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© 1998
These materials are copyrighted to Algaze, D’Altroy, Frangipane, Nissen, Pittman, Pollock, Rothman, Schwartz, Stein, and Wright. They are not to be reproduced without permission.

All correspondence concerning this web site should be sent to Dr. Mitchell Rothman

School of American Research Advanced Seminar: sar.jpg (46226 bytes)

Mesopotamia in the Era of State Formation

From 1 March to 5 March a group of researchers were assembled at the School of American Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This group met and spent 5 intensive days reviewing issues relating to the so-called Uruk Expansion and theories of cultural change in Greater Mesopotamia during the fourth millennium B.C. Each participant was chosen because of their expertise in the relevant sites in one sub-region of Mesopotamia, and their knowledge of some technical aspect or theoretical issue. The participants were Guillermo Algaze, University of California, San Diego, Terry D’Altroy, Columbia University, Marcella Fragipane, Universitá di Roma , Hans Nissen, Freie Universität Berlin, Holly Pittman, University of Pennsylvania, Susan Pollock, SUNY Binghamton, Mitchell Rothman (organizer), Widener University, Glenn Schwartz, Johns Hopkins University, Gil Stein, Northwestern University, Henry Wright, University of Michigan.

During these five days we made clear progress on two fronts. The first was to address issues of regional chronology of the fourth millennium B.C. The other was to review the current interpretive and theoretical models and assumptions for this period in Mesopotamia. Although we were not able, obviously, to solve all the outstanding questions, we believe we will be able to better define what we agreed on and disagreed on and to make some concrete suggestions for the next steps to be taken.

The volume, Uruk Mesopotamia and Its Neighbors:  Cross-cultural  Interactions in the ERA of State Formation is now available from SAR Press.  For a description, see http://www.sarweb.org/press/books/seminars/uruk.htm.  To purchase go to http://www.sarweb.org/press/press.htmuruk.jpg (494140 bytes)


One of the most irksome problems in studying the changes over the fourth millennium is to draw chronological parallels between sites and regions. A number of terms have been used to describe these phases, some of which are more confusing than enlightening. We agreed that the term "Uruk" should be retained only as a term for a cultural phenomenon. Because it is used both as a term for a time period and cultural phenomenon, it is ultimately perplexing. We also agreed that "Gawran" is a poor name for periodization of the North and East. Firstly, Gawra’s chronology is based on type fossils, and there is no way to define increasingly fine distinctions in time as more data should permit. In part this is because the Gawra material is very particular and is difficult to connect with the North Syrian, Jaziran, and Upper Euphrates sites, which are producing considerable samples under conditions of modern stratigraphic excavation. Nineveh was also of questionable chronological value, as Gut’s excellent analysis revealed many stratigraphic problems. We debated many different names for purely chronological terminology, but in the end accepted "LC" 1-5. We used the initials LC [Late Chalcolithic] to distinguish chronological terms from "local Late Chalcolithic" (i.e. Northern, Amuq F, Kurban VI) cultural traditions.


Following are some significant points on which we generally agree, others on which we disagree, as a well as areas for new work:


1. The first interpretive result of our "new" chronology was to recognize that there was not a
    single Uruk expansion, but a 2 (or more) stage process. The first significant appearance of
    Southern Mesopotamian Uruk style artifacts was in LC 4 (the last occupation of Hacinebi, B2,
    Sheikh Hassan, Gawra VIIIC/B, and transitional Arslantepe VII). The character of the earlier
    and later "expansions"-- really they are significant culture contacts, expansion implies a one
    way movement, often of a militaristic or dominant culture-- are quite different.

2. The Uruk "expansion" lasted far longer than originally thought- at least 400 and as much as
    600 years. This phenomenon continued and increased through LC5 with the founding of
    Habuba Kabira, Jebel Aruda, the oval at Godin Tepe, and the influence of Uruk cultures at
    Hassek Hˆy¸k, Arslantepe VIA, and other Northern and Eastern sites.

3. Recent excavations and re-analysis of older excavations indicate the development of
    indigenous social complexity prior to LC4 at sites such as Arslantepe, Tell Brak, Tepe
    Gawra, and Hacinebi. These sites represent complex pre-state societies in LC 3. Survey data
    from the Khabur River headwaters and Northern Jazira Plain indicate the development of
    large-scale local settlements in LC4 and 5. The polities of the so-called "periphery" were
    much more complex than a World Systems perspective acknowledges.

