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The Decline and Rise of Mesopotamian Civilization: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective on the Evolution of Social Complexity

Norman Yoffee
American Antiquity
Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 1979), pp. 5-35
DOI: 10.2307/279187
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/279187
Page Count: 31
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The Decline and Rise of Mesopotamian Civilization: An Ethnoarchaeological Perspective on the Evolution of Social Complexity
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Abstract

The typological schemes constructed by many archaeologists to explain the rise and fall of civilizations have neither accounted for the processual changes involved in the evolution of social complexity nor contributed to the development of a comparative method for considering regularities and variation in social behavior. This paper begins with a review of the foundations on which archaeologists have based their conceptions of social evolution. A critical test of the assumptions of "evolutionism" is then provided by case studies in Mesopotamian civilization in which materials from both preliterate and literate times are examined. Using ancient, emic documentation that is recovered as part of the archaeological record, such studies may logically be termed ethnoarchaeological. It is suggested that the customary analogy between social change and biological evolution is inappropriate and that a new problem orientation will facilitate more productive research into the dynamics of social evolution.

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