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Complex Communities

The Archaeology of Early Iron Age West-Central Jordan

Benjamin W. Porter

Publication Year: 2013

Complex Communities explores how sedentary settlements developed and flourished in the Middle East during the Early Iron Age nearly four thousand years ago. Using archaeological evidence, Benjamin Porter reconstructs how residents maintained their communities despite environmental uncertainties. Living in a semi-arid area in the present-day country of Jordan, villagers faced a harsh and unpredictable ecosystem. Communities fostered resilience by creating flexible production routines and leadership strategies. Settlements developed what archaeologists call “communal complexity,” a condition through which small-scale societies shift between egalitarian and hierarchical arrangements. Complex Communities provides detailed, scientifically grounded reconstructions of how this communal complexity functioned in the region.

These settlements emerged during a period of recovery following the political and economic collapse of Bronze Age Mediterranean societies. Scholars have characterized west-central Jordan’s political organization during this time as an incipient Moabite state. Complex Communities argues instead that the settlements were a collection of independent, self-organizing entities. Each community constructed substantial villages with fortifications, practiced both agriculture and pastoralism, and built and stocked storage facilities. From these efforts to produce and store resources, especially food, wealth was generated and wealthier households gained power over their neighbors. However, power was limited by the fact that residents could—and did—leave communities and establish new ones.

Complex Communities reveals that these settlements moved through adaptive cycles as they adjusted to a changing socionatural system. These sustainability-seeking communities have lessons to offer not only the archaeologists studying similar struggles in other locales, but also to contemporary communities facing negative climate change. Readers interested in resilience studies, Near Eastern archaeology, historical ecology, and the archaeology of communities will welcome this volume.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

...This book is the culmination of research conducted over the past decade on the Early Iron Age communities of the Levant. I first became intrigued by Iron Age Jordan as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, and my participation on two excavation projects at Tall Madaba and Khirbat...

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1. Introduction: The Persistence of Community

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pp. 1-12

...Thinking clearly about the notion of “community” in today’s world is difficult. Politicians, marketers, and civic groups use the term to unite people within social groups that promise intimacy and egalitarianism. The call for community evokes nostalgia for presumably utopian pasts that existed...

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2. Communal Complexity on the Margins

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pp. 13-37

...Public audiences celebrate archaeology for its investigation of “civilizations”— Mesopotamian, Roman, the Mayan and the Aztec, to name only a handful— that consistently dominate television programming and glossy magazine covers. The broad appeal of civilization persists...

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3. Measuring Social Complexity in the Early Iron Age

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pp. 38-68

...Archaeologists are rarely drawn to periods in history known for declining levels of social complexity. These eras lack the traditional trappings of civilization— urban centers, bureaucracies, written archives, and monumental architecture— for which archaeological research is most celebrated....

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4. Producing Community

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pp. 69-103

...Many preindustrial societies organized their relationships around the production of materials needed to sustain themselves and their immediate dependents. This observation partly explains why small-scale human organizations form in the very first instance. Production does more than make...

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5. Managing Community

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pp. 104-132

...What was the nature of leadership in Early Iron Age west- central Jordan? What role did wealth play in constituting this authority? Did the presence of leaders contribute to the communities’ resilience or did it destabilize it? Were there limits to leaders’ authority? This chapter will investigate these...

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6. Conclusion: The Complex Community

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pp. 133-148

...At first glance, the Early Iron Age communities of west-central Jordan appear to have followed patterns relatively common among small-scale agropastoralist sedentary societies in the Near East. Each community organized its livelihood according to what it could produce from naturally available...


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pp. 149-168


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pp. 169-196


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pp. 197-204

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About the Author

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p. 205-205

...Benjamin W. Porter is an archaeologist whose research focuses on the Bronze and Iron Age societies of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. He is an assistant professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of California–Berkeley and a curator of Near Eastern archaeology at...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599141
E-ISBN-10: 0816599149
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530328
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530327

Page Count: 221
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 8 line art, 1 tables
Publication Year: 2013