Evaluating Collapse: The Disintegration of Urban-Basd Societies in Third Millennium B.C. Upper Mesopotamia

Trella, Phillip Anthony, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wattenmaker, Patricia, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
LaViolette, Adria, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Macko, Stephen, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
Algaze, Guillermo

This study evaluates the concept of "collapse" in contemporary archaeological thought and through a focus on the disintegration of state societies in third millennium B.C. Upper Mesopotamia offers some new directions in the study of decreasing sociopolitical complexity. Informed through a review of linear cultural evolution and neo-evolutionary theory, it is demonstrated that as it is currently used in archaeological discourse, "collapse" is often set in direct opposition to notions of "progress," "rise," and "success," and is therefore imbued with implications of cultural "failure." Illustrated through a comparative approach that takes advantage of the depth of work in a variety of regions, including the Classic Maya lowlands and the work's main case study in Upper Mesopotamia, it is determined that rather than failure, the disintegration of complexity is often an outcome of the extension and amplification of a host of processes that are inherent to, and recurrent in, many complex societies, both past and present. One of these processes-the intensification and maximization of food production-serves as a point of entry for understanding the disintegration of Upper Mesopotamian states. By the middle of the third millennium B.C., a highly integrated system of state societies developed on the dry farming plains of southeastern Turkey, northern Syria and northern Iraq. These states were politically centered in some of the world's first cities, each extending its hegemony over a network of surrounding towns, and villages. Beginning around 2300 B.C. however, many of these urban centers either contracted to a small portion of their previous size or were abandoned completely. In this study, zooarchaeological and isotopic analysis of an assemblage of animal bones representing iv food remains from the urban center of TitriHöyük, located in southeastern Turkey, indicates that over the course of the third millennium food production became increasingly intensive. As a result, the working symbiosis between agriculture and pastoralism was broken, increasing short-term production, but leaving long-term sustainability in question. Rather than "failure," these changes are understood to have taken place in a competitive social context in which urban-based elites encouraged increased production in order to extend political networks, while non-elites increasingly consumed more costly specialist-produced goods.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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