Iridescent Beetle Adornment Suggest Incipient Status Competition Among the Earliest Horticulturalist in Bears Ears National Monument

Anthropological research has long theorized that emergent food-producing economies catalyzed high levels of inequality in human societies as evident in the earliest use of jewelry made from gold, copper, and other precious minerals among early agricultural populations. Although the U.S. Southwest appears to have been an exception, the presenter’s report the discovery of two Basketmaker II Period necklaces constructed of green iridescent scarab beetle femora, which suggest a homologous association between emergent agriculture and inequality. Drawing insight from ethnography, archaeology, entomology, and evolutionary ecology, they hypothesize that these and other jewelry items of Basketmaker II culture were visually prominent, honest signals of socioeconomic capital that emerged during a period of surplus food production and incipient wealth accumulation. It appears that Basketmaker II societies—like other emergent food-producing economies around the world—grappled with the opportunities and challenges that arise with surplus production, albeit in a distinct way that involved visually striking insect and feather adornments as status signals. Archaeologists may have previously overlooked this behavior due to Western biases that privilege precious metals and minerals as prestige objects and archaeological biases that tend to view insects as food or agents of site disturbance.