Nomads, Tribes, and the State in the Ancient Near East: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

Organized by Jeffrey Szuchman
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
1155 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
March 7–8, 2008

A Bedouin encampment (large tent of the sheikh and smaller ones of the clan). Taken either by the American Colony Photo Department or its successor the Matson Photo Service (between 1898 and 1946). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-05979

Conference Abstract and Participants

What was the relationship between pastoral nomadic tribes and sedentary peoples in the ancient Near East? After decades of research, scholars are more aware than ever of the challenges posed by this deceptively simple question. Textual biases, poor archaeological visibility of nomadic remains, and tenuous ethnographic parallels all pose obstacles to reconstructing the complex dynamics of tribe-state interactions in antiquity. This conference brings together a diverse group of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists to explore new ways of approaching the study of nomadic populations and encounters between tribes and states. Although great strides have recently been made in the study of these issues, new approaches have called into question the very categories we use to describe tribe-state interactions. Furthermore, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have been addressing these issues in relative isolation. This conference thus offers a unique opportunity to set an agenda for the study of ancient Near Eastern nomadism from a cross-disciplinary perspective. The first steps will be to assess the current state of research on ancient pastoral nomadism, tribes and the state, and to reach a consensus about the use and misuse of data and terminology. Once a common framework is established, we can begin to address new theoretical and methodological approaches to the lingering questions of tribe-state interactions. A central aim of the conference is to equip attendees to apply the diverse techniques of various fields and various regions of the Near East to their own work. The two-day conference is organized with those goals in mind. The emphasis of the conference will be as much on discussion and debate as on the presentations themselves. Papers will be circulated among participants in advance of the conference and there will be ample opportunity for response and discussion. Publication of the proceedings of this conference is made possible through the generous support of the Arthur and Lee Herbst Research Fund.

Participants

  • Abbas Alizadeh (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Thomas Barfield (Department of Anthropology, Boston University)
  • Hans Barnard (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA)
  • Daniel Fleming (Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, NYU)
  • Frank Hole (Department of Anthropology, Yale University)
  • Anatoly Khazanov (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison)
  • Thomas Levy (Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego)
  • Bertille Lyonnet (Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques, Paris)
  • Anne Porter (School of Religion, University of Southern California)
  • Robert Ritner (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Steven A. Rosen (Department of Bible, Archaeology, and Ancient Near East, Ben-Gurion University)
  • Benjamin Saidel (Department of Anthropology, East Carolina University)
  • Eveline van der Steen (Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool)
  • Donald Whitcomb (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Detailed Description

Introduction

What was the relationship between pastoral nomadic tribes and sedentary peoples in the ancient Near East? After decades of research, scholars are more aware than ever of the challenges posed by this deceptively simple question. Although the attitude of early Mesopotamian states was overwhelmingly negative toward tribal groups, their textual record often hints that mobile populations played an important role in the rise and fall of early states. In Late Antiquity and the Islamic period, despite the fact that nomads made up a relatively small portion of Near Eastern society, their impact on the social and political trajectory of Near Eastern history was substantial (Donner 1989). The conflicting evidence on Near Eastern nomadism makes it exceptionally difficult to describe the complex socio-political relationship between nomadic and sedentary peoples in the ancient Near East.

Textual biases that are a product of the urban setting in which the ancient sources were composed are only one source of difficulty for the modern researcher. Problematic ethnographic parallels and the generally poor archaeological preservation of the remains of mobile peoples present additional challenges to the study of ancient nomadism. In many cases, we are left to reconstruct tribe-state interactions based only on the ephemera of excavated nomadic encampments, tantalizing implications gleaned from the context of primary documents, and tenuous analogies with modern tribes. Nevertheless, the spate of recent research in the field suggests that new techniques and nuanced analytical frameworks are helping researchers make strides towards a more comprehensive understanding of tribe-state interactions in the ancient Near East. This conference brings together a diverse group of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists to explore new ways of approaching the study of nomadic populations and tribe-state interactions in antiquity.

Those who study ancient mobile peoples must contend with historic biases against sheep- and goat-herding nomads. Texts that touch on nomads were composed by urban elite, whose wealth and power were rooted in their control over agricultural resources and labor. The fundamentally negative attitude toward nomads was maintained over centuries and worked its way into scholarship well into the 20th century. By the 1950s researchers continued to assume that the primary role of nomads throughout history was as agents of destabilization (Kupper 1957; Dossin 1959). Kupper (1957:ix), for example, was convinced that “une conflit permanent” existed between sedentary and nomadic societies, a clash which resulted in waves of nomadic invasions from the Syrian desert into the otherwise bucolic rural and urban centers of Mesopotamia and the Levant.

