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Cultural Identity, Archaeology, and the Amorites of the Early Second Millennium BCE: An Analytical Paradigmatic Approach

  • Author(s): Pruitt, Madeline Lawson;
  • Advisor(s): Porter, Benjamin;
  • Brody, Aaron
  • et al.


Cultural Identity, Archaeology, and the Amorites of the Early Second Millennium BCE:

An Analytical Paradigmatic Approach


Madeline Lawson Pruitt

Doctor of Philosophy in Near Eastern Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Benjamin Porter, Co-Chair

Professor Aaron Brody, Co-Chair

Ancient Near Eastern textual sources portray the Amorites as a group that arose in the span of a century at the beginning of the second millennium BCE from being obscure pastoral nomads on the periphery of Mesopotamian civilization to establishing a dynasty that ruled the region for four hundred years. Yet, according to a commonly-held scholarly view, they left no archaeologically discernible cultural imprint. This paradoxical understanding contributes to widely varied speculations about the nature of their group identity and has generated a lack of consensus that impedes the development of further insights about the group and, consequently, other aspects of Ancient Near Eastern history and cultures.

The interpretation of archaeological evidence for cultural identity is in itself a problematized issue. Consideration of the factors involved in the Amorite scenario indicates the need for an analytical approach to cultural identity that will provide a foundation from which the multiple evidentiary dimensions can be considered on common ground. Drawing upon interdisciplinary insights from such fields as social psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, in addition to anthropology, this project develops a relational approach to identity at four levels—personal, individual, group, and categorical. From that perspective, cultural identity is found to be a categorical identification with a matrix of interrelated features that is greater than the sum of its constituent elements. In combination with the theoretical lenses of materiality, social memory, and landscape theory from the social archaeology toolkit, the Self Other approach advanced in this thesis allows the various compositional aspects of cultural identity to be analyzed holistically. It provides a framework through which the textual, visual, and material evidence can be considered in light of the underlying identity processes at work. In application to the singularly complex Amorite paradox, the efficacy of the framework is validated by revealing—on an analytical basis grounded in established theory and methods—that there is more than sufficient evidence for viewing the Amorites as an ethnic group.

These results, which are derived from applying the paradigm to the data set of Amorite identity markers, provide a starting point for more contextualized studies of the evidence from specific sites and assemblages in both synchronic and diachronic cases. The paradigm is proposed as an analytical tool that will allow for a grounded commonality that can move the field closer toward consensus and to continued advancements in understanding the history of the Ancient Near East. Additionally, it has the potential to facilitate research into the cultural identity of other groups in different places and times.

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