4. Throughout Greater Mesopotamia there was considerable variation in the period of expansion.
    (a) The Uruk homeland had more than one polity. We theorize that these centers competed with
          each other and accommodated varying economic systems, typified by various modes of
          distributing and exchanging goods. This competition itself may have been a factor in the
          attempt to create formal networks with Northern and Eastern areas.
    (b) In the larger region the structure of exchange systems and power relations between
          different polities varied widely. (c) In the highland resource extraction zones, local
          leaders of polities exercised considerable control over the terms of trade.
    (d) considerable variation existed in the areas affected by the Uruk expansion. The
          circumstances in the Middle Euphrates Basin (the Tabqa area) were very different from
          those of the Upper Euphrates, the Khabur headwaters, North Jazira Plain, and piedmont
          zones. Sites with almost exclusively Uruk style cultural material on the Middle
          Euphrates-- e.g., Habuba Kabira-- appear to represent the movement of people into areas
          with little or no evidence of previous inhabitants. By contrast, in the upper Khabur and
          northern Jazira, surveys suggest that large centers existed at sites like Tell Brak (43-100
          ha), Tell al-Hawa (30-50 ha.) and Hamoukar (90 ha.). Where Uruk style cultural materials
          appear they seem to be one component of a local, mostly Northern cultural repertoire.
          Interpretation of this material ranges from emulation of Southern style to a "karum-like"
          emplacement to mixing of two sets of cultures by residents.

5. The Uruk Expansion is actually a mix of differing interactional forms, possibly including:
    (a) migration-- sites like Habuba Kabira and Jebel Aruda and a number of small sites in the
         Tishreen, Birecik, and Carchemish Dam areas appear to fit this form. In addition, small
          numbers of Southerners may be living at contemporary local sites like Godin Tepe and
    (b) exchange with or without full-time settlements of Southerners, such as Southern imports
          at site like Arslantepe, and
    (c) emulation-- copying of Southern styles in glyptique or pottery at sites like Arslantepe.

6. The theorized increase in contact of Uruk and all local Late Chalcolithic societies, the creation
    of new regional economic networks, and the possible migration of Southerners into the North
    and East cannot be explained by any single factor or cause. Different patterns of interaction
    should be in evidence in different areas, depending on such elements as ease of transport,
    distance nature of pre-existing societies, basis of the interaction and formation of new


1. The mechanisms whereby raw materials and goods were acquired for the South. The functions
    of Southern populations in the North, whether trade was the major or even a significant reason
    for founding sites and being in the North.

2. The degree to which Uruk style cultural artifacts mean the physical presence of Southerners in
    the North.

3. The importance of long-distance trade as a cause of change North and South. In particular:
    a. the role of imports, exotic and utilitarian, for the economic structure and the elaboration of
        leadership organizations.
    b. the role of exports for the economic structure and the elaboration of leadership

DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH- things we need to know.

1. Publication of more complete samples of dated artifacts and building plans from many of the
    sites in Syria and Eastern Turkey.

2. A better understanding of the relations of LC 1-3 sites in the North and East and LC4-5 sites in
    the South and the North.

3. Relations between Southerners living in the North and the South; also between Southerners
    living in larger and smaller sites in the North.

4. The degree to which intercultural contact between Northerners in already developing Northern
    polities and Southerners affected the trajectory of development in the North. Would, for
    example, Arslantepe be different without the presence of Southerners in the North?

5. A better understanding of individual, local polities in southeastern Turkey, Syria, the Jazira of
    Iraq, and Western Iran. We especially need to focus on the area of sites which had a long
    history of local development and of contact with Southern Mesopotamians-- for example, Tell
    Brak. Not enough information is available from critical levels at Brak to assess its

6. A clearer idea of the types and amounts of goods that were being exchanged across the region.

7. More data on the early third millennium aftermath of the Uruk expansion in order to contrast it
    with the peak of Uruk contact and theorized regional economic re-integration of the LC5. In
    (a) what caused the apparent withdrawal of Southerners at places like Jebel Aruda, Habuba
          Kabira, Sadi Tepe, and other smaller sites?
    (b) does this withdrawal imply a collapse of the regional economic and perhaps, political
          system or a re-orientation?
    (c) what effect did this withdrawal have on local polities in the North and on North-South
          economic exchange?

Here follow short abstracts of the papers presented:

Henry Wright, Cultural Interaction in the Uruk World

This paper presents some of the basic features of the larger cultural system of the IVth millennium B.C. in the Tigris-Euphrates-Karun watershed, both the plains of Mesopotamia proper and valleys in the foothills and ranges of the Zagros and Anti-Taurus mountains. It is stimulated by the challenges laid down in Guillermo Algaze's 'Uruk World System' and related writings.

For practical purposes, I have broken the complex and largely seamless web of interrelationships down into topics.

Time: The span in years of Uruk civilization was much longer than anyone thought even a few years ago. With the calibration of the radiocarbon chronology, the evidence now indicates that the Uruk civilization endured for more than a millennium from before 4100 until after 3100 B.C. (Evin 1995, Wright, n.d.). This is the span from the Crusades to Napoleonic Wars, and do doubt encompassed no less complexity of cultural process.