By the 1960s, it had become clear that despite intermittent antagonism, farmers and mobile pastoralists in fact participate in a symbiotic relationship. Furthermore, communities alternate between nomadism and sedentism, depending in part on the strength of the central authority (Barth 1961; Bates 1973; Khazanov 1994; Salzman 1980). In the 1970s, Rowton (1973a; 1973b; 1974; 1976) used the terms “enclosed nomadism” and “dimorphic chiefdom” to describe the type of social organization characteristic of ancient Mari, “which represents a curious blend of city-state, tribe, and nomadism” (Rowton 1973b:201). This broader understanding of nomadic adaptations to sedentary society was applied in the following years by archaeologists, Assyriologists, and historians to the study of the origins of specialized pastoral nomadism (Adams 1974; Gilbert 1983; Lees and Bates 1974), the Amorites at Mari and in the Levant (Kamp and Yoffee 1980; Matthews 1978), Arameans of the late second millennium (Schwartz 1989), and later pre-Islamic periods (Donner 1981:16–49). The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of a more integrated view of nomadic and sedentary encounters in the ancient world.

Archaeological Approaches

It was not until the past two decades that archaeologists have challenged the view that pastoral nomadic remains were unrecoverable (Childe 1951; Finkelstein 1992). Ethnoarchaeological studies show that nomads do indeed leave behind distinct traces based on domestic patterns that are both unique to a nomadic lifestyle and relatively universal among nomads of different tribes (Cribb 1991). Pastoral nomadic sites have been identified and excavated in the Levant, especially in areas where vegetation and erosion are unlikely to affect the visibility of archaeological sites. There, pastoral nomadic sites are identified based on their location outside the zone of agriculture, the absence of grains or grain-processing equipment, limited and characteristic architecture, a predominance of sheep and goat bones, and ethnographic analogy (Rosen and Avni 1989; Banning and Köhler-Rollefson 1992; Rosen 1992). The pottery assemblage of those sites may also reflect a pastoral nomadic lifestyle (Rosen and Avni 1997; Saidel 2002–2004). Outside of the Levant, evidence of early specialized pastoralism has appeared in the valleys of the rugged landscape of Khuzestan in southwest Iran (Abdi 2003; Alizadeh 2006; Hole 1974). However, in the Mesopotamian plain and in the cultivated fields of rainfed Upper Mesopotamia, alluviation, vegetation, and erosion reduce archaeological visibility to a much greater degree, which makes it difficult to identify pastoral nomadic sites. Nevertheless, it may be possible to identify the effects of pastoral nomadism on settlement patterns (Abdi 2003; Lyonnet 1998; Szuchman 2007).

Recent Trends and Challenges

Recently, scholars of both texts and archaeology have moved away from Rowton’s dimorphic chiefdom, and towards an acknowledgment of an even greater integration between urban and pastoral sectors (Fleming 2004; McClellan 2004; Porter 2002; 2004). Although this approach appears to capture more accurately the complexity of ancient tribe-state interactions, it also introduces questions about the very categories we use to describe pastoral nomadic tribes. The term “tribe,” itself, and many of the attributes associated with it, such as segmentary lineages and egalitarianism, have troubled anthropologists for some time. Did such bounded categories exist in antiquity, or are they fabrications or idealizations created by modern ethnographers (Abu-Lughod 1989; Marx 1992; Salzman 1999)? If so, should they be applied to mobile and sedentary communities in the past? If tribal leaders can also be urban rulers, does it make sense to discuss tribe and state as separate social, political, or economic sectors?

As the division between tribe and state in antiquity continues to blur, we may seem hyperaware of the inadequacy of terms such as “nomad,” “pastoralist,” “tribe,” or “bedouin.” The use of these may also be problematic because they tend to create dichotomies between tribe and state or nomad and sedentary that may not represent ancient realities. One is often compelled to define or defend their use at the outset of a publication (Abdi 2003:398; Bar Yosef and Khazanov 1992:2; Leder 2004; Saidel and van der Steen 2007:2). Additional complications arise from the fact that despite calls for the integration of archaeology, anthropology, and history in the study of ancient pastoral nomadism (LaBianca and Witzel 2007:63), each discipline has been addressing these issues in relative isolation. Although great strides have been made thus far, there remains a pressing need for cross-disciplinary dialogue to establish a common framework for the study of pastoral nomadism and tribe-state interactions in the ancient Near East.

