Heartland of villages: Reconsidering early urbanism in the southern Levant.
AuthorFalconer, Steven Edward.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractArchaeological studies of early civilizations in southwestern Asia concentrate on the evolution of urbanism and the state, and generally assume that cities were the foci of complex societies. However, some early civilizations may represent largely extinct forms of complex, but essentially rural, society. Archaeological concepts of urbanism and urbanization are reviewed and critiqued. Rural communities are defined as agriculturally self-sufficient, while cities have populations too large for independent agricultural subsistence. Ethnographic and historical data are used to propose size classifications for ancient "urban" and "rural" settlements in Mesopotamia and the southern Levant. Survey data show that Mesopotamia is characterized aptly as a "Heartland of Cities," in which urban centers restructured regional settlement systems. The southern Levant is reconsidered as a "Heartland of Villages," in which Bronze Age populations grew, and social complexity developed, primarily in the countryside with little urban influence. The nature of this "rural complexity" is illuminated by excavated data from Tell el-Hayyat and Tell Abu en-Niᶜaj in the Jordan Valley. Niᶜaj suggests the importance of sedentary rural agriculture during the otherwise "pastoralized" Early Bronze IV Period. Middle Bronze II temples at Hayyat, a diminutive village site, exemplify social institutions normally interpreted as "urban" in distinctly rural settings. Neutron activation analysis is used to investigate rural pottery manufacture and exchange in the Jordan Valley. A brief excursus proposes a means of distinguishing trace element signatures of clays from those of non-clay inclusions in archaeological ceramics. This revised method reveals that some villages specialized in fine ware production during the absence of towns in Early Bronze IV, and that fine ware production continued in villages despite the reappearance of towns in Middle Bronze II. Thus, economic and social differentiation had characteristically rural manifestations, and Bronze Age society in the southern Levant should be reconsidered as a distinct and provocative case of "rural complexity" in a "Heartland of Villages."