Distance: Similarly, we know that the Uruk world was much larger and more diverse than we realized. The actual limits within which people interacted at least indirectly, probably with some knowledge of each other, extended from Central Iran on the east to the Mediterranean on the west, from the Taurus on the northwest the head of the Gulf on the southeast, about 1500 km on or 60 days travel on foot.

Biome: For several decades it was assumed that the only major changes in natural conditions southwest Asia since the Holocene were those resulting from unwise cultivation and overgrazing. However, it has become increasingly apparent that there have interrelated changes in climate, geological processes, vegetation, and potential for agriculture and herding throughout southwest Asia during the Holocene. It is necessary to outline the general conditions of the fourth millennium, while emphasizing that the immediate challenge for farmers and pastoralists has always been, as it is today, intense and unpredictable variations in water supplies and yields from year to year.

People: The precise accounting of people remains among the more difficult tasks faced by regional archaeologists (Kramer 1980, Postgate 1994). This task is even harder for Uruk specialists, as we have almost no information from cemeteries . However, there are primarily two kinds of questions which demand precise estimates, those involving the approach of human population to the limits of subsistence productivity and those involving the estimation of potential surplus production of particular areas. Using the models developed by Dewar (1991) and our limited architectural information, estimates lower than those conventionally proposed can be suggested.

Food: Fourth millennium foodways are surprisingly understudied. Given the small number of studies, the broad contrast between Uruk sites with strong proportions of sheep and goat and local Late Chalcolithic sites in Syro-Anatolia with strong proportions of pig and cow, emphasized by Stein and Nicola (1994), argues for different articulation between cultivators and nomads or different cultural preferences in diet. We must also address not only cultural preference, but the possibility of a higher social status attached to certain kinds of meat and certain kinds of grain preparations.

Material: It is often said that Lower Mesopotamia lacks any resources other than mud, water, and human labor. Strictly speaking, this may be true, but it is surprising how many useful resources can be found relatively close, including woody trees, fine grained stones, bitumen, ground stone materials, cements, and other bulk materials. In fact, the only class of utilitarian material not found in quantity within a few days of the lowland plains was metal, ore. It is debatable to what extent metal provided mostly social luxuries and what amounts were actually imported. Materials other than metal might have been obtained by direct procurement or negotiation, rather than long-range exchange.

Crafts: The monotonous standardization over vast distances of later Uruk products is often noted, though rarely verified with detailed formal studies. We should take a look at a few of the production activities requiring skills learned in long apprenticeships and special equipment.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to measure the same types of ceramics in samples from both Lower and Upper Mesopotamia. However, the available evidence suggests a continuous circulation of potters throughout the later Uruk world. Other areas for which future study may indicate the important of the movement of skilled workers are the builders craft, and the art of record keeping. The increasingly broad homogenization of Uruk material styles may be simply a result of the changing social organization of craftspeople, amplified by travel facilitated by the donkey, rather of the political and economic domination of peripheries by cores.

Furthermore, the mobility of workers does not imply wholesale migration of communities. The latter may have occurred, but it must be demonstrated by showing that an entire community system which developed in one area is implanted in an area where it has no local roots.

Exchange: The specialization of labor implies some form of exchange, that is the reciprocal movement of items between social units. In prehistoric studies, actual exchange can rarely be demonstrated, but co-varying reciprocal movement can be shown, particularly with increasing availability of physio-chemical techniques for establishing the sources of materials. Some evidence for the transport of material over varying distances has been noted above. We must now specify the contexts of transport and the social relations of exchange, neither of which can be assumed to be homogenous given the spans of time, the different participating groups, and the differing varieties of goods.

Archaeological demonstration that exchange involves marketing with equivalencies fluctuating in accordance with supply and demand is possible, but has not yet been undertaken.

Tribute: If there is some suggestion of more entrepreneurial forms of exchange, there is also evidence that important economic sectors were administered as command economies, in which mass labor was organized and sustained with rations, and in which goods were extracted as tribute from producers (Johnson 1973, 1987). Some portion of the all important grain supply was under control of administrators. Whether animals and material products were also taken as tribute remains to be demonstrated.

Control: Both command economies and entrepreneurial economies require some level of political order to guarantee future action and transaction. The very existence of the information-storing technology of the counters in sealed bullae implies a hierarchy of production, aggregation, storage and or transport, receipt, and verification. Detailed studies of the quantities of such artifacts in different sites, the clays used to make them, and the styles of seals used to impress them, are giving us a more nuanced view of the processes of control in IVth millennium economies.