The Conference Goals

Recent conferences have addressed ancient nomadism, but the chronological and regional scope of the 2008 Oriental Institute Symposium will be much more specific. This conference therefore offers a unique opportunity to set an agenda for the study of ancient Near Eastern nomadism from an integrated archaeological, historical, and anthropological perspective. The first step will be to assess the current state of research on ancient pastoral nomadic and tribal interactions, and reach a consensus about the use and misuse of data and terminology in discussing and studying ancient pastoral nomadism. Once a common framework is established, we can begin to address new theoretical and methodological approaches to the lingering questions of tribe-state interactions: How do economic, social, ecological, or political factors intersect and feed back to determine or alter mechanisms of tribe-state interactions? How do encounters between tribes and rural villagers differ from the confrontation of tribes and urban authorities? Under what circumstances are the social and political organization of tribes and states compatible or incompatible? What role does nomadization/sedentarization play in the growth and collapse of states? Can our analysis accommodate individual agency in addition to braoder factors influencing tribe-state dynamics? What’s the best way to interpret references (or the absence of references) by urban sources to tribes or nomads?

A central aim of the conference is thus to equip scholars to apply the diverse techniques of various fields and various regions of the Near East to their own work. This will also be a forum in which participants can gather feedback on research from peers in their own discipline and from an outside perspective. The publication of the conference volume in the Oriental Institute Seminar Series will proceed according to the same goals: to advance a broad interdisciplinary approach to issues of nomadism and tribe-state encounters in the ancient Near East.

Format

The 2-day conference will be organized with those goals in mind. To facilitate cross-disciplinary exchange, sessions will cover broad theoretical issues, rather than matters of specific methodology or chronology. Thematic sessions will explore the characteristics of ancient pastoral nomadism, tribes, and tribe-state relations in terms of the economy of pastoralism; the social impact of mobility; the mechanisms of interaction and integration between nomads and sedentary urban or rural communities; the unique political and social circumstances of tribes, and how tribes differed from early states or other communal entities. Additional sessions on methods will focus on how best to tease out information about ancient nomads and nomadism from the material, textual, and ethnographic record. These theoretical/methodological discussions will alternate with case studies from various periods and regions.

The emphasis of the conference will be as much on discussion and debate as on the presentations themselves. Papers will be circulated among participants in advance of the conference and there will be ample opportunity for response to and discussion. Those discussions should inform the final versions of the papers that will be published in the Oriental Institute Seminar Series.

Paper Titles & Abstracts

Abbas Alizadeh (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
Prehistoric Mobile Pastoralism in Southwestern Iran: “Enclosed” or Enclosing Nomadism

Archaeological reconstructions and interpretations of the origins and development of early state organizations and nomadic-sedentary relations during the 5th to the 3rd millennia B.C. in southwestern Iran have primarily been viewed and discussed from the perspective of sedentary farmers and urban centers. Implicit in such models are assumptions of asymmetric power relationships in which nomads are subservient, as exemplified in Lattimore’s and especially Rowton’s concept of “enclosed nomadism,” where pastoralists were encapsulated within the sphere of urban civilization. This unidirectional view of political economy also derives from an over-dependence on the skewed and biased ancient literature and 20th century ethnographic views of nomads in relation to powerful nation states.

Two case studies, one from the highlands and the other from the lowlands may shed light on this problem. The Bakun A (ca. 4500–4200 B.C.) case study is an appropriate example of how drastically socioeconomic and cultural reconstruction of a site may differ from the conventional view if we consider ancient nomads of southwestern Iran not as dependents of the settled farmers, but as a discrete, yet integrated part of a fluid society that includes both the mobile and the sedentary segments, and that whose ruling elite might be drawn from both. The second case study is the model proposed for the formation of the early state in Susiana during the 4th millennium B.C., where mobile pastoralists’ role is considered marginal.

