Department of Anthropology
How the exchange of commodities and control over resources shaped the social world is a major concern in anthropology. In the domain of history, the form and structure of market economy during the Han period is also a long debated issue. Consequently, the study of imperial control over commodities within an anthropological framework is a promising avenue that sheds new light on debates about the Han commodity economy.
This dissertation addresses the production and distribution system of the Han iron industry in order to investigate the nature of commodities and resource control. This project integrates metallurgical and zooarchaeological approaches to analyzing manufacturing remains at an iron foundry site named Taicheng 邰城, as well as iron objects from various cemeteries in the Guanzhong basin, Shaanxi, the capital area of the Western Han Empire (202 BCE-9 CE). The results provide new evidence demonstrating the “commodity economy” of iron in the capital area, in fact, functioned as a multi-level network system. Even within the same category of iron products, the degree of commodification and the scope of market networks widely varied in the Western Han period, a fact that has been overlooked in previous literature. In addition, the transportation of iron goods to the capital created a massive market network connecting different parts of the Empire and generated the momentum for the capital to dominate over its eastern territory.