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Kristina Sauer, PhD Project:


Society and Economy in Uruk-Period Northern Mesopotamia: Innovation and Alteration in Cross-Cultural Interaction Zones (working title)


The PhD project studies the mechanisms of cross-cultural and trans-regional innovation exchange and its influence on the differentiation of societies in Uruk period Mesopotamia (4th Mill. BC). Previous work on the innovative horizon of the Uruk period has mainly focused on individual considerations on sites and artefact groups. However, in order to understand processes of intercultural interactions in the Uruk period the trans-regional link between the settlements, their find complexes, as well as the environmental conditions must be taken into account. The focus of the current work therefore lies on the adaptation and transformation of certain elements of the Uruk culture through neighboring societies and vice versa, and is aimed at a deeper understanding of the interaction in the early urban societies of the Middle East. The well documented sites of northern Mesopotamia as well as the major sites in the south – Uruk and Susa – constitute the focus of investigation. Their assemblages are examined with regard to differences between the material culture of the local population and the “Urukeans”. In addition, the economic basis and technological level of the settlements, as well as the organization of trade, commerce, and subsistence are analyzed. The project is inspired by Bruno Latour’s Actor-network-theory, but also takes into consideration the mechanisms triggering innovations in the Uruk period. The approach is therefore cross-theoretical, as it draws upon aspects originating within the sociology of knowledge. The initial concept of regarding only the key elements of Sherratt’s “Secondary Products Theory” (Sherratt 1981) has proved insufficient, due to a scarcity of available data. Therefore, the parameters of the study are extended thematically and chronologically. Characteristic elements of the Uruk Period are now also taken into consideration, such as early means of administration; writing, the cylinder seal and associated practices (cf. Sauer and Sürenhagen forthcoming). Chronologically, the study now also includes the early third millennium BC, the beginning of the Early Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, since it is not until then that many innovative technologies, such as bronze casting or the use of wheel and cart, become fully tangible in the archaeological record.