The broader results of such activity are evident. For example, the emplacement of a planned urban settlement at Late Uruk Habuba Kabira, with construction of its fortifications --a system of bastions and gates which would demand careful staffing in time of crisis-- are unlikely to have been done without central planning and multi-level hierarchies for the control of labor.

Breakdown and Conflict: Aggrandizing rulers with control over tribute and labor --over thousands in smaller states such as Middle Uruk Susa, and over tens of thousands in larger states such as Uruk in the Late Uruk Period-- are likely to move against their neighbors. When they did, the building of fortifications, destruction of settlements, interruptions in growth, and even the abandonment of regions, indicate conflict and breakdown at various periods on the Susiana plain, Trans-Tigridian plains, the Khabur plain, the Balikh Valley, and the Euphrates valley.

Much of the transport of goods, the emulation of styles, and the movement of people suggested for fourth millennium southwest Asia probably occurred as a consequence of such conflict.

Final Remarks: This paper considers a range of processes which we know existed and which we know must have been central, unfolding an argument for a more politicized Uruk world. This construct is different from that presented in the Uruk World System, but owes much to it. If it engenders discussion which will motivate more and better research, then it has served its purpose.

Hans Nissen, Cultural and Political Networks of the 4th Millennium tablet.jpg (21527 bytes)

This contribution had two aims, both related to the problem of the so called Uruk expansion.

When in the 1960’s information came pouring in from excavations like Habuba Kabira or Jebel Aruda in Syria with the evidence of material identical with that known from Babylonia, people started speculating about the nature of the underlying relations. In these discussions it was taken for granted that the material evidence from Babylonia, particularly from Uruk, was firmly established in itself so that it could be used as a point of reference for the new material. The first aim of the present communication was to disentangle the evidence from the early Uruk excavations, and to show that much of the ensuing confusion and impossibility to make ends meet was due to the fact that the evidence from Uruk was anything but well established.

The second aim was to launch yet another proposal for explaining the kind and duration of the so called Uruk expansion. Instead of either a short period of a Babylonian colonization or of a long phase of close trade relations, it was proposed to see this long phase of relations as a succession of different and differently intense waves of relations. A first one would operate on the principle of equal partners of an exchange network when in order to restore the equilibrium of an older exchange network and to approximate to each other, the less developed areas would adopt the kind of organization found in more advanced Babylonia. Ever more increasing demands from Babylonia on the amount and kind of raw materials not found in its area constantly set this network off balance, until finally Babylonia used her power to accomplish her goals. It is only this last step which merits the designation as colonization. No explanation has yet been proposed for the observation that at a certain point the Uruk network broke down, to be replaced in due course by local networks like the Proto-Elamite one, the Jemdet Nasr network, and perhaps the Ninevite V network in Northern Mesopotamia.

Glenn Schwartz, Syria and the Uruk Expansion

This paper reviews the emergence of societal complexity in fourth millennium Syria, the character and explanation of the southern Mesopotamian expansion in Syria, and the circumstances of its termination.

In LC 1-2, (see our proposed SAR chronology) Ubaid painted pottery traditions are replaced by undecorated, vegetal-tempered mass produced ceramics, including "Coba bowls." Chaff-faced simple ware predominates in LC 3, manifesting several stylistic sub-groups. In LC 4 and 5, southern Mesopotamian Uruk material culture appears, often in association with local chaff faced ware. Included are both Middle Uruk (LC 4) (e.g. at Sheikh Hassan, Qraya, Brak) and Late Uruk (LC 5) material (e.g. at Habuba Kabira, Sheikh Hassan, Brak). In the period following LC 5, evidence of a southern Mesopotamian Jemdet Nasr assemblage has been cited at Brak; otherwise the post-LC 5 assemblages of the Khabur are Ninevite 5-related, but the precise character of the transition from LC 5 to Ninevite 5 is not yet well-documented. In western Syria, a phase characterized by "Late Reserved Slip Ware" and sinuous-sided bowls can be recognized subsequent to LC 5.

Considering Syrian sociopolitical development, we can detect a trend toward local societal complexity in LC 1-3 prior to the Uruk expansion, suggesting that the southern Mesopotamians encountered societies of some sophistication.

In the period of the Uruk expansion (LC 4 and 5), two categories of sites are recognized, displaying an apparent geographical dichotomy. Uruk" colonies," where southern Mesopotamian material culture is predominant, are primarily found in the Euphrates valley. These sites can be interpreted as communities occupied by southern Mesopotamian populations. To the north, in contrast, are "Uruk-related" sites in the Khabur such as Brak, where significant amounts of both local and southern Mesopotamian Uruk material culture are found in association. Emulation of southern Mesopotamian models is proposed to explain the mixture of southern and local material culture in the latter site category.

