective process, archaeologists should fo- notes that use of such an index among proto-Huron groups
cus especially on gender-linked material culture in studies of is difficult because the frequency with which female captives
captives. This section considers other factors that encourage were moved across the landscape had resulted in homogeneity
or constrain the impact of captives on material culture, es- in pottery types throughout the region. Trigger’s discussion
pecially craft goods. These factors include the nature of the mentions only pottery form and decoration; a study of tech-
tasks that captives were assigned, the complexity of the tech- nological steps (discussed below) might allow archaeologists
nologies in which they labored, the visibility of the novel
to “see” these foreign women as they continued to use prac-
material-culture practices they might have introduced, and
tices common in their homeland.
the social meaning of the goods they produced. The third
Consideration of captives in the production of material
factor—the visibility of material-culture practices—builds on
culture requires reformulation of many of our assumptions
studies of migration and prehistoric social boundaries, es-
about the transfer of cultural knowledge. In the Philippine
pecially the efforts of archaeologists to recognize the presence
example discussed above, large numbers of women captured
of immigrants after a migration (Carr 1995b; Clark 2001;
during maritime raids and integrated as wives became pro-
Stark 1998). Aspects of migration studies can be usefully ap-
ducers of earthenware pottery (Junker 2008). In a challenge
plied to understanding the influence of captives on material
to our assumptions concerning stylistic innovation, the design
styles used in the pottery were brought by these women from
The nature of the tasks to which captives were assigned
the small-scale societies in which they had originated. In other
could significantly curtail their influence on the material cul-
words, the direction of design innovation was from the smaller
ture of their captors. A skilled potter who spent her captive
groups to larger centers, and the agents of change were captive
life hauling debris in a silver mine would have little or no
opportunity to transmit her skills (for a Southeast Asian ex- women.
ample, see Warren 1981:225). Some state-level societies, in- The visibility of material-culture practices and the context
cluding ancient Greece and Rome and the American South, of production and use of goods are factors that constrain
used slaves to fulfill such routine unskilled tasks. However, captives’ roles in the transmission of cultural practices. Prac-
other captives had far more involvement in the production tices that actively signaled a captive’s ethnic identity would
of material goods. Many slaves in state-level societies were have been most likely to be suppressed, while nondiscursive
skilled craftspeople (Baker 2001:19–20; Fisher 1993:42–43, practices that are part of captive habitus (technological se-
50–53, 55–56; Patterson 1982:254–255; Siegel 1945, 1947:6n; quences of vessel forming or house building, e.g., or food-
Taylor 2001:32), and in nonstate societies, captives tended to preparation techniques) might have been introduced either
undertake the same activities as other members of society, consciously or unconsciously and would not have elicited
including the production of household goods (table 4). Cap- active suppression from their captors. Assessment of this fac-
tor societies recognized and exploited the talents of skilled tor draws on recent examinations of prehistoric migration
captives even when attitudes toward captives were negative. and focuses on the degree to which migrants chose to em-
The nature of the technology in which captives labored phasize or deemphasize their ethnic differences. Captives were
could affect their ability to transmit their natal culture. Cap- a distinct, although quite common, type of migrant but had
tives who labored in complex technologies, such as metallurgy, potentially serious constraints on their ability to either express
might have had less influence, especially if the technology was or hide their origins. Under such circumstances, what ele-
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 193

ments of their natal material culture or technology might they value and little social meaning—at least to their captors—
have been able to introduce? than high-value ritual objects with established and firmly held
Archaeologists have argued that migrants can be identified social meanings. For example, Habicht-Mauche (2008) has
in the archaeological record by the use of a foreign technique found that cooking pots associated with protohistoric Plains
of manufacture coupled with a local decorative style (Bowser Indian sites in the Texas panhandle had been made in the
2008; Cameron 1998; Clark 2001; Duff 2002; Gosselain 2000; style and used the technology of the Pueblo people to the
Stark 1998). In other words, while formal or decorative styles west. She demonstrates that the potters were likely captive
of artifacts or architecture could change when migrants en- women brought in as drudge wives to help Plains males in-
tered a new social context, migrants could retain material- crease their production of buffalo hides. They were apparently
culture practices that were part of deeply embedded processes able to introduce a novel pottery-making process into a for-
of enculturation, such as manufacturing steps or specific eign society, possibly because these pots were useful cooking
methods of production. In a recent study, Clark (2001) argues receptacles but were not highly charged with social meaning
that the artifact attributes most likely to have been retained for their Plains captors. Captives in other parts of the world
by a moving population are (1) not highly visible or evident may have been equally successful at introducing useful objects
in the artifact and (2) not highly evident in the context within with low symbolic meaning.
which the artifact was used. In other words, those attributes While cooking pots in this example may have had low social
with low physical and contextual visibility will have low mes- meaning for Plains captors, they may have had tremendous
sage potential and will be most likely to have been retained social meaning for captive Pueblo women. The production
through time and to passively reflect a shared enculturative of these pots likely represented a familiar material focus
background (Clark 2001:12–13; see also Carr 1995b:195–198). around which women could share stories of past lives with
An example of this process is provided by Hensler and their children and other captive wives. A parallel account of
Blinman (2002), who show that potters in the northern San the importance of material culture to captives in retaining
Juan region of the American Southwest produced utility-ware native traditions, enculturating children, and resisting dom-
pottery using an “exterior-coiling” pot-forming method, inant culture is Ferguson’s (1992) archaeological study of
while potters in the northern Rio Grande region about 150 African-style pottery made by recently arrived African slaves
miles to the southeast used an “interior-coiling” method (the in the American South. Ferguson (1992) found that the earth-
difference involves how coils are joined as the pot is formed). enware pots were made to accommodate traditional African
In the late fourteenth century, the northern San Juan region cooking and eating methods. Along with other goods either
was almost totally abandoned, and many people migrated to brought from Africa or copied from African models (houses,
the northern Rio Grande region. Northern San Juan immi- shrines, ornaments), pottery helped keep aspects of African
grants can be identified among northern Rio Grande popu- culture alive in the New World. Ferguson argues that these
lations by the presence of the exterior-coiling method. Di- pots and the food they held (rice and okra, both introduced
rection of coiling in pottery production is a technique that from Africa) were involved in creating identity and molding
is evident primarily during the production process and likely values, allowing slaves to ignore European American culture
played little role in signaling the cultural identity of the potter and develop their own (Ferguson 1992:119–120; Ferguson
in the same way that pottery form or decoration might. even found pots made by children, supporting evidence of
Clark’s distinction between levels of visibility of artifact the role of pottery in enculturation [1992:87]). In an even
traits holds promise for identifying captives and their influ- more active view of the role of material culture, Silliman
ence. However, one difficulty with these distinctions is that (2001) argues that Native Americans on an Anglo ranch in
perception varies with context, including the social position early nineteenth-century California continued to use stone
and attitudes of the perceiver. Attributes that were an un- tools as part of their political negotiation of identity and
conscious part of design, production, or decoration of objects gender.
