Water History

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 185–205 | Cite as

The non-hierarchical development of complexity in the semitropics: water and cooperation

Original paper

Abstract

Seasonality and unpredictable rainfall patterns in the tropics and semitropics make living in such regions challenging. Further, dispersed agricultural soils and critical resources result in low-density urbanism where people are blanketed across the landscape. As we show through a discussion of Amazonia, Bali, Angkor, Maya Lowlands, and West Africa, however, people adapt in a sustainable manner through constructing water management systems and developing specialized occupations. Specialized economies develop that take advantage of the varied resource niches that rely more on productive labor rather than technology per se. Cooperation and heterarchical networks are key; the former to build and maintain water systems, and the latter to provide the means to exchange information, goods, and knowledge from among the varied resources areas. Central nodes or urban centers also emerge to bring people together at set times for markets, ceremonies, and other activities that serve to socially integrate the dispersed and diverse groups. Over-exploitation is kept in check through myths that consecrate aspects of the landscape as sacred, especially those revolving around water.

Keywords

Semitropics Cooperation Water management Heterarchy Low-density urbanism 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank Tony Wilkinson for inviting us to participate in this collection, and Scarborough is grateful for the opportunity to participate in his water workshop held at the University of Durham in November 2009. The piece was improved by the two anonymous reviewers as well as Tony’s skillful editorship. We wish to also acknowledge our association with the Integrated History of the People of Earth (IHOPE) working group and specifically our colleagues participating in the subgroup IHOPE—Maya.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA

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