In the world-systems model proposed by Guillermo Algaze, the Tabqa cluster of sites (including at least one urban center, Habuba Kabira, and numerous attendant communities is interpreted as a control point for the collection of peripheral resources. However, it is argued that no raw materials of interest were available in the vicinity, and it is unlikely that the enclave served as a control point on a westward route to the Syrian coast and Egypt, given the marked paucity of southern Mesopotamian material culture west of the Euphrates.

One reason given for the interpretation of the Tabqa enclave as a long-distance trade control point is the region's presumed agricultural marginality. Indeed, Algaze and S¸renhagen have argued that the inhabitants of the enclave were dependent on local Syrian farmers. I contend that this reconstruction is unlikely, since the middle Euphrates valley successfully supported large urban populations throughout its Bronze Age history, and the location of the colonies primarily within the rainfall farming zone is suggestive.

Not only were the colonies probably self-sufficient agriculturally, there is also a striking absence of indigenous populations in the vicinity for them to have interacted with, given recent survey and excavation results. I suggest, therefore, that it was precisely the relative "vacancy" of the region that attracted the southerners. Here was an area within the rainfall agriculture zone without significant local occupation, available for exploitation and the support of a large colonial population. In this reconstruction, the importance of long-distance trade is downplayed, and other explanations for the colonial enterprise are sought. Approaches focused on social unrest in southern Mesopotamia precipitating large scale emigration as discussed previously by Johnson and this author are considered, as is the possible importance of specialized pastoral production.

Mitchell Rothman, Re-examining the Uruk from the Northern Piedmont and Foothills

Those who have proposed that the latter part of the fourth millennium B.C. represents an informal empire of the South over the North (Algaze 1989, 1993), have based their claim on the idea that the societies of the North were culturally and governmentally much less sophisticated than those of the South. These peripheral societies were ripe for a picking. The Uruk Expansion theorists have proposed that the strategy of the South was to place colonial sites in the Middle Euphrates (e.g., Habuba Kabira) and emplacements on pre-expansion centers (e.g., Godin V, Brak, Nineveh, Samsat, etc.) and in the interior (e.g., Hassek Hˆy¸k) to control the flow of goods through already established networks of trade. The role of sites in the North is one of transshipping mostly raw materials to the South in exchange for goods produced in the South.

There is, however, ample evidence of social complexity in the North before the LC4 expansion. This evidence speaks of formally administered systems of storage and circulation of goods, and of social differentiation and hierarchy before the LC4. New estimates of the LC3 size of Tell Brak range from 43 to 150 hectares. Hacinebi also had administrative centers in LC3. What is most striking about Gawra and the piedmont is that one can follow a trajectory of increased complexity step-by-step from the Terminal ‘Ubaid level XII through to VIII.

Along with the organization of production, and the centralization of religion and governance, markers of rank in tombs and on the site indicate a continual process of increased social differentiation. Internments at the beginning of the millennium at Gawra see "tots in pots", simple burial pits, and pits with back walls. Grave goods consisted of a few pots or the odd bead or tool. There is a gradual shift over the millennium to libn tombs, even for children, and of increasingly differentiated grave goods. Level X of LC3 is when the first of the richly furnished tombs appear.

In short there is no need to posit Southern influence on the development of complexity as seen through Gawra and other much larger centers in the North. As more actual Southerners came North they would have found a wide variety of polities, on one hand, the small and insular Gawra, which stood at the gateway to the Jebel Maqlub and the plateau of Iran and, on the other, hand large polities like that centered at Tell Brak. Residents of sites like Gawra maintained their identity and controlled their small hinterland by staying consciously different and as far outside the range of the larger polities as possible, until perhaps they were too tempting and were burned out in VIIIA.

The case of Gawra and other Northern sites call on us to re-think the grand design of the Uruk Expansion theories and to see a variable and nuanced set of differing circumstances in the North, all requiring different approaches and creating new circumstances.

Gil Stein, Uruk Expansion with Indigenous Complex Societies of Southeast Anatolia, Evidence from Hacinebi, Turkey

The impact of Mesopotamian expansion during the Middle and Late Uruk periods(ca. 3700-3100 BC) on neighboring societies in Iran, Syria, and Anatolia has been the subject of considerable debate. Only recently, however, have researchers broadened their research focus away from the Uruk colonies themselves towards an examination of the indigenous societies with whom the Mesopotamians interacted. This paper examines the Uruk expansion by looking at the evidence the 4th millennium site of Hacinebi Tepe, a 3.3 ha mound overlooking a strategic crossing point on the Euphrates river trade route in southeast Turkey.