in the captives’ natal society might suddenly become highly Archaeologists should be aware that occasionally captives
evident as captives attempted to undertake mundane daily with esoteric knowledge or power attributed to their distant
production tasks. Where captives were part of a stigmatized origins might have been able to introduce new objects with
and low-status group, their “errors” in reproduction would high symbolic content or to implement changes to existing
likely be squelched. On the other hand, where captives were high-value objects. As noted above, Bay (1983) reports that
accepted as full members of society or accorded special status, in Africa, the “society of the dead” was introduced by slave
their introduction of novel designs, production steps, or dec- wives of the king of Dahomey into his kingdom during the
orative elements might more likely have been accepted. late nineteenth century. Although she does not discuss ma-
The social or symbolic meaning of material goods is also terial objects associated with this society, we might anticipate
an important consideration. There is good evidence that cap- the presence of such objects in this society and in others.
tives were involved in the creation and use of objects with a While at times captives may have appeared eager to blend
wide variety of social meanings. They would likely have been in to the society of their captors and may even have become
more able to introduce, modify, or change objects with low advocates for captor society (e.g., DeBoer 1986, 2008), we
194 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

should be alert to hidden acts of resistance in the material introduce aspects of their natal culture through female-linked
goods they produced, including symbolic references to their activities, such as the production of household goods or hor-
places of origin, such as those identified among enslaved pop- ticultural practices. The attitude of the captor society toward
ulations in the New World (Deagan 1998:32–34; Scott 1990). captives could limit the ability of a captive to transmit ele-
For example, Ruppel et al. (2003) show how African Amer- ments of her natal culture, although these limitations could
icans in the Chesapeake Bay area arranged everyday objects be ameliorated if she was held by a high-status household or
in interior or exterior spaces in ways that recreated and re- with a large group of captives from the same place or if she
ferenced African traditional beliefs and that the meaning of had special skills or knowledge or had gained the ability to
these arrangements was opaque to their masters (see also act as a cultural intermediary. As archaeologists, our view of
Ferguson 1999). Both Ferguson (1992:119–120) and Singleton the contributions of captives will come primarily from studies
(1998:180) argue that by creating a culture entirely separate of the material culture they produced, and there is good evi-
from that of their masters, African slaves in the New World dence that captives in nonstate societies were involved in the
engaged in active resistance to their oppression. production of virtually every element of material culture pro-
duced in the society of their captors (tools, containers, cloth-
ing, furniture, and buildings). They may have been most likely
to transmit elements of their natal culture when working with
Prehistoric archaeology should widen models of intercultural simple technologies or ones with which they already had some
interaction to recognize the contributions of captives to cul- degree of familiarity, when they were working with objects
ture change. Captives, especially captive women, were com- that had little social meaning to captor society, and when
mon in many (perhaps most) prehistoric societies, especially introducing attributes from their natal society that were not
those that were involved in frequent or endemic warfare. Cap- highly visible, such as a variant of a production step. Captives
tives brought with them a repertoire of technological skills, whose distant origins accorded them some level of respect or
symbol systems, religious practices, social customs, and lan- power in captor society would, of course, have been at a
guages that were available for adoption by their captors. In significant advantage in transmitting cultural practices from
spite of low social standing, captives could be vectors of cul- their places of origin.
ture change. This study of captives’ contributions to culture change is
Captives in nonstate societies were most frequently taken a first step. I hope that other archaeologists will develop the
during warfare or raiding; they were generally women and concepts presented here by using particular archaeological
children, they could be traded over long distances, and they cases. The study of captives is a potentially enormous topic
often formed a surprisingly large proportion of the captor in which issues of power, gender, class, personhood, and
society. Captives labored at a wide variety of tasks, including agency are all engaged. Captives’ roles as active agents of
subsistence activities, manufacturing, and domestic chores. culture change, however, should be of most interest to ar-
Colonial penetration into traditional societies and especially chaeologists.
European demand for labor likely increased the numbers of
captives held by nonstate societies. However, archaeological,
osteological, and linguistic data, as well as oral histories, stud-
ies of labor, early travelers’ accounts, and other sources, dem-
onstrate that captives formed a common social role in many Thanks to Jim Skibo and Jeff Grathwohl, who gave me an
societies long before the advent of European colonization. opportunity to develop my interest in captives in prehistory as
Captives were forced to accept the cultural practices of their part of a Foundations of Archaeological Inquiry conference held
captors, but the central argument of this paper is that the in 2006, and also to the participants in that conference—Susan
transmission of cultural practices in these situations was not Alt, Ken Ames, Brenda Bowser, James Brooks, Warren DeBoer,
all in one direction. As historical archaeologists studying New Judith A. Habicht-Mauche, Laura Junker, Noel Lenski, Debra
World plantation slavery have discovered, even in the most Martin, Peter Peregrine, Peter Robertshaw, and Ann Stahl—
restrictive industrial systems of slavery, practices from the for many interesting interactions on the topic of captives. A
slave’s natal society were transmitted to captor society. We number of people shared their insights or work in progress
can expect that in the far more intimate domestic relationships with me, including Keith Bradley, David Fleck, Peter Hunt, and
between captive and captor that characterized nonstate so- Warren DeBoer. Brenda Bowser, Art Joyce, Steve Lekson, Mark
cieties, the transmission of cultural practices from captive to Mitchell, Payson Sheets, and four anonymous reviewers pro-
captor would be significantly more common. Understanding vided valuable comments on drafts of the paper. Colleagues at
this “bottom-up” process involves evaluating the parameters the School for Advanced Research, Jamila Bargach, Gloria Bell,
conditioning the transfer of cultural practices from captive to Lucas Bessire, Sarah Croucher, Doug Kiel, and Teresa Montoya
captor society. These factors include the age, sex, and skill provided insights and comments on my reply to the commen-
level of the captive. The frequent capture of reproductive-age tators. Special thanks to Brenda Bowser and Steve Lekson, who
women suggests that captives might have been most likely to read several drafts and who were always willing to talk about
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 195

captives. Jakob Sedig adeptly handled technical matters. My Yet several related elements of captives’ roles in culture
thanks to all; any errors remain my own. change deserve attention deeper than that in Cameron’s essay.
She may believe that they lie beyond the evidentiary grasp of
archaeology, but I urge the discipline to engage these issues
as well. The affective worlds of captives and captors, the close
relationship between captive and marriage economies, and
Comments the place of captives in political and diplomatic relations pre-
James F. Brooks sent opportunities for archaeologists, ethnographers, and his-
School for Advanced Research, P.O. Box 2188, Santa Fe, torians to work more closely in concert.
