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Feeding the Community: Objects, Scarcity and Commensality in the Early Iron Age Southern Levant


History and ethnicity have been the preferred frameworks for explaining how Levantine societies organized themselves during the early Iron Age. Consequently, opportunities are missed to understand how local economic and environmental factors structured social life. In this study, a collection of early Iron Age settlements from southwest central Jordan, the Dhiban and Karak Plateaus, is examined using a community perspective. Emphasis is placed on the production and consumption of food, the raw materials for household and communal wealth. The value of food in the communities was heightened due to the difficult semi-arid environmental conditions in which is was produced. The sharing of food between households and communities was one way to create social bonds, or to gain power over others. Food circulation through practices such as storage, everyday meals and feasts therefore offers an ideal window through which to observe social life. Evidence for the communities' food-systems is considered (faunal and palaeobotanical data, storage and food production). The presence and uneven distribution of this evidence within individual communities indicates that households possessed different amounts of food, signalling a degree of inequality between households. A collection of decorated ceramic food-serving vessels is also discussed along with information about its production, its semiotic qualities and the possible roles it played in commensal events. One broader implication of this study is that materials were entangled in the networks of relationships that constituted early Iron Age social life. This recognition of the material world's participation challenges normative ways that early Iron Age societies have been analyzed and represented.

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