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At a time when archaeology has turned away from questions of the long-term and large scale, this collection of essays reflects on some of the big questions in archaeology and ancient history - how and why societies have grown in scale and complexity, how they have maintained and discarded aspects of their own cultural heritage, and how they have collapsed. In addressing these long-standing questions of broad interest and importance, the authors develop counter-narratives - new ways of understanding what used to be termed 'cultural evolution'. Encompassing the Middle East and Egypt, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, the American Southwest and Mesoamerica, the fourteen essays offer perspectives on long-term cultural trajectories; on cities, states and empires; on collapse; and on the relationship between archaeology and history. The book concludes with a commentary by one of the major voices in archaeological theory, Norman Yoffee.
Mesopotamia is one of the world's oldest urban cultures. According to Mesopotamian ideology, the gods selected rulers who exercised kingship over cities and in some cases over territories. An extensive body of historical and archaeological research provides a starting point for a synthetic understanding of Mesopotamian cities. Accounts of the origins of cities in Mesopotamia have focused on the city of Uruk since excavations there in the late 1920s and 1930s recovered abundant evidence of monumental structures of the late fourth millennium BCE at the center of a large city along with numerous early cuneiform texts. Mesopotamian temples were the households of the gods. The deities were physically brought into their cult statues through rituals and the statues were clothed and fed. Cities, neighborhoods, and communities were formed and reformed by movements of people into and away from cities. Mesopotamian cities depended on a countryside that urban institutions had a significant role in constructing.
Chinese urbanism has a history of more than 5,000 years, and ever since the invention of the Chinese writing system more than 3,000 years ago, the process of urbanization and the uninterrupted transmission of literacy have gone hand in hand. This chapter focuses on the second millennium BCE, the early Bronze Age, and also covers two consecutive episodes of that phase, such as the Huanbei period and the Yinxu period. The Anyang inscriptions are the first substantial corpus of Chinese writing, but they are display inscriptions; neither at Anyang nor at Zhengzhou does everyday writing survive. Unlike Huanbei, Yinxu had no city walls and no clearly demarcated perimeters other than those provided on the north and east by the riverbank. The royal precinct covers about 70 hectares, with over 100 building foundations found so far. It is in storage pits associated with some of the buildings that most of the inscribed divination bones have been found.