New Mexico 87504-2188, U.S.A. (jfb@sarsf.org). 9 VII 10 The emotional and psychological tensions and bonds that
shaped relations among captives and captors have proven a
topic of obsession since the Mercedarians and Puritans used
As an ethnohistorian concerned with chronicling the signif- them as allegories for the struggle between the godly and the
icance of captives, especially women and children, in the his- satanic (Allen 2009; Davis 2009; Rodriguez 2007). The great
tories of indigenous and colonizing peoples in the Southwest threat, of course, lay in the potential for captives to shift con-
Borderlands of North America and through extensions to fessional, affective, and kin allegiance from their natal peoples
western Canada, the Russian Caucasus, Transorgangia, and to those who held them in bondage (Demos 1995; Mifflin
the Argentine Pampas (Brooks 1996, 2001, 2002, 2008a, 2009). Cameron references this dilemma in the fourteenth-
2008b), I commend Cameron’s impressive article. Compre- century Grasshopper Pueblo case (Lowell 2007) as one expla-
hensive in range and conceptualizing insightfully, Cameron nation for the preponderance of women in that community’s
places the question under the searchlight of her discipline. burial assemblages. Such shifts seem likely throughout the so-
Moreover, scholars from other disciplines will be the better cieties Cameron treats—supported by ethnographic cases
for her efforts. (Bowser 2008) as well—and this suggests that any sharp dis-
My own devotion to the topic came accidentally as I tinction separating a traffic in women as captives and the traffic
plumbed family histories among Hispano families in the Col-
in women as wives ought be rigorously questioned in our stud-
orado coalfields and found that many harbored stories of
ies. If we place captivity at one end of a continuum of semi-
Native America forebears who had entered those families as
coerced unions and marriage at the other end, we may find
captives. At the same time, some of these same families had
that the capture and integration of women and children rep-
lost members to captivity among Navajos, Comanches, and
resent the most violent expression of a wider universe of ex-
Apaches, a form of human circulation little acknowledged in
change traditions and is therefore closely allied with classic
the region. Cameron shows how widespread was this “hidden
anthropological thought on the source of “culture” itself (Barr
history” of cultural transfer and that sorting out the influences
2005; Brooks 1996; Collier 1988; Engels 1972 [1884]; Lerner
of captive exchange among cultural groups poses a compelling
1986; Levi-Strauss 1969 [1949]; Mies 1988; Rubin 1975).
research challenge. A focus on material culture may well il-
Once we treat the circulation of captives as conceptually
luminate what the narrative silences wish to suppress.
and functionally similar to the circulation of wives (or fictive
Historians of captivity will applaud Cameron’s argument
kin) between societies, we can see more clearly the political
that archaeological methods may comprehend—and help oth-
and diplomatic potency of captives in social change. Although
ers to understand—the complex transmission of cultural
ideas, artifacts, and long-term change by attending to the captive wives (and children) often found themselves inte-
“novel technologies, ideologies, and social behavior” that were grated as kin (or quasi kin) among their captors, signaling a
forcibly transferred in the hands and minds of captives. This shift in allegiances, they did not always sever kin and social
is especially true if archaeologists’ focus on material culture relationships with those they left behind. In the Southwest
will allow us to see tangible examples of cultural transmission Borderlands, these transcultural linkages sometimes facilitated
beyond those thin allusions historians find in the documen- antistate action by “communities of interest” that reached
tary record. It is one thing to learn that Spanish governors across the indigenous/colonial divide, to the consternation of
put their captive Ute women to work in obrajes to weave imperial and national authorities (Barr 2007; Brooks 2009).
mantas and stockings for export to Mexico but another to Similar transtribal conduits characterized fragile alliances, un-
see these cotton and woolen products, and the looms that derwrote conflict, and transmitted disease in the colonial
yielded them, centuries later. So, too, for archaeologists’ skill American Southeast, the nineteenth-century Ohio Valley, and
in seeing social distinctions in households and settlement pat- as far distant as transcordilleran diplomacy in Argentina and
terns in ways that usually elude historians’ eyes. There will Chile (Brooks 2008b; Ekberg 2007; Ethridge 2010; Kelton
be shouting in the streets of Santa Fe if an archaeologist one 2007; Rushforth 2006; Snyder 2010). Archaeologists may, I
day confirms—in evidence visible and tactile—the oft- hope, attend to each of these additional aspects of captivity
repeated assertion that the Barrio de Analco did, indeed, har- and in doing so enrich their own and allied disciplines in a
bor the genı́zaro Indian slaves of that villa. potent field of inquiry.
196 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

At the same time, by distributing stakes in future generations

Janet M. Chernela across distinct language groups, marriage brings former ene-
Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, Col- mies within the boundaries of the moral community. Thus,
lege Park, Maryland 20182, U.S.A. (chernela@umd.edu). 11 relations of enmity, hatred, and hostility are transformed into
XII 10 positive familial relations created through the agency of women.
In what James Brooks (2008a:288) calls a “fearsome paradox,”
forms of war “contain” peace (Albers 1993).
“Captives and Culture Change” by Catherine Cameron is an Captives and captors. Such cycles of predation result in
important review of captive circumstances and the challenges residential units that defy homogeneity and confound essen-
for researchers in recognizing the contributions of captives, tialisms. As early as 1965, Roger Owen challenged assump-
particularly women, to the cultures of their captors. Implicit tions of ethnic uniformity when he demonstrated the world-
in her argument but underexplored is the possibility that wide frequency of culturally and linguistically “hybrid bands”
captives have been far more influential than acknowledged (Owen 1965). Later, Sharrock (1974) argued that the Cree
by captors. I explore this possibility while suggesting that ethnic unit, linguistic unit, territorial coresidential unit, and
influence and subordination are not mutually exclusive, as the societal unit “did not correspond in membership com-
prevailing theory and Cameron’s article suppose. position” (96). More recently, Albers (1993) examined inter-
To illustrate, I use the case of the northwest Amazon in Brazil marriage in Plains history. Albers calculated a minimum num-
and Colombia, where speakers of some 20 distinct Eastern ber of foreign wives adopted or captured per generation,
Tukanoan and Arawakan languages carried out abduction, in- concluding that one-half of all Cheyenne wives/mothers
duction, and subordination over centuries, with persistent con- would have been foreigners within 200 years. If the northwest
sequences. The inheritance of peoples of this region was forged Amazon is a model, the estimate is conservative.
in a crucible of population displacement, interethnic assimi- In the highly common practice of mutual raiding, the roles
lation, coercive kin making, and bride capture. I focus on two of captive and captor alternate. The result over time is a
related phenomena involved in the institution of reciprocal residential unit in which foreign captive women (1) approx-
bride capture: captor-captive relations and captive agency. imately equal the number of adult males in the community
Dangerous liaisons. Eastern Tukanoans generally prohibit and (2) are thoroughly enmeshed in kin networks of both
marriage within the language group, requiring that persons captives and captors. Among Tukanoans, a woman’s mother-
find spouses from alien groups. The ethnographic literature in-law, father-in-law, sisters-in-law, and brothers-in-law may
presents two conventional means of marrying: violent seizure be her close relatives. Her greatest influence, moreover, is as
and negotiation (Århem 1981; Goldman 1963; Hugh-Jones mother. All children in Eastern Tukanoan society are born to
1979; Jackson 1992). foreign mothers.