The Hacinebi archaeological project studies the organization and impact of the colonial network established by the first urbanized states of southern Mesopotamia in the Uruk period. Although several Uruk colonies have been excavated, we still know almost nothing about relationships between these implanted settlements and the local polities with which they traded. Hacinebi is an ideal site to investigate this problem because this small local Anatolian settlement on the Euphrates river trade route came into close commercial and cultural contact with Mesopotamia during the period of the Uruk Expansion. Six seasons of fieldwork (1992-97) have been conducted at Hacinebi, exposing both purely local "pre-contact phases" A and B1, and a later "contact phase" B2 showing close ties with Middle Uruk Mesopotamia.

This paper makes three main arguments. The first part presents evidence from Hacinebi indicating that the indigenous polities of this area were already socially complex and technologically advanced in the early 4th millennium - i.e. before the Uruk expansion, so one cannot argue that contact with Mesopotamia was the primary influence on socio-political development in the periphery. In the second part, I present a definition of colonies and their archaeological correlates. Using these criteria I show that a small colony of culturally distinct Uruk Mesopotamians was present at Hacinebi for up to five centuries, but did not dominate the local Anatolian population either politically or economically. Stratigraphic, ceramic, and other artifactual evidence indicate that functionally complete assemblages of Anatolian and Mesopotamian material culture were contemporaneous but spatially distinct at Hacinebi in contact phase B2. The two groups seem to have engaged in symmetric exchange. The patterning of lithic, ceramic, textile, and subsistence production/consumption indicates that the Mesopotamians and Anatolians were each economically autonomous, with no evidence for asymmetric flows of goods from the local part of the site to the foreign enclave. The presence of both local stamp seals and Mesopotamian cylinder sealings indicates the presence of two separate administrative systems. There is no evidence at the site for warfare or competition between the two groups. The patterning best fits a model of the Uruk enclave as an autonomous trade diaspora, present at the sufferance of the local rulers, and gaining access to local trade routes through alliance rather than warfare or economic domination. The paper concludes by exploring the implications of this long term, peaceful, symmetric exchange for the overall organization of the Uruk inter-regional interaction network. In particular, I suggest that we need to recognize that there was tremendous internal variation in power relations between the urbanized Uruk states and their hinterlands, so that Mesopotamian political and economic influence declined with distance from the southern alluvium.

Susan Pollock, The Uruk Period in Southern Mesopotamia

The alluvial plains of southern Mesopotamia are generally considered to have been the heartland of Uruk-period social, political, and economic developments. Because of the limited excavation data available, interpretations have tended to rely heavily on analyses of settlement pattern data. The settlement patterns have been interpreted as indicating an explosion of settlement in the lowlands early in the Uruk period, with a shift in population concentration over the course of the fourth millennium from the more northerly (Nippur-Adab) portion of the alluvial plains to the southern area around Uruk. The growth in the Uruk region at the expense of the Nippur-Adab region has been considered suggestive of a situation in which people emigrated from the north to the environs of Uruk, swelling the population of the city and its hinterlands, and ensuring the dominance of the Uruk region.

I have reanalyzed the published settlement pattern data, using Robert Dewar's (1991 American Antiquity) method for correcting for the "contemporaneity problem": that not all sites dated to the same archaeological period were occupied contemporaneously. One of the most significant results is that the explosion of settled population in the Uruk area in Late Uruk did not occur at a time of precipitously declining settlement in the Nippur-Adab region but rather is coincident with a modest increase there. This observation may mean that if there were significant movements of people into "peripheral" areas during the Middle and Late Uruk periods, these emigrants are more likely to have been drawn from the Nippur-Adab rather than the Uruk region. Uruk, for all its undoubted importance as the largest urban center in the fourth millennium, was not the sole center of the (Uruk) universe.

Guillermo Algaze, The Prehistory of Imperialism

See Uruk Mesopotamia and Its Neighbors

Holly Pittman, Greater Mesopotamian Interregional Relations as Reflected through Glyptic Evidence

bulla.jpg (39546 bytes)

The analysis of four distinct features of glyptic art contributes to our understanding of the processes leading to pristine state formation in Mesopotamia. They include morphology, iconography, stylistic conventions and administrative function. When engaged with glyptic, the Santa Fe discussions focused primarily on the definition of "regional styles," the relative chronology of disparate sites as measured through glyptic parallels, and the evaluations of inter- and intraregional contact and exchange mechanisms.

Several broad regional styles or "traditions" were identified for the Late Chalcolithic phase, including an engraved stamp seal tradition typical of the piedmont regions surrounding the southern alluvium, a drilled stamp seal tradition developed and concentrated in the southand "emulated" in the north, and a new tradition of cylinder seals, a type invented in the southern alluvium and then "emulated" in the north.

