Institute of Archaeology


Economics Meets Archaeology: The Origins of City-States

26 February 2019, 6:00 pm

UCL Institute of Archaeology

Event Information

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UCL Institute of Advanced Studies Common Ground (Room G11, South Wing)

Gregory K. Dow and Clyde G. Reed (Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University) will give the last of three talks at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies on 26 February.


We are interested in explaining why city-states arose in southern Mesopotamia
roughly 5000 years ago. For this purpose, we combine the logic of economic theory with evidence provided by archaeologists. This raises a number of challenges associated with interdisciplinary research. After addressing these methodological matters, we discuss our project. Some important issues involve defining a state, showing that the Mesopotamian city of Uruk was indeed a state, developing factual premises that can be used as the basis for an economic model, and constructing an economic theory about how the city of Uruk arose. Our hypothesis is that as the regional climate became more arid, people migrated from locations where rainfall was vital for food production to locations where irrigation was feasible. Local elites who controlled irrigated land found it profitable to shift some commoner labor into urban manufacturing, which provided a source of tax revenue. We close with a brief discussion of whether it is possible to give general causal explanations for the formation of pristine city-states across various regions of the world.

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All welcome. Any enquiries about these events may be directed to Stephen Shennan.