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Understanding Ancient State Societies in the Old World

  • Gil J. Stein

The development of states—large-scale, populous, politically centralized, and socially stratified polities governed by powerful rulers—marks one of the major milestones in the evolution of human societies. Archaeologists often distinguish between primary (or pristine) states and secondary states. Primary states evolved independently through largely internal developmental processes rather than through the influence of any other preexisting state. The earliest known primary states appeared in Mesopotamia ca. 3700 B.C., in Egypt ca. 3300 B.C., in the Indus Valley ca. 2500 B.C., and in China ca. 1400 B.C. (Figure 10.1). As they interacted with their less developed neighbors through trade, warfare, migration, and more generalized ideological influences, the primary states directly or indirectly fostered the emergence of secondary states in surrounding areas, for example, the Hittites in Anatolia, the Minoan and Mycenaean states of the Aegean, or the Nubian kingdoms in the Sudan. The excavations and archaeological surveys of the last few decades have vastly increased both the quantity and quality of what we know about ancient states and urbanism. Archaeologists have broadened the scope of their research beyond the traditional focus on rulers and urban elites. Current research now aims at understanding the role of urban commoners, craft specialists, and village-based farmers in the overall organization of ancient states. In this chapter, I review what I consider to be some of the most significant theoretical developments and research emphases in the anthropological–archaeological study of early state societies. Given the immense geographical scope encompassed by the term “the Old World,” I have chosen to focus on the Near East, South Asia, and Egypt, while also mentioning important case studies from sub-Saharan west Africa, China, and Iron Age Europe.

Keywords

World System Complex Society Current Anthropology Craft Production Prestige Good 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gil J. Stein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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