Institute of Archaeology
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Archaeology of the Middle East: Pattern and Process

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Our attachment to the ancient Near East as the 'birthplace of civilization', where the foundations of modern societies were laid, remains as strong today as it has ever been. Yet our current picture of how prehistoric and ancient societies actually developed in that region could not possibly have been predicted by earlier generations of scholars. Processes leading to the origins of farming, cities, states, literacy, and empires – all of which developed first in this region – are currently being rethought in the light of new archaeological data. And our understanding of early relationships between the societies of Middle East and those of the Mediterranean, North East Africa (including Egypt), South and Central Asia are being transformed by new evidence for patterns of cultural interaction that cut across traditional frontiers of research. The emerging synthesis constitutes a radical challenge to conventional theories of social and cultural evolution, which this course sets out to explore.

Students enrolling will encounter evidence from across a large part of western Asia spanning Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia, Arabia & the Gulf, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard, as well as parts of Central and South Asia. Each taught session uses applied case studies to address general issues of archaeological interpretation, with an emphasis on 1) new theoretical perspectives, 2) the understanding of long-term social change 3) the interpretation of interregional processes operating at a large scale. Case studies will range chronologically from the end of the last Ice Age (c. 10,000 BC) through the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to the Iron Age (c. 500 BC). Topics to be covered include:

1. The 'ancient Near East' in world history

2. Neolithic transformations: the world of the earliest farmers

3. Global villages: the later prehistory of the Middle East

4. Origin of cities: a comparative perspective

5. State formation and the nature of early governance

6. Emergence, functions, and development of writing systems

7. Commerce, cosmology, and sacrifice: the movement of goods

8. Between archaeology and art history: the transmission of images

9. Body, gender, and power: changing constructs

10. Past to present: changing landscapes of the Middle East

Aims of the course

  • To provide students with an advanced understanding of patterns and processes in the archaeology of the Middle East
  • To situate those processes within a broader comparative understanding of World Archaeology
  • To familiarise students with new evidence for interconnections and cultural exchanges between the early Middle East and other parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe
  • To familiarise students with the scientific methods now used to reconstruct processes of technological, economic, and environmental change
  • To explore the implications of the early Middle East for the writing of global history, including its relevance to contemporary social theory and cultural heritage studies

Learning Outcomes:

  • To prepare students to undertake original research in world archaeology with an informed perspective on the archaeology of the Middle East
  • To enhance students' ability in reading and debate through assessment and evaluation of alternative interpretations, and presentation of reasoned conclusions
  • recognition of the linkages between data, methods and ideas
  • application of the methods and theories of inter-disciplinary analysis
  • skill in integrating a variety of evidence from different disciplines into overall interpretations
  • proficiency in the setting out information and ideas clearly in written form
  • preparation for designing and operationalising research topics in this field, including the development of meaningful links between different scales of analysis (from the microscopic to studies of artefacts, landscapes, distribution patterns, and remote sensing from space)

Teaching Methods

The course is taught through a two-hour weekly seminar. Content ranges from general thematic overviews to detailed presentations of specialist research, and will include extensive visual illustration of key data. All seminars have weekly readings, which provide a focus for students to contribute actively to the discussion. Students will also be given more structured opportunities to present their views both visually and orally in class.


For registered students

  • Moodle page: open»
  • Turnitin id: 611911
  • Reading list: open»

Availability: New for 2013-14

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