Cycles of Civilization in Northern Mesopotamia, 4400–2000 BC

Abstract

The intensification of fieldwork in northern Mesopotamia, the upper region of the Tigris-Euphrates basin, has revealed two cycles of expansion and reduction in social complexity between 4400 and 2000 BC. These cycles include developments in social inequality, political centralization, craft production and economic specialization, agropastoral land use, and urbanization. Contrary to earlier assessments, many of these developments proceeded independently from the polities in southern Mesopotamia, although not in isolation. This review considers recent data from excavations and surveys in northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey with particular attention to how they are used to construct models of early urban polities.

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Acknowledgments

This review made use of two excellent research facilities and their online resources that I am happy to acknowledge here: Harvard University’s Tozzer Library (especially Janet Steins and Emily Moss) and its Anthropological Literature database; and the University of Chicago Oriental Institute’s Research Archives, its Research Archivist Foy Scalf, and its online catalog (http://oilib.uchicago.edu). Many of the ideas presented here were soundly critiqued by Harvard graduate students enrolled in Anthropology 2065: Complex Societies of Northern Mesopotamia in Spring 2008. The manuscript benefited from comments and corrections from Guillermo Algaze, Frank Hole, Anne Porter, Philip Karsgaard, Linda Nicholas, Emily Hammer, and four anonymous reviewers.

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Ur, J.A. Cycles of Civilization in Northern Mesopotamia, 4400–2000 BC. J Archaeol Res 18, 387–431 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10814-010-9041-y

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Keywords

  • Mesopotamia
  • Complex society
  • Urbanism
  • Collapse