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


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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, the author 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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Keywords: Mesopotamia , Tigris , Euphrates , urban civilization , Southwest Asia , labor organization , record keeping , urbanization , trade , population. Forgot password? Don't have an account?

Mesopotamia, especially Sumeria

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Not registered? Sign up. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select Little was known about settlement and occupation in neighborhoods outside the monumental centers. One explanation for the rise of these cities, that of Robert McC. Adams, emphasized their location at the intersection of different ecological zones and their ability to function as points of exchange for distinctive resources of each zone.

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

Another perspective, taken by Paul Wheatley, focused on the possibility that temples in newly built cities served as focal points of ritual practice that would bring people into cities and increase the influence of priests to the point that they would become kings. Beginning in the mids, Algaze recognized that the material culture of southern Mesopotamia was in fact found across a large area of the Middle East during the Late Uruk period ca. In the current volume, Algaze acknowledges that societies in both northern and southern Mesopotamia were urban during the first half of the fourth millennium BC, and shifts his attention to a related question: why did cities in southern Mesopotamia grow to be larger and more powerful than settlements in neighboring regions beginning in the second half of the fourth millennium BC?

Algaze proposes a fundamentally economic explanation that begins with trade, and he has drawn in provocative ways on the work of economists ranging from Adam Smith to Paul Krugman, with a particularly important role for the views of Jane Jacobs.

The argument begins with natural resources, and there is no doubt that resources in and around Mesopotamia are distributed unevenly. The Mesopotamian plain possesses abundant water and agricultural and herding land as well as marshes with rich aquatic resources along its southern margins, whereas the mountains to the north and east contain timber and stone for building, copper and silver, and a range of semi-precious stones, but less capacity to produce a surplus to support large concentrations of population.

As noted by many scholars, these regional disparities have provided a natural basis for exchange of raw materials for manufactured products across the millennia. Algaze then suggests ways that such trade could generate and amplify concentrations of population and wealth among these regions.

Trade leads to import substitution, diversification of production, and subsequent specialization. Specialized manufacturing processes are adopted in other industries, leading to further diversification.

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Greater production leads to economies of scale that increase the trade advantage of producers of goods over suppliers of raw materials. Algaze proposes that these processes occurred during the Uruk period in manufacture of stone blades, copper metallurgy, and most importantly textiles pp. The clearest of these examples is the explosive growth of textile industries in southern Mesopotamian cities beginning in the Late Uruk period. Because wool can be more easily dyed than linen, this import substitution led to diversification of production more varieties of woven cloth , and specialization of large numbers of workers in textile production organized by and providing wealth for the major urban institutions of palace and temple.

As a general rule, trade is complementary but not inherently asymmetrical.


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Algaze argues, however, that the irrigation canals necessary for agriculture and thus settled life on the Mesopotamian plain significantly reduced transportation costs, allowed trade in bulky commodities like grain, and enhanced concentration of people into cities, which intensified the diversification and specialization of their economies. He assembles Mesopotamian textual data suggesting that water-borne transportation could be times as efficient as transportation by donkey caravan pp.


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To summarize the major argument of the book, then: Algaze proposes that southern Mesopotamian cities grew significantly larger and stayed significantly larger than settlements on its peripheries by BC because of features of its natural landscape, the distribution of resources, and an ongoing process of diversification and specialization of production.

He also proposes a research agenda for the time when archaeologists might be able to return to work in Iraq. His suggestions--which include more detailed studies of climate, geomorphology, and settlement, excavation of earlier levels of southern cities and areas outside their monumental centers as well as attention to smaller settlements--will not be controversial among specialists.

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

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