Both of the seal types concentrated in the south make extensive use of what may be a new type of drilling technology. The relative chronology agreed upon by the group reflects cross-links established through glyptic parallels. An important equivalence that was established is the essential contemporaniety of Susa18/Hacinebi Tepe B2/Sheik Hassan 10-6/ and Uruk Eanna VI-V. This suggests that the so-called Uruk expansion began during the Late Middle Uruk period and lasted for a considerable period of time.

The nature of the intraregional contacts as reflected through glyptic art suggests that there was a vigorous indigenous tradition of seal use in the piedmont regions stretching from Susa to Degirmentepe when the urban communities of the South first made sustained contact with them. Glyptic art from Uruk and/or Susa was used in the piedmont sites, influence from the Uruk glyptic can be detected in both the composition and subject matter introduced into the local stamp seal tradition. Also, cylinder seals were emulated both as a type and in their imagery. The style of carving, however, is distinct and is comparable to the earlier stamp seals.

Terence D’Altroy, A View of the Plains from the Mountains: Comments on the Uruk by an Andeanist

The main purposes of this paper, by a New World archaeologist, are (1) to make some observations concerning important issues on Uruk that appear, to an outsider, to be unresolved; and (2) to suggest some lines of further inquiry. Uruk holds a paradoxical position for those of us interested in the emergence of complex societies, but who work outside Greater Mesopotamia. Because of the precocity of the Uruk society and scholarly ingenuity, it has long stood as the model for the study of state origins. Our regard for the importance of Uruk, especially its urbanization and administration, has often led scholars to formulate explanations of state formation in opposition or conformity to Mesopotamian states, as if precedence conferred the status of a standard. A key questions thus concerns the ways in which the nature of Uruk societies are representative of early states, variations on a limited number of themes, or historically contingent. A corollary issue concerns how images of pristine states have been defined by archaeological preservation and selection of research locations in Mesopotamia.

Cross-cutting the conference's core issues of chronology, heartland-colony-periphery relationships, and hierarchies of power are three analytical trends. One concerns the emphasis on explaining innovation or transformation at the expense of explaining continuity.

How we recognize and explain stability -- not simply through tradition or inertia -- ought to be part of a full discussion.  Closely related is the long-standing research interest in elite organization and activities at the expense of the daily life of most of the populace, a situation that is being partly redressed by the interest in household archaeology in areas outside the heartland.

Finally, with some important exceptions, an undue amount of explanatory weight still seems to be accorded to a limited set of exotic materials.

The Structure of Power

From the perspective of an outsider, a conspicuous feature in descriptions of early Mesopotamian states is the radical divergence in two views of the structure of power. One position holds that early polities were weakly centralized city-states, with consensual and kin-based leadership and multiple hierarchies of power (e.g., Jacobsen 1970; Stone 1997). An alternative view emphasizes centralized, powerful, decision-making hierarchies, concerned with close control of labor and its product (e.g., Wright and Johnson 1975; Wright 1977; Nissen 1988). Although each position has much to commend itself, reconciling them is a serious challenge.

How the shift occurred from 'Ubaid localized polities to Uruk's centralized administrations remains to be worked out convincingly. I wonder if, in the face of the first solid evidence for institutional control, we assign it a power that was more contextual and restricted than it appears, precisely because of our analytical focus on the emergence of powerful institutions. Regulation may well have been high in some contexts, but restricted in scope, and overlapping sets of elites may have participated differentially in leadership roles in distinct contexts. In a number of papers, Wright discusses evidence for non-regulated activities at sites that also exhibit evidence for regulation. What intrigues me is the balance between the two. Were only certain facets of life regulated, or some aspects of most domains? How were the local and regional elites tied into the regional system on a practical basis? How do the material correlates of such relationships differ from one another? Here, I find Adams'social characterizations most persuasive, but the archaeological evidence to test for different kinds of linkages does not yet seem to be available.

Colonies and external relationships

Uruk period colonies are one of the most interesting aspects of  the relationships among the peoples of the lower alluvium, Assyria, and the surrounding lands. Many scholars have expressed regard for Algaze's contributions, noting that the application of elements of Wallerstein's (1974) world-systems model has several strengths, but an imperial-derived model may well not be appropriate to explain the Uruk expansion. The conference participants have pointed out enormous diversity in the relations between Uruk enclaves and host regions and have drawn attention to the great duration of the expansion period.

Frangipane, Stein, and Wright, for example, underscored that several peripheral societies were quite complex and not helpless in setting terms of occupation and exchange. The evidence is not yet convincing that the Uruk city-states established effective control over the societies where the colonies were located, except perhaps in the upper Euphrates (see Schwartz).

