Craft and the Kingly Ideal

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Craft and the Kingly Ideal

Art, Trade, and Power

By Mary W. Helms

In this study of craft production and long-distance trade in traditional, nonindustrial societies, Mary W. Helms explores the power attributed to objects that either are produced by skilled artisans and/or come from far away.

1993

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Paperback

6 x 9 | 303 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-73078-6

In ancient Mediterranean cultures, diamonds were thought to endow their owners with invincibility. In contemporary United States culture, a foreign-made luxury car is believed to give its owner status and prestige. Where do these beliefs come from?

In this study of craft production and long-distance trade in traditional, nonindustrial societies, Mary W. Helms explores the power attributed to objects that either are produced by skilled artisans and/or come from "afar." She argues that fine artisanship and long-distance trade, both of which are more available to powerful elites than to ordinary people, are means of creating or acquiring tangible objects that embody intangible powers and energies from the cosmological realms of gods, ancestors, or heroes. Through the objects, these qualities become available to human society and confer honor and power on their possessors.

Helms’ novel approach equates trade with artistry and emphasizes acquisition rather than distribution. She rejects the classic Western separation between economics and aesthetics and offers a new paradigm for understanding traditional societies that will be of interest to all anthropologists and archaeologists.

Preface
1. Introduction to the Problem
Prelude
The Activities of Gilgamesh
Professional Perspectives

Part I: Skilled Crafting
2. What Skilled Crafting Means
Qualities of Skilled Crafting
Crafting as Transformation
Crafting and Creation
3. Skilled Artisans in Time and Space
Artisans and the Ancestors
Artisans and Geographical Distance
Travelers, Traders, and Artisans
Traveling as Skilled Craft
The Authenticity of Distance
4. Qualities of Skilled Artisans
Flawed Creators or the Epitome of Humanness
Aesthetics
5. Skilled Crafting and Political Authority
Crafting and Politics in Egalitarian Societies
Power over Things as Power over People
The Kingly Craft of Building

Part II: Acquisition
6. Exchange, Trade, and Acquisition
Acquisition Defined
Acquisition Explored
7. Acquisition in Time and Space
Original Travelers and Original Trade
Craft and the Conduct of Acquisition
8. Qualities of Acquisition
The Flawed and the Ideal
The Accumulation of Wealth
Wealth and the Ancestors
9. Naturally Endowed Goods and Skillfully Crafted Goods
The Tangible and the Material
Hunting
The Skillfully Crafted vs. the Naturally Endowed
10. Acquisition and Political Authority
Elites and the Outside
Elites as Acquirers
Acquisition and Ancestral Conditions

Part III: Centers and Origins
11. Superordinate Centers
Outside Centers and Ancestral Powers
Superordinate Centers
12. Acquisitional Polities
Characteristics of Centers-Out-There
The Acquisition of “Civilization”
13. Conclusions

Notes
References
Index

"A richly researched and engrossing volume ...a treasure for the scholar."
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