Undoubtedly, the sedentary, urban approach in reconstructing cultural developments and trajectory of regions with substantial nomadic population has generated significant insights into the life of late prehistoric communities in southwestern Iran. Nevertheless, minimizing the role of nomadic agency in southwestern Iran has left some outstanding questions that either resist resolution or satisfactory answers, such as the major shifting settlement patterns, periodic settlement abandonment, the complete “breakdown” of the settlement system at the end of the 4th millennium B.C., the relation between periodic settlement changes in the lowlands and the appearance and disappearance of the isolated nomadic cemeteries in the highlands, and the Proto-Elamite characteristics of the 3rd millennium B.C., to name a few.

This is a tall order and much specific research needs to be done to address the present disconnect between the lowlands and highlands of southwestern Iran during the crucial 5th to 3rd millennia B.C. The value of this approach can be seen in its ability to generate, if not a fuller picture of the long-term trends in change and continuity in southwestern Iran, but perhaps an alternative view that can lead to further research.

Hans Barnard (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA)
The Archaeology of the Pastoral Nomads between the Nile and the Red Sea

The archaeology of Egypt has long been overshadowed by the wealth of textual sources, both monumental and informal, further augmented by the early translation of hieroglyphic Egyptian, and the initial emphasis on finds of museum quality. Initially, Egyptian archaeology was perceived as a technique to find more texts and objects, while archaeological observations were readily explained from the textual data. Only recently has the archaeology of Egypt become a specialism in its own right, generating its own specific data, although often still haunted by legacies of the past. The latter also concern the study of the pastoral nomads that regularly occur in the Egyptian textual records, most famously the Medjay during the Middle Kingdom (1975–640 BCE) and the Blemmyes in Graeco-Roman times (332 BCE–641 CE). These groups are often associated with specific archaeological phenomena; the Medjay with the pan-graves, so called because they are shaped like a frying pan; the Blemmyes with Eastern Desert Ware, well-burnished hand-made cups and bowls with incised decorations.

A recent study of Eastern Desert Ware, which included chemical analysis of the ceramic matrix and the organic residues in the vessels, as well as ethnography and experimental archaeology, indicated that Eastern Desert Ware was probably made and used by a group of pastoral nomads, but did not provide any evidence towards their identification or association with any specific group mentioned in the textual sources. Such is also hampered by the scholarly interest in the remains left in the Eastern Desert, between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea, by outsiders while little research has been done on the pastoral nomads living in that area. The archaeological study of the latter requires a specialized approach, combining the study of ephemeral campsites and low-density surface scatters with data on the environment, the available resources and the routes of the nomads. This methodology will be very similar for the study of pastoral nomads, mobile groups of hunter-gatherers or sections of a settled population that have temporarily been displaced. Specialists in these fields should work together to come to an archaeology of mobility to increase our understanding of people on the move.

Daniel Fleming (Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, NYU)
Kingship of City and Tribe Conjoined: Zimri-Lim at Mari

The cuneiform archives of early second-millennium Mari have provided a frequent point of reference for understanding mobile pastoralism in the entire ancient Near East. Any reconstruction must take account of Mari’s palace correspondence, in which shepherds, their activities, and their affiliates make regular appearances. Interpretation of the Mari evidence has evolved in part with changing understanding of nomadism, pastoralism, and tribal organization. At the same time, understanding of the society manifest in the Mari texts has changed substantially with the past twenty-five years of French publication and analysis. This change has only begun to be digested by those beyond the immediate circle of Mari research.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the conclusion that Zimri-Lim, the king whose palaces contained the overwhelming majority of cuneiform tablets found at Mari, was identified with the Binu Sim’al tribal association. Mari was the center of a substantial kingdom, with its core territory divided into districts with governors and palaces, all secondary versions of the central administration. According to most analyses, the kingdom based at Mari would qualify as an archaic state. With or without this terminology, this sort of multi-tiered administration is not generally associated with tribal social organization in the ancient world. In fact, Zimri-Lim ruled his kingdom by two parallel structures, aside from his core leadership circle. District governors administered towns and their lands, while his Binu Sim’al tribal kinsmen led by two “chiefs of pasture.”

In my previous work, I focused on the collective aspect of political life in each main dimension of the Mari kingdom. For this event, I will explore the royal center in this dual system. In particular, I am interested in how Zimri-Lim managed the tribal chiefs of pasture, whose authority did not entirely depend on royal appointment and support. In this political framework mobile herding groups and their tribal social units were inseparable from the rule of states, integrated as equal political players, with settled and mobile communities woven together into one social fabric.