Goldman and Århem have described bride capture as the Where foreign wives are abducted, women—ideologically
stated ideal for marriage. Goldman describes a “rite of ab- and categorically rendered subordinate—may be powerful
duction” that accompanies formal marriages in which a young agents of culture change and cohesion (Chernela 2003). As
man and his sibmates attempt to seize a girl in her home foreigners with multiple allegiances, Tukanoan women are
village (Goldman 1963:142–144). As the visitors force the girl positioned at the center of the relations of production. In-
to their canoe, she implores her kinsmen and fights off her marrying wives provide in-laws with innovative horticultural
would-be abductors. If the girl is willing, according to Gold- techniques and plant varieties; they contribute novel food
man, there is no “serious damage” (Goldman 1963:144). preparations; and they open crucial channels for trade and
Århem (1981) recounts that all disputes he observed were diplomacy between distant settlements (Chernela 1986).
“over women and . . . small-scale raids to capture women” In Tukanoan craft circulation, the only means available to
(9). Together, Goldman and Århem’s accounts suggest that a nonproducer to acquire a specialized item is through mar-
all Eastern Tukanoan marriages are regarded as abductions, rying a woman of the producing group. The distribution of
with those agreed on and prearranged marked by ritual cap- these items traces the movements of women throughout the
ture and those lacking agreement carried out through actual intermarrying region (Chernela 1992, 2008b).
violent capture. The first accompanies the reciprocal exchange Ethnologists of the northwest Amazon recognize that lin-
of women; the second the absence of such exchange (Århem guistically distinct patriclans are articulated through marriage
1981; Chernela 2008a). Expectations of reciprocity and the to form a unified social and cultural system, yet they neglect
tallying of conjugal exchange were, and still are, followed with to relate this phenomenon to the role of women in the dy-
vigilance. namic formation of common ground and mutual knowledge.
Although the raiding that once typified the region is now When women are included in the analysis, what emerges is
unlawful, married women continue to be identified with the not a series of discrete ethnicities but a multiethnic cosmo-
stigma of alien. Ritualized bride capture recapitulates the cap- politan society. If once distinct language groups became ho-
tivity of wives, reproducing their Otherness and the adver- mogenous over time, the most persuasive agent of change lies
sarial relations among in-law groups. in the roles played by women, whose origins lay in captivity.
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 197

identity through membership in a meaningful context (Lave

Olivier P. Gosselain 1996). But what is a “meaningful context” for captives en-
Centre d’Anthropologie Culturelle, CP 124, Université Libre gaged in production activities? Their new society? Their native
de Bruxelles, 44 avenue Jeanne, 1050 Brussels, Belgium society? Following Lave, I would rather point to their social
(olivier.gosselain@africamuseum.be). 2 IX 10 world of activity. In societies where captives or slaves assume
most or all craft activities, newcomers are likely to enter pre-
existing communities of practice whose members share a
Any study that considers cultural transmission and cultural common technical and aesthetic repertoire. Becoming a mem-
dynamics seriously, without getting bogged down in the “evo- ber means adopting such a repertoire. The newcomers may
lutionary theories” that have been endlessly sold to archae- refuse to do so. But as slavery involves an initial dehuman-
ologists for the past 20 years, must be saluted, as does any ization of individuals through the stripping of their former
study paying attention to a category of social actors whose social identity (Kopytoff 1982), this would relegate them to
sheer importance through time and space seems inversely some sort of “social limbo,” an unbearable position in most
proportional to the attention devoted to them in archaeo- human societies. Developing membership through shared
logical discussions. Cameron’s paper is thus a most welcome practice, on the other hand, is a powerful way of acquiring
addition to current debates on the dynamics of cultural in- a new social identity and, in the case of slaves, being rehu-
teractions, especially because it offers a refreshing perspective manized. This means, however, adopting parts of a repertoire
on cultural transfers with its “bottom-up” perspective. I cer- that may have low physical and contextual visibility for out-
tainly rally to her contention that we should change the scale siders (Gosselain 2008).
of archaeological approaches and that captives qualify as po- Captives would thus be better positioned as agents of cul-
tential agents of culture change. The extent to which the ture change if they did not constitute a specialized force of
Atlantic slave trade affected religious, food, or language prac- production or if they were subject to segregation rather than
tices in the New World is a good illustration at hand. assimilation. In the first case, novel techniques and ideas
Yet the question of how such potential materializes in ar- would be introduced randomly and in isolation, depending
tifact production and may be recognized as such in the ar- on captives’ prior knowledge and capacity to put them into
chaeological record remains severely challenging. At the end practice. Note, however, that the adoption of alien things
of her paper, Cameron seems to oscillate between two posi- generally involves a reformulation (Wenger 1998). In the sec-
tions. The first, inspired by Clark (2001), considers that the ond case, captives may tend to reproduce native ways in areas
less visible and socially invested elements of material culture uncontrolled by their captors, for example, making pots the
(e.g., mundane objects, production tasks) are likely arenas native way and for one’s own consumption, as in New World
within which captives herald their native identities and resist plantations. But then what is their ability to affect the captor’s
dominant culture. They do so in reproducing knowledge and culture? If inserted into castelike specialist groups, however,
know-how acquired before their capture, thus becoming in- captives are likely to become invisible, both because of the
dividual “depositaries” of cultural practices that may be par- resocialization process endured when entering a new com-
tially transferred to captors’ societies so long as they stay munity of practice and because captors consume what they
“below the radar” of the dominant culture. Cameron’s second produce.
position is more nuanced. It states that the decision to aban- Such complexity should not compel us to stop looking for
don or reproduce native ways of doing depends on the social captives and their effect in the archaeological record. My point
position and attitude of both captives and captors. Thus, the is just that doing so requires that aspects such as social strat-
recipient culture is not just “another context” where cultural ification and craft specialization be taken into consideration.
practices are to be transferred but a socially and historically Fortunately, these are not out of reach for archaeologists.