Moreover, it is not clear if colonies resulted from marginalized populations transplanted wholesale from the south (e.g., Johnson 1988/89) or if they were state settlers focused on state-related activities. Pollock's suggestion that the city-states of the northern and southern alluvium maintained different relations with the colonists adds more complications to the expansion. As several participants noted, resolving some of the economic problems will require further compositional analyses to trace out spatial and contextual linkages in access to raw materials and finished products imported into the heartland and consumed in the city-states.

Religion, Ceremony, Labor, and Corporate Architecture (a short list)

The differences in the ways that hierarchically organized religion and ceremony are treated in Uruk and in early American states are striking. In the New World, religious ideology is often treated as a creative, active aspect of early complex society perhaps morbidly so, given the frequent evidence for human sacrifice, bloodletting, and use of hallucinogens. Economic activities are only of peripheral interest, if any, in current studies of institutionalized religion. In contrast, with the partial retreat of the theocratic model of early Mesopotamian societies, Uruk temples seem to be analyzed predominantly for their roles as managerial enterprises.

In keeping with my interests in the inner workings of society, I would like to know what people were actually doing inside restricted precincts and temples and how and if civic and religious ceremonies became increasingly exclusionary as well as majestic over time. Did the temple provide a forum for resolution of disputes? Were the ceremonies massed ensemble performances, processions, ecstasies? My perception of Uruk institutional ceremony is that it was spatially and socially exclusionary, directed toward enclosed areas and building interiors, and performance-oriented rather than participatory, at least with respect to the general populace. If that impression is close, then who exactly were the audiences for ritual performances? What were the relationships between the participating and observing groups?

Moore's (1995) recent book on developmental trends in Andean monumental architecture provides some directions as to how to approach such questions archaeologically. He proposes that analysis of sight lines, areas for potential aggregation, the acoustics, and the accessibility of visual detail for both participants and observers can provide means of ascertaining the nature of ceremonial activities. His work suggests that by understanding, across periods, whether the audiences were participatory or passive, how detailed a message they could see and assimilate, and how large a gathering was present (in absolute terms or as a proportion of the population), we may gain a more nuanced understanding of the changing relationships between the ideological institutions and the society at large.

Household Labor Mobilization and Craft Production

A last major issue revolves around the changes in forms of labor that accompanied state formation. Several scholars have observed (e.g., Adams, Wright, Nissen, Zagarell) that multiple kinds of labor mobilization may well have been in operation at the same time: e.g., family/ household, extended kin group, elite retinues or retainers, the community, the state, and the religious institutions. Each implies a distinct scale, different obligations or inducements, perhaps distinct tasks, and partially overlapping schedules. Perhaps because of the history of excavations in the heartland, a nuanced treatment of the archaeological evidence needed to test those divisions and their interaction is still largely missing from crucial regions. Despite astute uses of lines of evidence like the Standard Occupations List, archaeological analyses have tended to focus on activities with a material product, especially agriculture and craft production. It would be intriguing to consider further the importance of the sectors of the economy such as household or temple service, military duty, or portage, which leave less visible traces in the archaeological record, but may have had a significant impact on daily life, disposition of familial resources, and social tensions.

A key issue may have been not simply the mobilization of labor for elite or institutional goals, but the attraction of adherents whose productivity could usefully be applied to multiple, potentially reinforcing, interests. In similar situations elsewhere, elite hospitality mediates group affiliations and provide the context within which political activities are carried out. In the transition from pre-state to state formations, there is a marked difference between elites having the privileged obligation of hosting events and institutions skimming the cream off the productivity of the community. The two are often interlinked in practice, but explaining how the balance shifted toward extraction is a crucial challenge in explaining the permanent investiture of elites. It would therefore be very interesting to be able to compare the household evidence for feasting activities over time, to see if and when ceremonial household feasting was supplanted by institutionally sponsored events. From this perspective also, the end purpose of acquiring or producing and then distributing prestige goods is not solely the display of status or to reward associates, though those are certainly important goals. Instead, largess serves a political purpose by announcing group labor capacities, thus allowing kin groups to assess the advantages of reaffiliation a significant issue in societies in which settlement mobility seems to have been a viable option.

Marcella Frangipane, The Development of a Powerful State Center North of the Taurus, Continuity and Discontinuity in Greater Mesopotamia

See Uruk Mesopotamia and Its Neighbors


Announcement: New works by participants on this topic

Paléorient issue 25 (1) in press "The Uruk Expansion: Northern Perspectives from Hacinebi, Hassek, and Gawra." Gil Stein, ed. a new collection of analytical reports on Hacinebi and two related sites with critical essays by French scholars.

The Manchester volume: Artefacts of Complexity, N. Postgate, and Stuart Campbell, editors. in preparation. New essays by and European and American scholars on the chronology of the fourth millennium and its interpretive consequences.


For additional material on the Ancient Near East, see the Abzu Project, and particularly the Regional Index for Mesoptamia.