Anatoly Khazanov (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Specific Characteristics of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Pastoralism in the Near East

Archaeologists studying the pastoralists of the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages in the Near East (and in the Eurasian steppes as well) sometimes perceive them in the image of the pastoral nomads of the Iron Age and later historical periods. This is a certain anachronism that does not take into account significant differences between those pastoralisms which can not be reduced to chronology. Specialized forms of pastoral nomadism based on mounted animals (camels and horses) that serve simultaneously as beasts of burden for transportation of household belongings and other goods, and as additional sources of milk and meat products emerged only in the first millennium BCE. Horses and camels drastically increased the pastoralist’s mobility, opened new avenues of communication and resource exploitation, and allowed utilization of remote pastures, especially in the desert and semi-desert areas. Grazing territories available to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age pastoralists were more limited and, therefore, the composition and size of their herds was also more limited. I would also add that without riding animals and mounted warfare, they would lack a military advantage over their settled neighbors.

For these reasons, I suspect that there had been few, if any, pure pastoralists in the Near East until the first millennium BCE. The majority had to supplement stock-raising with cultivation, trade, or other occupations. In any case their dependence on sedentary agricultural and urban groups and societies had been even greater than in the later periods. These circumstances made early pastoralism even less self-sustained than its latter varieties. It is possible that in many cases those pastoralists did not constitute separate societies, but rather were a specialized but integrated part of the larger agrarian-urban societies within a kinship idiom, sociopolitical organization, or other institutions.

Thomas Levy (Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego)
Pastoral Nomads and Iron Age Metal Production in Ancient Edom

Research on ancient pastoral nomadic and tribal interactions in the Middle East have been both helped and hindered by reliance on ethnohistorical and anthropological data. The rich ethnographies of the 19th and early 20th centuries concerning the nomads of the southern Levant have colored our perceptions of the structure and nature of pastoral nomadic societies in antiquity. These data have often influenced researchers to create false dichotomies between tribes and ‘the state’ in the ancient Near East. New archaeological data from southern Jordan are forcing researchers to confront some of these assumptions. Iron Age excavations in Jordan’s copper ore rich Faynan district, located in the Saharo-Arabian desert zone bordering the Arabah valley that separates modern Jordan and Israel, have revealed two seemingly anomalous discoveries dating to the 10th century BCE. These include an unusually large cemetery containing an estimated 3,000 tombs attributed to a pastoral nomadic population on the one hand, and the southern Levant’s largest Iron Age copper ore smelting factory site on the other. This paper explores the relationship between the nomadic population (attribute to the Shasu nomads known from ancient Egyptian sources) buried in the cemetery at Wadi Fidan 40 with the nearby industrial scale copper production site of Khirbat en-Nahas. The results help shed light on the role of nomadic tribal societies and the multiple pathways to secondary state formation in ancient southern Levant.

Bertille Lyonnet (Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques, Paris)
Urban Sites or Central Places for Mobile Groups? Questions about the Circular ”Cities” of Northern Mesopotamia

If agreement is easy concerning the identification of mobile groups when architecture is almost non-existent, the debate is harsh and uneasy to solve when we are dealing with standing houses, public buildings and ramparts. The discussion will mainly concern the so-called Kranzhügel (Tell Beydar, Tell Chuera, Mari, etc.) and round small sites (Umm el Marra, Al Rawda) of 3rd millennium northern Syria. The idea is: to list and analyze the different arguments given by both sides, those who defend the idea of sedentaries on the one hand, and those who defend the idea of mobile groups on the other, to raise questions about the basis of these arguments.

Hopefully, this study will help in banishing all the impressionist and “common sense” ideas, and establishing a better definition of these strange settlements and of the population living there.

Anne Porter (School of Religion, University of Southern California)
Beyond dimorphism: how mobility shapes, and has shaped, the ancient Near East

This paper focuses on the profound socio-psychological separation that is thought to distinguish mobile populations from sedentary ones and its relationship to the ancient world, both in terms of how the idea of separateness colors our understanding of the interaction of pastoralist and farmer, and how separate these two groups actually were in the past. I will argue that evidence from the third and second millennia BCE suggest that this was not an original, or innate, condition, but one created at certain points in time for various reasons, usually political ones. This however has been obscured by the influence contemporary experience has had on the formulation of models of antiquity.

