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Genuine Prestige Goods in Mortuary Contexts: Emulation in Polychrome Silk and Byzantine Solidi from Northern China

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Title:Genuine Prestige Goods in Mortuary Contexts: Emulation in Polychrome Silk and Byzantine Solidi from Northern China
Authors:Selbitschka, Armin
Keywords:prestige goods
Silk Road
Xinjiang archaeology
Date Issued:2018
Series:Volume 57
Number 1
Abstract:Archaeologists across all fields of research usually conflate prestige and social status with their use of the concepts “prestige” and “prestige goods.” As a consequence, discussions of prestige goods focus on their active use in status competitions. Prestige is not equal to but one of several contributing factors to social status, however. Prestige is akin to the German noun ansehen, which expresses the notion of looking up to someone because of certain qualities possessed by that individual. This has serious ramifications for the traditional understanding of prestige goods. In order to distinguish genuine prestige goods from non-prestige goods in mortuary data, it is necessary to look beyond the motives of individual signalers and instead concentrate on the reactions of responders. Examining emulation of prestigious individuals unlocks the views of contemporary responders in ancient times. Copies of objects yielded from burials are tangible manifestations of ansehen (prestige). They convey the information that certain sets of individuals viewed the original items as more than mere luxury products or status symbols. To be sure, genuine prestige goods are most likely of high relative value, but they operate on a deeper social level than luxury items and status symbols. Genuine prestige goods highlight certain aspects of the attitudes of smaller pockets of society rather than universal social mechanisms. An in-depth analysis of various silk fabrics and emulated warp-faced compound tabby weaves (jin 錦) dated from the second to early fifth century c.e. burials in the Tarim Basin in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, PR China, along with a brief survey of Byzantine solidi (gold coins minted by the Eastern Roman empire) and their copies found in early sixth to mid-eighth century c.e. tombs in northern China, serve as the material basis for the argument about emulation and ansehen.
ISSN:0066-8435 (Print)
1535-8283 (E-ISSN)
Appears in Collections: Asian Perspectives, 2018 - Volume 57, Number 1 (Spring)

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