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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social boundaries and state formation in ancient Edom : a comparative ceramic approach

  • Author(s): Smith, Neil G.
  • et al.

In recent years, the area referred to as "Edom" in ancient Egyptian and Biblical texts, dating to the 2nd and 1st millennium BCE, has sparked much scholarly debate over chronology, the nature of its social organization and the relationship of the archaeology of Edom to ancient Near Eastern textual sources. Located in southern Jordan, relatively little Iron Age (ca. 1200 - 500 BCE) archaeological work has been carried out here resulting in a failure to develop an objective chronology for measuring and understanding social evolution in one of the southern Levant's key geographic regions. This has resulted in many gaps concerning the nature of the social complexity of Edom. This dissertation examines the emergence of complex societies and social boundaries in Iron Age Edom through the lens of ceramic analysis. Consequently, the thesis will illuminate some of the mechanisms underlying social change and social boundary formation in this region. The study tests a range of models using new archaeological and ceramic data from Iron Age Edom in the following manner: 1) by relying on theory from cognitive anthropology, a series of testable methods are employed for determining ancient social boundaries based on examining how technological styles are learned by a culture; 2) using recent UCSD archaeological excavations from seven previously untested sites in Edom that provide new data for testing these social models concerning social complexity in Biblical Edom; 3) employing ceramic ethnoarchaeology to help analyze the ancient ceramic assemblages from these sites to clarify their role in social boundary formation; 4) using petrographic analysis that gives a more detailed look into the ceramic assemblages, thereby increasing an understanding of where pottery originated and what materials were used - factors that ultimately reflect distinctions between different ancient pottery producing communities; and 5) developing the first comprehensive ceramic typology for the entire Iron Age II (ca. 1000 - 500 BCE) sequence of Edom that encompasses both the lowlands and highlands. Thus, this study contributes new data, methods and testable theoretical models for studying the archaeological record of the Iron Age Southern Levant when the first historical state level societies emerged in this part of the ancient Near East

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