Robert Ritner (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
Egypt and the Vanishing Libyan: Institutional Responses to a Nomadic People

As the world’s first nation state, Egypt by the beginning of the Dynasty 1 had suppressed whatever internal tribes may once have existed. Later Egyptian contacts with tribal societies, and nomadic groups in particular, were marked by sometimes tortured efforts to comprehend social and territorial organization that defied Egyptian standards and expectations. Mirroring the ancient society it studies, the modern discipline of Egyptology has devoted little interest to “alien” notions of tribalism or pastoral nomadism, yet these features had continued impact on the intellectual and political history of Egypt, especially with regard to its often ignored western border.

In this lecture, the evolving relationship between Egypt and Libya will be traced from the Predynastic era into the New Kingdom to illustrate the varying strategies employed by the Egyptian state to incorporate Libya within official ideology and thereby control its restive western neighbors. Within this process, and as a result of the nature of Libyan society, pattern-book victory scenes replace specific historical depictions, “Execration texts” ignore all specifics of Libyan rulership, costumed “mummers” are substituted for obligatory Libyans in religious festivals, and failed attempts are made to impose an Egyptianized state.

Steven A. Rosen (Department of Bible, Archaeology, and Ancient Near East, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
History Does Not Repeat Itself: Cyclicity and Particularism in Nomad-Sedentary Relations in the Negev in the Long Term

Examination of the long term record of basic relations between sedentary societies and their desert nomadic cousins suggests complexities whose explanations lie both in the explication of general patterns of state-tribal relations and in the specifics of the historical circumstances. General patterns can be seen most clearly in the development of economic asymmetries between the desert regions and the agricultural zone, primarily a function of basic ecological contrasts. Historically contingent factors lie in the political exigencies of relations between states, impacting also on relations with tribal groups, and in social and technological developments effecting differential change on these respective societies.

Three realms of evidence can be used in the examination of nomad-sedentary relations through long term history: ethnographic and ethnohistoric studies of present day relations, analysis of ancient texts, and archaeological study of nomadic societies. None provide a complete picture and all must be read critically, cross-referenced one against the other.

Focusing on the Negev as a case study, shifting patterns of relations between nomadic and sedentary groups can be traced over the long term, beginning with the origins of the phenomenon in the Late Neolithic and extending through classical and indeed recent times. These are reflected in fluctuating demographic patterns, changes in desert subsistence systems, changing patterns of trade relations, shifting settlement systems (including movement of the border between desert and sown), and evolving material culture systems. Archaeologically I suggest that the long span may be divided into four basic complexes, the earliest Timnian complex, the early historical complex (second millennium and early first millennium BC), the Classical complex (beginning with the Nabateans and extending through the Early Islamic period), and the recent Bedouin. Each complex shows a specific package of social, economic, technological, and ecological adaptations.

Benjamin Saidel (Department of Anthropology, East Carolina University)
Pitching Tent: Variations in the Layout of Tentcamps in the Southern Levant from the mid 1940s to the Present

Using a variety of archival and contemporary sources this paper surveys of the size and layout of tentcamps from selected portions of the southern Levant. The purpose of this paper is to provide a broader understanding of the nature of tentcamps in this region.

Eveline van der Steen (Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool)
Tribal Societies in the 19th Century: A Model

Considering the broad and diversified expertise that has come together in this seminar, I would like to focus on the basic questions of my research, and put them before the experts. My research focuses on tribes and tribal politics in the 18th and early 20th century. The reason for focusing on this period, is on the one hand the extensive sources we have from western travelers, and their elaborate descriptions of tribes and their idiosyncrasies, on the other hand the developments within the Ottoman empire and the impact this had on the local tribal societies. This offers a unique window on a period and a society that may offer clues for the understanding of tribal societies in the past, within the context of ancient world systems. I shall illustrate these research questions using several case studies from the 19th century sources.

Donald Whitcomb (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
Arab Tribes and the Foundation of the Islamic State

The popular image of bedouin tribes erupting out of Arabia, conquering two mighty empires, and founding a sophisticated state of lasting duration has always posed a problem for historians. The crux of this momentous change seems to be a matter of interpretation, specifically the nature of the Banu Umayya dynasty during the late seventh century.

