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The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization.

Last issue's column opened with a look at how a remote Pacific island was transformed some two centuries ago by the arrival of global trade. But what the current Iraqi leadership would doubtless call the mother of all world economies was already under way in the Near East over five millennia earlier, argues GUILLERMO ALGAZE in his boldly conceived and fluently written The Uruk world system: the dynamics of expansion of early Mesopotamian civilization (xii+162 pages, 47 illustrations. 1993. Chicago (IL) & London: University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-01381-2 hardback $45.95 & [pound]31.95). The focus here is less on the Sumerian heartland of cities than on the spectacular extension of Uruk culture outwards, to sites like the large planned colony at Habuba Kabira far up the Euphrates, and to even more distant areas in Anatolia and beyond the Zagros. This challenging phase in one of the few undisputed instances of pristine state formation has been overlooked for far too long by archaeologists working elsewhere in the world. ALGAZE interprets it in terms of trade diasporas and nodal enclaves through which an emergent, internally competitive Sumer tapped the resources of its distant periphery. This was the first and hitherto under-recognized pulse, he suggests, of a periodic 'momentum to empire' that characterizes the longue duree of Mesopotamian history. The picture that unfolds is an ambitious and largely successful blend of data synthesis, intelligent guesses and world systems theory, albeit one in which readers may be forgiven for occasionally feeling that they can discern some oddly familiar flags of empire fluttering over the high mud-brick walls. Experts on the Near East and state formation alike are sure to discover flaws in the details of the case, whilst world-system sceptics will inevitably ask what Wallerstein is to Warka (or Warka to him). Even to a non-specialist some difficulties are apparent. What can 'Uruk' really mean when applied to the ubiquitous bevelled-rim bowl? Is the low assessment of indigeneous 'peripheral' societies north of Sumer justified? And why are the obviously significant Ubaid precedents for the expansion introduced so late in the argument? But regardless of this, ALGAZE has written an excellent, timely and accessible analysis, and his proposed link between long-distance trade and increasing social complexity will certainly appeal to many people. The Uruk expansion is now put squarely on the map for all to see, and the splendidly euphonic Habuba Kabira should at last become an archaeological household name. This book deserves to be widely and wisely read.

JOHN CURTIS (ed.)'s Early Mesopotamia and Iran: contact and conflict 3500--1600 bc: proceedings of a seminar in memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin (78 pages, 20 figures, 32 plates, 12 colour plates. 1993. London: British Museum Press; ISBN 0-7141-1134-1 hardback [pound]14.95) covers part of the same territory over a longer timespan. P.R.S. MOOREY's contribution on 'Iran: a Sumerian El-Dorado?' emphasizes that Sumer enjoyed a degree of flexibility in terms of where it chose to seek out its raw materials -- which must have implications for the coherence of the colonizing strategies and trade networks (if such they are) of ALGAZE's Uruk polities. He also includes a wonderful discussion of the alluvium's image of a fabulous and alien upland beyond the Zagros. 'Foreign' and 'foreigner' in Sumerian and Akkadian, MOOREY informs us, are associated with the east and the mountains rather than the west and the desert. In the lowlanders' depiction of the unfortunate mountaineers of Gutium as 'people who know no inhibitions, with human instinct but canine intelligence and monkey's features' we see perhaps the earliest recorded example of the long-lived genre of the human bestiary.

More on Mesopotamia is to be found below in NORMAN YOFFEE's review of NICHOLAS POSTGATE's Early Mesopotamia: society and economy at the dawn of history.
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Author:Broodbank, Cyprian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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