constituted world where the changing relationships between
captives and captors determine the dynamics of cultural trans-
mission. And given the variety of status and attitudes in cap-
tors’ societies through time and space, such dynamics are
likely to be highly variable. Chapurukha M. Kusimba
Both positions could be considered complementary. I am Department of Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural
afraid, however, that the first is too reductionist to serve Cam- History, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois
eron’s aim. Having developed a model similar to Clark’s 60605, U.S.A. (ckusimba@fieldmuseum.org). 19 VIII 10
(Gosselain 2000), I now believe that this “low physical and
contextual visibility” line of reasoning is wrong because it
keeps an outsider point of view on technical practice (Gosse- “Captives and Culture Change: Implications for Archaeology,”
lain 2008). “Doing” is not just a question of fitting with by Catherine M. Cameron, discusses the role captive women
explicit cultural expectations or prescriptions; from a pro- played as agents of change. The article contributes to an on-
ducer point of view, it is also a way of defining one’s own going discussion concerning the means through which knowl-
198 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

edge transfer occurs. Although she focuses on tribal and chief- to have been the norm? Is it just possible that women, whether
dom societies, the author addresses questions of great captive or free, may well be the chief architects of change?
relevance to all societies. She decries the inability of archae- And how could archaeologists have missed this for so long?
ology to develop meaningful models for operationalizing The main point of the article is that some of the mundane
transmission of cultural practices. transformations that we often see in the archaeological record
Cameron’s article is based on the premise that for much and that we explain away in terms of intermarriage, migration,
of humankind’s existence, conflict, coercion, and warfare have imitation, interregional trade, conquest, colonization, and as-
been the primary modus operandi for making a living. War- similation may indeed be the products of captive labor. The
fare provided the primary means for securing much-needed very idea may seem scandalous and indeed may well be seen
resources and legitimized the looting and annexation of as such. The question now is, how does one go about teasing
resource-rich territories but most of all made it possible for out the material culture produced by captive labor from that
the victors to increase their numbers through capturing produced by free labor? Indeed, perhaps the weakest section
women and children. Women, especially reproductive women, of the article resides in Cameron’s failure to explicitly show
and children were especially popular for capture because they how archaeologists might go about identifying evidence for
provided much-needed labor, were easy to rehabilitate, were captive material culture. The detailed tables provide further
potentially less dangerous opponents, and could make excel- evidence for captives, but in reality these are footnotes rather
lent wives and companions. than a checklist that a student of archaeology might use for
Setting the spotlight on captives is a compelling proposi- beginning a discussion for interpreting his/her data. The tables
tion, one that has the potential to transform our perspectives could also do with tighter editing and in their present form
on understanding the evolution of inequality, technology and confuse the reader. As archaeologists, we still find evidence
biological transfer, and the evolution of language. Until now, for slavery difficult to read (Alexander 2001; cf. Kusimba
archaeologists and historians have attributed large-scale so- 2004) despite the overwhelming historical evidence for the
cietal transformations, in particular technology transfers, to institution in precolonial Africa. As Cameron proposes, new
migration, trade, conquest, colonization, and assimilation. methodologies, including stable-isotope analysis and genetics,
Cameron introduces the notion of enforced migration—cap- coupled with traditional archaeology of mortuary studies, may
tivity and the role of captives—as an equally plausible and provide avenues for distinguishing free and captive popula-
potentially powerful means through which cultural transfor- tions. But this is not going to be an easy task, because the
mations likely occurred. She employs many examples from window for conducting large-scale excavations of human re-
all corners of the worlds and in all societies, from tribal mains is pretty much closed in many parts of the world.
through state societies. Be that as it may, this is an important contribution that
To make her argument, Cameron has accepted, perhaps challenges mainstream ideas for evaluating evolution of cul-
uncritically, the ideas put forth by those who have champi- ture. It poses interesting and provocative questions and pro-
oned coercion, conflict, and warfare as a cultural universal poses intriguing new ways of interrogating the archaeological
and perhaps the most common means through which re- record and apportioning credit. But its chief weakness lies in
sources were acquired (e.g., Keeley 1996). According to this the author’s failure to interrogate alternative ways of orga-
view, coercion was the primary way of conducting business nization and making a living. For example, a recent global
between stranger communities, with the outcome being loot- survey by Richard Blanton and Lane Fargher (2008) highlights
ing. Included in the booty were livestock and people, in par- various examples of less deterministic collective human action
ticular reproductively active women and children (both boys in social change.
and girls). Captives were sources of labor, procreation, and
statuses for their captors.
Cameron makes an excellent argument, laced with many
examples, for considering the role of captives in shaping cul-
tural transformations alongside other mechanisms, including Julia Lowell
trade, migration, and colonization (e.g., Oka and Kusimba Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology,
2009), which up to now have provided the major interpretive University of Northern Iowa, Baker Hall 356, Cedar Falls,
frameworks for evaluating social change in complex societies. Iowa 50614, U.S.A. (lowell@uni.edu). 24 VI 10
The detailed tables serve to illustrate and strengthen the ar-
gument that as archaeologists, we need to take seriously the
idea that until the nineteenth century, bondage, peonage, and Archaeologists have come a long way from making vague
other forms of servitude were the norm. Entertaining this references to “cultural influence” or “cultural interaction” in
problematic notion calls into question our perspectives on efforts to explain cultural change that involves the apparent
how we evaluate humankind’s contributions to global history. mixing of elements from two or more traditions. Trade, mi-
Is it possible that our civilization is a product of coerced labor gration, and intermarriage are among the processes that typ-
and that without elite manipulation, voting with feet was likely ically have been considered. Catherine Cameron adds another
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 199

important process, one that has largely been ignored by ar- 100 rooms housed many of the immigrants (Riggs 2001). If
chaeologists. According to Cameron, because women are of- these immigrants were captives, this room block would rep-
ten the ones taken captive, changes in women’s artifacts may resent a haremlike housing situation. Harems do not make
signal captive-taking. Similarly, I have argued (Lowell 2007, much sense in the context of the generally egalitarian culture
2010) that in times of war, female refugees can contribute to of these people. Finally, through their mythology and history,
these often perplexing archaeological mixes of material cul- a powerful ethic of hospitality is well documented among the
ture. Like captive populations, warfare-refugee populations historic Pueblos (e.g., Fewkes 1894; Kroeber 1917; White
are characterized by large numbers of women and children 1935). This tradition includes taking in migrant groups. Al-
and low numbers of men (e.g., Cohen and Deng 1998). We though some captive-taking occurred among the historic
are finally abandoning the assumption that population move- Pueblos, hospitality is a far more regularly documented pro-
ments always involve whole families with a normal distri- cess that would bring groups of people from different
bution of men, women, and children. This interpretive shift traditions together in one community. Also, through an anal-
is rooted in the frequent observation that when material cul- ysis of architecture and changes in material culture, I have
ture changes, it rarely does so along all dimensions. demonstrated that hospitality came into play prehistorically
It is important that we establish criteria to tease out dif- in the Grasshopper region when native peoples allowed some
ferent processes that produce similar results in the archaeo- of the migrants to live in houses that the natives had originally
logical record. I suggest that we start with considering the constructed for themselves (Lowell 2007, 2010).
