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The study of prehistoric Eastern Europe is today a very different reality from prior to 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and decline of Marxist-inspired socialism and communism. Rigid intellectual boundaries and political ideologies that once divided scholarship have become more open, and a more vibrant level of academic exchange has developed. As a result, traditional models of understanding for the Post-Neolithic of Eastern Europe have been radically revised in recent years. In contrast to earlier models that favoured the East European steppe zone as the birthplace of prehistoric marauding warrior nomads, more complex understandings of population movement, interaction and trade are dominating contemporary scholarship. This has led to a much greater appreciation for the social, political and economic developments that occurred in this region of the Old World. This chapter provides a survey of these important developments for the Chalcolithic (Copper Age or Eneolithic), Bronze and Early Iron ages and covers chronologically a period from approximately 4500 to 300 bce. While this presents a long sequence, it offers the opportunity to step outside the boundaries of single conventional periods to examine important regional trajectories of sociocultural change.
Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia challenges current interpretations of the emergence, development, and decline of social complexity in the steppe region of China and the former Soviet Union. Through a thematic investigation of archaeological patterns ranging from monument construction and use and production and consumption of metals to the nature of mobility among societies, the essays in this volume provide the most up-to-date thinking on social and cultural change in prehistoric Eurasia. Collectively, they challenge broader theoretical trends in Anglo-American archaeology, which have traditionally favored comparative studies of sedentary agricultural societies over mobile pastoralist or agro-pastoralist communities. By highlighting the potential and limitations of comparative studies of social complexity, this volume sets the agenda for future studies of this region of the world. It emphasizes how the unique nature of early steppe societies can contribute to more comprehensive interpretations of social trajectories in world prehistory.
In recent years, one of the most vibrantly debated prehistoric developments in the Eurasian steppe region has been the emergence of the Sintashta culture, which is dated from 2100 to 1800 cal. bce (G. B. Zdanovich 1988, 1989). The contributions in this volume by Anthony and Frachetti stress the importance of the Sintashta case study, and Anthony, in particular, argues for a strong connection between changing environmental conditions, an increase in the scale of warfare and chiefly competition, and the emergence of a broader economic pattern of exchange between Central Asia and the Sintashta settlements in the southern Urals zone.
This chapter investigates in more detail the relationship of Sintashta social organization to mining and metals production in that region. Many uncertainties still surround the scale and nature of bronze production connected with the emergence, development, and decline of the Sintashta archaeological pattern. These important issues are part of a much broader problem that exists within contemporary studies of the steppe region concerning the relationship between metal- producing communities, local micro-regions, and larger supra-local systems of trade and exchange. Traditional views of Eurasian metallurgy have often highlighted the development and diffusion of metal technology and objects within larger regional networks. In contrast, this chapter emphasizes the need to better understand the micro-regional impact of metallurgical production and its effect on the development of specific forms of social organization and complexity. From this perspective, it is argued that the Sintashta pattern still remains enigmatic in terms of the actual characteristics of its social complexity and the economic system connected with its development.
This volume brings together a collection of essays that focuses specifically on themes connected with the analysis of social complexity in the third to first millennium bce in the Eurasian steppe. This dialogue stems from a symposium held at the University of Pittsburgh in February 2006 that sought to evaluate current trends and to determine new directions for the study of Eurasian steppe archaeology. What became apparent during this meeting was that the steppe region has moved firmly into the spotlight of world prehistory and contemporary archaeological theory. No longer viewed as closed geopolitical spheres, the territories of the former Soviet Union and neighboring regions, and the traditions of research that have addressed these areas, have become promising new arenas of international collaboration. Important questions surrounding the emergence and diffusion of agricultural and pastoral adaptations, early metallurgical technologies and their use, and the role of mobile pastoralist societies in China, Central Asia, and Europe have become significant topics within scholarly discourse in recent years. Such issues are clearly reflected in the publication of three new, seminal books in 2007 on the Bronze and Iron Ages of the steppe region (Anthony 2007 ; Kohl 2007 ; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007).
The chapters offered within this volume not only examine these important issues in steppe archaeology but also seek to contribute more specifically to a broader comparative theoretical analysis of early social complexity in world prehistory.