Recently two popular biographies have appeared: that of the Caliph Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan by R. Stephen Humphries, and that of ‘Abd al-Malik by Chase F. Robinson. The former book assembles in great detail the tribal background and maneuverings which allowed Mu’awiya to behave as an amir in Syria, first as governor and then as Caliph in Damascus. Only a few years thereafter, ‘Abd al-Malik seems to have successfully shifted this tribal structure into that of a state, one that would be symbolized in his Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Neither of these historians has utilized the rapidly increasing corpus of archaeological information for the Umayyad period. This involves evidence of the settlement of large numbers of immigrants from the Hijaz and southern Arabia. While the explanation of the amsar, the so-called garrison towns such as Basra, Kufa, Fustat, does not seem to pertain to Syria, the phenomenon of the “desert castles” has been interpreted as sedentism in peripheral meeting places by authorities with the tribal affiliates. As an example, the identification of Sinnabra near Tabariya offers a tangible manifestation as a seasonal governmental center for the above-mentioned Caliphs and their peripatetic court. New evidence of sedentization in this period has been adduced at Qinnasrin and several other archaeological sites.

This historical development of this tribal state should be seen in the context of a Christian population and governmental structures adopted from the former Byzantine state. The incorporation of archaeological information brings the possibility of economic interpretations as well as political and social organization to this important and highly relevant example of “tribes as states” in the Middle East.

Respondents

  • Thomas Barfield (Department of Anthropology, Boston University)
  • Frank Hole (Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Conference Schedule

Participant Bios

Abbas Alizadeh (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Abbas Alizadeh received his PhD from the University of Chicago, and as director of the Oriental Institute’s Iranian Prehistoric Project he has led surveys and excavations in Khuzestan and the Marv Dasht plain. His recent publications include Excavations at the Prehistoric Mound of Chogha Bonut, Khuzestan, Iran, Seasons 1976/77, 1977/78, and 1996 (Oriental Institute 2003); The Origins of State Organizations in Prehistoric Highland Fars, Southern Iran: Excavations at Tall-e Bakun (Oriental Institute 2006); Alizadeh A., N. Kouchoukos, T. J. Wilkinson, A. M. Bauer, M. Mashkour, “Human-Environment Interactions on the Upper Khuzestan Plains, Southwest Iran. Recent investigations,” Paléorient 30 (2004); and “Some Observations Based on the Nomadic Character of Fars Prehistoric Cultural Development,” in N. F. Miller, and K. Abdi (eds.), Yeki Bud, Yeki Nabud: Essays on the Archaeology of Iran in Honor of William M. Sumner (2003).

Thomas Barfield (Department of Anthropology, Boston University)

Thomas Barfield is a social anthropologist who has done extensive research on contemporary and historical pastoral nomadism in Central and Inner Asia over the past thirty years. His works include an ethnography of a pastoral society in northern Afghanistan (The Central Asian Arabs of Afghanistan: Pastoral Nomadism in Transition [1981]), a historical analysis of state formation by nomads in Mongolia and Manchuria (The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, [1989]), a cross-cultural study of nomadic pastoralism (The Nomadic Alternative [1993]), and a coauthored book that documented the varieties of nomadic dwellings found in Afghanistan (A. Szabo & Barfield, Afghanistan: An Atlas of Indigenous Domestic Architecture [1992]). He has also published on Middle Eastern tribes (“Turk, Persian, and Arab: Changing Relationships Between Tribes and State in Iran and Along its Frontiers,” in N. R. Keddie and R. Matthee [eds.] Iran and the Surrounding World: Interactions in Culture and Cultural Politics [2002]; “Tribe and state relations: The Inner Asian perspective,” in P. Khoury and J. Kostiner [eds.] Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East [1991], and on the use of anthropological models in archaeology (“Archaeology as Anthropology of the Long Term,” in Archaeology is Anthropology, S. Gillespie and D. Nichols (eds.) [2003]).

Hans Barnard (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA)

Hans Barnard has participated as ceramicist, photographer, physical anthropologist, and surveyor in archaeological projects in Armenia, Chile, Egypt, Iceland, Panama, and Yemen. He is the editor of Theory and Practice of Archaeological Residue Analysis (with Jelmer Eerkens) (Archaeopress 2007) and The Archaeology of Mobility: Old World and New World Nomadism (with Willeke Wendrich) (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology 2007), and the author of several articles on ceramic analysis and the relation between Eastern Desert Ware and the pastoral nomads of the desert between the Nile and the Red Sea, including: H. Barnard et al., “Mixed Results of Seven Methods for Organic Residue Analysis Applied to One Vessel With the Residue of a Known Foodstuff,” Journal of Archaeological Science 34/1 (2007); H. Barnard and A. A. Magid, ” Eastern Desert Ware from Tabot (Sudan): More Links to the North,” Archéologie du Nil Moyen 10 (2006); and H. Barnard, “Additional Remarks on Blemmyes, Beja and Eastern Desert Ware,” Ägypten und Levante 17 (2007).