broad concept of gender imbalance. This concept can help Cameron’s thorough and thought-provoking paper makes
determine the presence of groups that have produced changes a valuable contribution by encouraging archaeologists to con-
in material culture that are not uniform from the perspective sider the common cross-cultural practice of captive-taking
of gender. These groups may be captives, warfare refugees, or and how it might influence the archaeological record. I suggest
even conquerors. Distinguishing between captive-taking and that considering the concept of gender imbalance is helpful,
warfare-refugee movements in the archaeological record will because several different circumstances involving gender im-
be particularly tough, because both situations involve greater balance, particularly captive-taking and refugee movements,
numbers of women than of men and therefore encourage might look similar in the archaeological record. Our challenge
changes in female-oriented material culture in the recipient is to work out criteria that might help distinguish the different
community. Other complications include, first, that captive- processes leading to gender imbalance from each other. In
taking and refugee movements are not mutually exclusive general, explaining the presence of nonnative women in a
activities. Second, both occur in settings of conflict. Third, society requires that our explanation fits into what we know
both types of migrants will likely be of lower status than the of the broader picture.
natives and may have to cope with poor diets or physical
abuse. Finally, both situations might require that in order to
survive, the individuals involved take similar steps, such as
producing craft goods for the dominant population.
In recent research that focuses on burial data and changes Fernando Santos-Granero
in material culture, I have argued that beginning in the late Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Unit 9100, Box
thirteenth century, many of the migrant groups to the Grass- 0948, DPO AA 34002-9998, U.S.A. (santosf@si.edu). 6 VII
hopper region of Arizona were typical warfare refugees, with 10
large numbers of women and children and small numbers of
men (Lowell 2007, 2010). In her article, Cameron suggests
that captive-taking might help explain the Grasshopper case. The call for an archaeology of slavery by Catherine M. Cam-
I stand by my interpretation that the primary reason for the eron is both timely and stimulating. The capture of human
movements of these particular people was that they were flee- beings for a variety of purposes—including enslavement—is
ing warfare. My arguments for this position might help es- a social practice found in all times and places and is far from
tablish some criteria for distinguishing between two related having been completely eradicated (see Quirk 2008). Un-
and probably at times overlapping processes. First, it is well questionably, the capture, uprooting, and circulation of slaves
documented that during this conflict-ridden period in the is objectionable. It can be argued, however, that, together with
Pueblo Southwest, major migrations involving abandonments the incest taboo, captive slavery has been one of the main
of some regions and movements into others, including Grass- mechanisms by which historic and prehistoric societies have
hopper (Reid et al. 1996), did take place. Second, motives for ensured biological and cultural exchanges. In most of these
captive-taking during this period are not clear. Why would societies, slavery assumed the form of exoservitude, that is,
the Grasshopper people suddenly begin taking large numbers the enslavement of people from different, often distant, ethnic
of captives whom they would have to feed and protect in a groups (Lévy-Bruhl 1931:9). This explains why researchers
difficult time of drought and conflict? Third, at Grasshopper studying the connection between genetic and linguistic relat-
Pueblo it has been established that one room block of some edness in Native America have concluded that “the genetic
200 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

affinities among tribes show no clear linguistic or geographic gence of new hybrid identities embracing elements from the
pattern” (Mousinho-Ribeiro et al. 2003:232; also see Black et cultural traditions of both conquered and conquerors. Makú
al. 1983). In other words, interethnic admixture does not servant groups were eventually assimilated as low-status patri-
result from marriage exchange between linguistically or geo- sibs; the acculturated Naborey became members of an endog-
graphically close peoples but most probably from practices amous servile stratum; the conquered Chané, on the other
such as captive slavery. hand, adopted the language and traditions of their Chiriguaná
The capture of enemy people—especially young women masters but retained the stigma of being slave descendants. The
and children—has not only ensured genetic diversity but has traces left by these servile populations in the archaeological
also stimulated intercultural exchange. Cameron’s article fo- record should be more visible than those left by individual
cuses on this latter aspect, placing emphasis on the factors captive slaves. More importantly, in such situations, the role of
that must be taken into consideration in order to detect the servant groups as vectors of cultural change was even greater
cultural signature left by captives in the archaeological record. than that in regimes of servitude based only in captive slavery,
Her intriguing reflections on the topic concern regimes of with servants often passing onto their masters not only new
servitude in which slaves are captured as individuals and in- technologies, rituals, and cosmologies but also alternative social
corporated as such into their captors’ society. In those con- models (see Combés and Lowrey 2006). In brief, in order for
texts, captives are generally forced to adopt the language and the proposed archaeology of slavery to be effective, it must
mores of their captors. They are seriously constrained in their necessarily take into consideration the variations in cultural
ability to express their ethnic origins and cultural traditions. signatures entailed by different regimes of servitude including
As a result, evidence of their presence should be looked for not only captive slavery but also servant groups and even trib-
in “attributes with low physical and contextual visibility,” such utary populations.
as artifacts with little social or symbolic meaning or with
imperceptible manufacturing steps and methods of produc-
tion. Cameron’s main point, and one that cannot be stressed
sufficiently, is that although captives are forced to adopt the
cultural practices of their captors, cultural transmission in Natalie J. Swanepoel
such contexts is never unidirectional. Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, P.O. Box
Here, I would like to enrich an already rich discussion by 392, University of South Africa, 0003, Pretoria, South
calling attention to other regimes of servitude that differ in Africa (swanenj@unisa.ac.za). 13 VII 10
important ways from those discussed by Cameron, to wit, the
capture, incorporation, and eventual assimilation of enemy
collectivities as “servant groups.” In tropical America, this Stahl (2008:38) argues that regarding slavery as present and
was the case of the Makú subjected by the Tukano of north- integral to the functioning of social, political, and economic
west Amazonia, the Chané subjugated by the Chiriguaná of landscapes in West Africa, in short as a social fact, frees schol-
eastern Bolivia, and the Naborey conquered by the Taino of ars from investigating slavery as a “special topic” and rather
Hispaniola (Santos-Granero 2009, 2011). In those cases, the directs us to its process, the examination of which must be
conquering peoples—generally newcomers to the region— integrated into the research process (Stahl 2008:42). In this
occupied vast areas, subjecting entire native settlements. They paper, Cameron presents enough examples from a range of
were thus faced with the challenge of incorporating large times and places to convince me that depending on the spe-
numbers of captives. Under such circumstances, “natal alien- cific context, archaeologists should also regard the presence
ation,” the process by which war captives are uprooted, de- of a captive population (including but not limited to slaves)
personalized, and alienated from the rights and ties to which as a “social fact” rather than something that must be proven
they are entitled by birth, was not a viable option (Patterson before it can be examined further.
