Bronze, Jade, Gold, and Ivory: Valuable Objects in Ancient Sichuan
CitationFlad, Rowan. 2012. Bronze, Jade, Gold, and Ivory: Valuable Objects in Ancient Sichuan. In The Construction of Value in the Ancient World, ed. John K. Papadopoulos and Gary Urton, 306-335. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.
AbstractIf negotiations about value are essentially political (Graeber 2001:115), our understanding of past political systems is illuminated by an understanding of how and through what processes value is attributed to objects in a particular context. We cannot examine this “object value” through a focus on only one attribute or set of attributes, such as scarcity of raw material or labor investment, but instead must consider the intersection of several factors: raw material, labor investment, the identity of producers, the identity of consumers, the divisibility or “commodifiability” of an object, and its capacity to accumulate history. In fact, the value attributed to objects is dynamic and contingent — the consequence of practices of production, use, and discard through an object’s life history. We must therefore consider both the production of objects and their discard in our attempts to discover the relationships between object value and political power. This paper considers this relationship in ancient Sichuan, China, during the late second and early first millennia B.C. By looking at aspects of production, use, and discard of valuable objects at the sites of Sanxingdui and Jinsha, we observe changes in the ways that bronze, jade, gold, and ivory were employed as valuable objects in the context of political and ritual practices.
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