Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape

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Overview

The alluvial lowlands of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia are widely known as the “cradle of civilization” owing to the scale of the processes of urbanization that took place in the area by the second half of the fourth millennium BCE.
            In Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization, Guillermo Algaze draws on the work of modern economic geographers to explore how the unique river-based ecology and geography of the Tigris-Euphrates alluvium impacted the development of urban civilization in southern Mesopotamia. He argues that these natural conditions granted southern polities significant competitive advantages over their landlocked rivals elsewhere in Southwest Asia, most importantly the ability to easily transport commodities. In due course, this resulted in increased trade and economic activity and higher population densities in the south than were possible elsewhere. As southern polities grew in scale and complexity throughout the fourth millennium, revolutionary new forms of labor organization and record keeping were created, and it is these socially created innovations, Algaze argues, that ultimately account for why fully developed city-states emerged earlier in southern Mesopotamia than elsewhere in Southwest Asia or the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
[This monograph] offers an engaging narrative and a somewhat rosy picture of life in early Sumer, attempting to explain the birth and development of early urbanization and complex social structures. . . . A book that one can recommend to students.

— Mark Geller

Choice
"Outstanding. . . . This book is the single best treatment available in discussing the complex issues involved in bringing about Mesopotamian civilization, offering a model of approach for anyone interested in the emergence of civilization."
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"[This monograph] offers an engaging narrative and a somewhat rosy picture of life in early Sumer, attempting to explain the birth and development of early urbanization and complex social structures. . . . A book that one can recommend to students."

— Mark Geller

Choice

“Outstanding. . . . This book is the single best treatment available in discussing the complex issues involved in bringing about Mesopotamian civilization, offering a model of approach for anyone interested in the emergence of civilization.”
Jason Ur

“Algaze displays an impressive command of recent research in economic geography and an insightful knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of the textual and archaeological dataset. The result is a tight and theoretically explicit model for the precocious rise of southern Mesopotamian urban society which argues strongly for the primacy of trade, transportation technology, and uniquely diverse geographic circumstances. Algaze’s The Uruk World System drove the research agenda for the Uruk expansion; Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization will structure the direction of future field research on the emergence of the world’s earliest urban states.”

T.J. Wilkinson

“This is an important and valuable distillation of Algaze’s most recent thinking on the development of southern Mesopotamian society. While it is indeed a worthy complement to his earlier work, this wholly original book takes his argument much further, making a number of important theoretical points.”
Choice
“Outstanding. . . . This book is the single best treatment available in discussing the complex issues involved in bringing about Mesopotamian civilization, offering a model of approach for anyone interested in the emergence of civilization.”
Jason Ur
“Algaze displays an impressive command of recent research in economic geography and an insightful knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of the textual and archaeological dataset. The result is a tight and theoretically explicit model for the precocious rise of southern Mesopotamian urban society which argues strongly for the primacy of trade, transportation technology, and uniquely diverse geographic circumstances. Algaze’s The Uruk World System drove the research agenda for the Uruk expansion; Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization will structure the direction of future field research on the emergence of the world’s earliest urban states.”
T.J. Wilkinson
“This is an important and valuable distillation of Algaze’s most recent thinking on the development of southern Mesopotamian society. While it is indeed a worthy complement to his earlier work, this wholly original book takes his argument much further, making a number of important theoretical points.”
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute - Mark Geller

"[This monograph] offers an engaging narrative and a somewhat rosy picture of life in early Sumer, attempting to explain the birth and development of early urbanization and complex social structures. . . . A book that one can recommend to students."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226013770
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Guilllermo Algaze is professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization, now in its second edition from the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter 1. The Sumerian Takeoff

Natural and Created Landscapes

A Reversal of Fortune

Forthcoming Discussions

Chapter 2. Factors Hindering Our Understanding of the Sumerian Takeoff

The Material Limits of the Evidence

Conceptual Problems

Methodological Problems

Chapter 3. Modeling the Dynamics of Urban Growth

Growth as Diversification

Growth as Specialization

Growth Situated

Growth Institutionalized

Chapter 4. Early Mesopotamian Urbanism: Why?

Environmental Advantages

Geographical Advantages

Comparative and Competitive Advantage

Chapter 5. Early Mesopotamian Urbanism: How?

The Growth of Early Mesopotamian Urban Economies

The Uruk Expansion

Multiplier Effects

Chapter 6. The Evidence for Trade

Chapter 7. Early Mesopotamian Urbanism in Comparative Perspective

Evidentiary Biases

Florescent Urbanism in Alluvial Mesopotamia

The Primacy of Warka: Location, Location, Location

Aborted Urbanism in Upper Mesopotamia

Chapter 8. The Synergies of Civilization

Propinquity and Its Consequences

Technologies of the Intellect

The Urban Revolution Revisited

Chapter 9. Conclusion: The Mesopotamian Conjuncture

Epilogue: Early Sumerian Civilization: A Research Agenda

Agency

Paleoenvironment

Trade

Households and Property

Excavation and Survey

Paleozoology

Mortuary Evidence

Chronology

The Early Uruk Problem

Appendix 1. Early/Middle Uruk Sites in the Mesopotamian Alluvium Organized by Size and Presumed Functional Category

Appendix 2. Late Uruk Sites in the Mesopotamian Alluvium Organized by Size and Presumed Functional Category

Notes Reference List Source List Index

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