Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A chiefdom is any community led by an individual known as a chief.
In anthropological theory, a chiefdom is a form of social organization more complex than a tribe, and less complex than a state (see Cultural_evolution). Chiefdoms are characterized by pervasive inequality of peoples and centralization of authority. At least two inherited social classes (elite and commoner) are present, although social class can often be changed by extraordinary behavior during an individual's life. A single lineage/family of the elite class will be the ruling elite of the chiefdom, with the greatest influence, power, and prestige.
A single simple chiefdom is generally composed of a central community surrounded by or near a number of smaller subsidiary communities. All of these communities recognize the authority of a single kin group or individual with hereditary centralized power, dwelling in the primary community. Each community will have its own leaders, which are usually in a tributary and/or subservient relationship with the ruling elite of the primary community.
A complex chiefdom (see Cahokia as an example) is a group of simple chiefdoms controlled by a single paramount center. Three levels of administration exist, rather than two. The local community has leaders that bow to the head of their chiefdom, who in turn serves a single paramount individual or kin group with centralized power.
Chiefdoms have been shown by anthropologists and archaeologists to be a relatively unstable form of social organization. They are prone to cycles of collapse and renewal, in which tribal units band together, expand in power, fragment through some form of social stress, and band together again.
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