1982:111). Collectivities thus conquered were resettled in the As demonstrated by Cameron, captive-taking resulting
periphery of their captors’ settlements and incorporated as from warfare, conflict, and raiding most probably formed the
servant groups. They were allowed to retain their authorities, basis for cultural exchange in a number of societies, including
family networks, and a certain modicum of autonomy, but decentralized and nonstate societies. What does seem to
they were always at the beck and call of their masters, who emerge from the discussion, however, is that captives are likely
held rights of life and death over them. More importantly, to be more archaeologically visible in interactions between
they were often encouraged to pursue their particular skills, societies of differing complexity. This is mostly because the
especially those their captors lacked, such as Makú hunting reasons for and the nature of captive-taking by state-based
abilities or Chané farming know-how. societies may have been very different from those in small-
Unlike captive slaves, however, who within the space of one scale societies, most notably in the degree to which captive-
or two generations were totally assimilated, servant groups un- taking can be regarded as a form of mutual cultural exchange.
derwent a much longer process of ethnic transfiguration that To take the expansion of settler societies in North America
ended not with complete assimilation but rather with the emer- or southern Africa (Boeyens 1994:190) as an example, captive-
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 201

taking and the subsequent incorporation of captives into those be resolved in the length of a single paper. It is thus clear
societies grew out of the broader process of colonialism and that Cameron’s paper (and indeed her edited volume [Cam-
the consolidation of power through the appropriation of not eron 2008]) represents only the beginning of a larger intel-
only the natural resources of indigenous people but also their lectual project that will require theoretical and practical de-
labor resources. Native Americans forced into indentured ser- velopment by a number of scholars working in varied
vitude occupied a different “space” as captives than captured contexts.
Spanish women forced to marry a local chief. While both
may be conceived, as Cameron points out, as an affirmation
of the power of the captor, they speak to broader structural
asymmetries between the two societies. Within a context that
is made up of interactions between small-scale societies, par- Reply
ticularly in cases where political formations are no larger than
one or a group of villagers, these power relations are not as My article “Captives and Culture Change: Implications for
asymmetrical and are more likely to be representative of a Archaeology” urges archaeologists to explore the potential
form of mutual cultural exchange, where groups raid one contributions of a marginal, “invisible” people to processes
another. Over generations this may lead to a homogenization of prehistoric culture change. I was delighted that the com-
of material culture across the archaeological landscape. mentators agreed that this research direction should be ex-
The problem is also one of terminology. All of the examples plored. I was even more pleased with the strong suggestions
given by Cameron fall under the larger rubric of “captives,” for how we might move forward. The commentators’ insight-
but while these historical individuals may have started out as ful comments highlight a number of issues that archaeologists
“captives”—in many ways a liminal status—they were inte- must address if we are to successfully incorporate captives
grated into their captor society in a variety of ways. I find it into our explanations of culture change. In my response, I
more useful, therefore, to think of these individuals as being will underscore and expand on several of the important and
incorporated somewhere along a continuum of belonging interrelated issues they raised. These include a broader po-
(outsider, captive, slave, lower caste, spouse, adoptive kin, and sitioning of captives within the complex set of processes that
so on). Captives as social persons may move up or down this move people around landscapes (marriage, migration, refu-
continuum, depending on the context and the degree to which geeism), a critical questioning of the term “captive,” an in-
they can be alienated once again from their captor society creased focus on the role of captives as intermediaries between
(this is implicit in what Cameron has argued), and it is this captor and natal cultures, the cultural hybridity that may have
place on the continuum, the context of their belonging, that occurred when entire populations were enslaved and partially
will determine what cultural traits they pass on and how. integrated, and especially (a point mentioned by most com-
I fully agree with Cameron that captives formed an integral mentators) consideration of how archaeologists might “find”
part in many nonstate and state societies and that they would captives in the archaeological record.
have played an important role in introducing new cultural The movement of people, especially women, across land-
practices and material-cultural techniques. Our understand- scapes could take a variety of forms. Both James Brooks and
ing of this process should not, however, rest on identifying Janet Chernela emphasize the fine line between socially sanc-
anomalies in the archaeological record that can be attributed tioned marriage and an unwilling, abducted bride, while Julia
to the actions of captives. Silliman (2010) has made this point Lowell points to the difficulty in distinguishing captive women
with reference to finding indigenous peoples in colonial con- from war refugees. Chernela describes a synergistic system of
texts. Through their labor, indigenous people probably in- real and fictive bride capture among the Eastern Tukanoan
teracted as much with colonial material culture as the colo- of the northwest Amazon, where groups alternate roles as
nists, and their presence is implied in large-scale labor projects raiders and victims and foreign (often captive) women are
such as buildings. Silliman (2010) thus argues that “people central nodes in a process Chernela calls “coercive kin mak-
occupying very different levels of social power shared material ing” (see also Snyder 2010 for a North American example).
and architectural items, and historical archaeologists must be Chernela provides an excellent illustration of the major point
attuned to that multiple layered meaning” (50) A similar ar- of my article: captive women were at the heart of the process
gument could be made for captives. Once we have deter- of culture change that at least in the northwest Amazon re-
mined, with reference to the specific historical context, that sulted in a “multiethnic cosmopolitan society.” James Brooks
captive-taking was practiced, we need to integrate the pos- looks even more broadly, across vast expanses of territory and
sibility, indeed the probability, of captives into our explana- wide cultural gulfs, emphasizing the blurring of captive and
tory frameworks independent of whether we can exactly pin- marriage exchange traditions and even averring that captive
point such captives archaeologically. women and children were one end of a continuum of human
Ultimately, this paper throws up more questions than it economic transfer that is “closely allied with classic anthro-
answers—by no means a bad thing. All of these questions pological thought on the source of ‘culture’ itself.”
highlight the critical issues of scale and context that cannot I certainly agree with both Brooks and Chernela concerning
202 Current Anthropology Volume 52, Number 2, April 2011

captives in a continuum of economic transfer and especially foreign, often distant culture is significant for understanding
with captives as agents of culture change. In the article, I the process of cultural transmission.
distinguish captive-taking from migration or marriage Building on the continuum of captive to kin, James Brooks
through its coercive character and point to DeBoer’s (2008) urges archaeologists to recognize the powerful roles that cap-
study, which shows that in the Americas, captive women were tives could have played as conduits between the cultures of
obtained from just beyond the boundaries of the area where their birth and those of their captors (see also comments by
wives were normally recruited. But I also urge archaeologists Chernela). This is a tremendously important point and one
to look at the places in the world where captives could be that goes to the heart of what I hope will be a new under-
transported hundreds or thousands of miles (such as South- standing of the process of culture change. Brooks’s own work
east Asia; Junker 2008), effectively severing natal relationships, (e.g., Brooks 2002, 2008b) serves as an exemplar for the in-
or places (the Northwest Coast, parts of Africa and South vestigation of captives’ influential roles as intercultural links.
America) where captives were not integrated as kin or quasi Captives were often multilingual, and so they could become
kin but maintained as slaves. One might compare, for ex- cultural intermediaries or facilitate economic exchanges for
ample, the constant raiding and warfare in the northwest their captors and in the process introduce new cultural prac-
Amazon, where captive women often became wives, with en- tices. Furthermore, they sometimes gained personal power in
demic warfare along the Northwest Coast, where captives be- the process of intercultural interaction. Brooks urges archae-
came and remained slaves down through the generations. The ologists to work with scholars in other fields, such as history
contributions of captives in these two regions were almost and ethnography, to investigate how these critical cultural
certainly different, but as my article suggests, the challenge transfers took place and their effects on cultural development.
for archaeology is to determine how social roles of captives This approach should be highly productive.
affected the transfer of cultural practices. Fernando Santos-Granero’s comment provides an impor-
Julia Lowell’s discussion of captives versus war refugees tant new angle on captive-taking and one that archaeologists
adds another important dimension to our investigation of should be especially alert to: the capture and incorporation
factors that move people across the landscape. Her consid- of “servant groups.” In discussing the Tukano incorporation
eration of gender imbalance and its affect on material culture of the Makú, Santos-Granero shows how the capture of a
(Lowell 2007) is a model for microscale studies of culture large group that retained some degree of autonomy had a
change that I hope will result when archaeologists recognize strong effect on the transmission of cultural practices, re-
captives and other “invisible” social actors on the prehistoric sulting in cultural hybrids that blended language, technology,
stage. We should perhaps consider the “ethic of hospitality” ritual, cosmology, and social forms. Such servant groups are
that Lowell offers as a reason that Pueblo people in the South- certainly not peculiar to South America. Ethridge (2009:37)
west invited refugees into their communities. A recent study describes a similar process in eastern North America, where
by Wesley Bernardini (2005) of Hopi oral traditions dem- social instability resulted in small groups attaching themselves
onstrates the complex and intense deliberations that preceded to larger polities as subordinates. We might also consider
invitations by Hopi to migrant groups that hoped to join situations where more powerful polities repeatedly undertook
established settlements. Migrants often had to bring ritual or raids and captive-taking against small-scale societies, creating
other significant property to the table; in other cases, migrants communities of ethnically related captives within captor so-
were accepted to increase population in times of danger. Sim- cieties (see comment by Swanepoel).
ilar deliberations may have preceded the organization of raids Because of their generally marginal social position in captor
to take captives. society, captives can be very difficult to find in the archaeo-
Comments by Brooks, Chernela, Lowell, and especially logical materials we recover. The commentators almost unan-
Swanepoel raise important terminological questions about the imously point to the difficulties of finding captives in the past
term “captive.” Was there a category of social person (“the but agree that archaeology must consider these “invisible cit-
captive”) in a consistent vertical relationship with social actors izens.” Chapurukha Kusimba wonders whether “it [is] pos-
that I have labeled “captor?” As the examples presented in sible that our civilization is a product of coerced labor” but
my paper show, the captive experience was highly variable, also voices concerns that I have not shown how archaeologists
hence the blurring of the categories of people who moved might identify material culture left by captives. Although I
between cultures. Yet as Swanepoel stresses, all captives must discuss some avenues scholars use to identifying captives in
have been incorporated into the society of their captors in the past (human remains, oral traditions, language), Kusimba
one way or another (wife, slave, adoptee, etc.), meaning that rightly notes that human remains are often not available for
with time, “captive” was no longer the most important social study and that other methods of identification pose other
role they played. Nonetheless, as I hope my arguments in the difficulties. Natalie Swanepoel suggests that captives will be
article have established, the ways in which individuals entered most archaeologically visible when captives and captors come
a foreign society probably affected their intellectual and ma- from societies at differing levels of social complexity. She ar-
terial contributions to that society. Even if “captive” was a gues (as do other commentators) for a “homogenization of
temporary social role, the origin of these individuals in a material culture across the archaeological landscape,” where
Cameron Captives and Culture Change 203

power relations between raiders and victims are more equal. issues are not new. Two decades ago, Ruth Tringham (1991)
However, we must be critical in our application of these ideas. urged us to abandon the “faceless blobs” with which we peo-
Recent studies note the selectivity with which cultural prac- pled the past and look for men and women and their varied
tices are offered or accepted when social groups interact (e.g., activities. She advocated a “microscale” archaeology of social
Mills 2008), and this knowledge must be applied to under- relations in prehistory (Tringham 1991:125), a call that has
standing cultural transmission between captive and captor. In been taken up often since (for a recent example, see articles
any cultural encounter, people pick and chose among the in Brooks, DeCorse, and Walton 2008). Finding captives is
traits they accept and reject. Captives may have had far less another development in the peopling of the past. As Natalie
freedom in this selection process, but nevertheless it must Swanepoel points out, “we need to integrate the possibility,
have affected the outcome of captive/captor interactions. indeed the probability, of captives into our explanatory frame-
Olivier Gosselain comments directly on one of the methods works independent of whether we can exactly pinpoint such
I suggested for identifying captives in the archaeological rec- captives archaeologically.” I strongly agree and believe that we
ord, the use of “low-visibility” attributes. Drawing on studies will eventually be able to find captives—and their material
of prehistoric social boundaries and migration (Bowser 2008; record—in many parts of the world.
Carr 1995a; Clark 2001; Stark 1998), I argue that use of a I am grateful to the commentators for their thoughtful
foreign technique of manufacture, coupled with a local dec- critiques and valuable insights. My goal for the article was to
orative style, might signal the presence of captives in the ar- explore processes of cultural transmission through a poten-
chaeological record. “Low-visibility” production steps may be tially important but often overlooked social person, the cap-
least likely to be suppressed by captors and most likely to tive. Comments on the article provided helpful and reasoned
reflect the presence of captives. But Gosselain astutely suggests evaluations of my arguments and constructive suggestions for
that captives’ contributions to craft production would have new directions future studies might take. Dialogue surround-
been strongly affected by the “social world of activity” they ing the article demonstrates the vigor of current research on
entered. This is an important addition to the factors affecting cultural transmission and the importance of microscale ap-
captive-captor cultural traditions that I developed. Gosselain proaches to understanding this process.
notes that stripped of their social identity, captives may well —Catherine M. Cameron
have entered completely into the craft practices they were
forced to undertake in an effort to gain acceptance and a new
social identity. Not only would this make them difficult to
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