Daniel Fleming (Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, NYU)

Daniel Fleming has written extensively on society and religion in the ancient Near East, with particular interest in cuneiform evidence from second-millennium Syria and in the Bible. In his recent book, Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance (Cambridge 2004), he considers the political landscape of ancient Mesopotamia from the vantage of the royal correspondence of Mari, where tribal kings ruled from an established urban center. Fleming has also worked extensively on the Late Bronze town of Emar in western Syria, with study of its ritual traditions in The Installation of Baal’s High Priestess at Emar (Eisenbrauns 1992) and Time at Emar (Eisenbrauns 2000).

Frank Hole (Department of Anthropology, Yale University)

Frank Hole received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1961. He has taught at Rice University, served as head of the Anthropology Division of the Yale Peabody Museum and as C. J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology at Yale. He has carried out archaeological, ethnographic and land use research in the Near East in Iran and Syria, focusing primarily on the origins of agriculture and the subsequent development of agrarian societies in the Near East. His extremely influential publications concerning ancient pastoral nomadism include The Archaeology of Western Iran: Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest (Smithsonian 1987); “Pastoral Nomadism in Western Iran,” in R. A. Gould (ed.) Explorations in Ethnoarchaeology (1978); “Rediscovering the Past in the Present: Ethnoarchaeology in Luristan, Iran,” in C. Kramer, (ed.), Ethnoarchaeology: Implications of Ethnography for Archaeology (1979); “The Prehistory of Herding: Some Suggestions from Ethnography,” in M-Th Barrelet, et al. (eds.), L’archéologie de l’Iraq: du début de l’époque néolithique à 333 avant notre ère (1980); and “Campsites of the Seasonally Mobile in Western Iran,” in K. von Folsach K., H. Thrane, and H. Thuesen (eds), From Handaxe to Khan. Essays Presented to Peder Mortensen on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday (2004). More recently he has been a member of an interdisciplinary team in the Center for Earth Observation at Yale and has carried out a number of land-use change studies using time-series satellite image analysis and ground truth observations in the Kabur region of northeast Syria.

Anatoly Khazanov (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Anatoly Khazanov is the Ernest Gellner Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In addition to pastoral nomadism, his research has spanned the fields of historical anthropology, cultural change and globalization, ethnicity and nationalism, collective memory and public symbolism, transitions from authoritarian/totalitarian rule, anthropology of world religions, and Jewish studies. He has conducted research in Russia, Central Asia, including Khazakstan and Uzbekistan, and Israel. He is the author and editor of several influential books and articles including Nomads and the Outside World (Wisconsin 2nd edition 1994); Pastoralism in the Levant: Archaeological Materials in Anthropological Perspectives (co-edited with Ofer Bar-Yosef) (Prehistory Press 1992); and Nomads in the Sedentary World (co-edited with André Wink) (Routledge 2001). He is a member of the UNESCO International Institute for the Study of Nomadic Civilizations, and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Thomas E. Levy (Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego)

Thomas Levy’s research focuses primarily on the evolution of complex societies, especially chiefdoms, in the southern Levant and deep-time studies of the role of technology on the evolution of societies from the Neolithic (ca. 7,500 BCE) to the Iron Age (ca. 1200 to 500 BCE). He has directed excavations at Shiqmim, Gilat, and Nahal Tillah in Israel, and the Jabal Hamrat Fidan and the Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Projects in Jordan. His publications include: Archaeology, Anthropology and Cult: The Sanctuary at Gilat, Israel (editor, 2006, London: Equinox Publishing Ltd); T. E. Levy et al, “Archaeology and the Shasu Nomads: Recent Excavations in the Jabal Hamrat Fidan, Jordan,” in R. E. Friedman and W. H. Propp (eds.), Le-David Maskil: A Birthday Tribute for David Noel Freedman (2004); T. E. Levy et al 2005; “Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies: Edomite State Formation, the Bible and Recent Archaeological Research in Southern Jordan,” in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating - Archaeology, Text and Science, pp. 129-163, (T. E. Levy and T. Higham, Eds., London: Equinox Publishing Ltd); “Transhumance, Subsistence, and Social Evolution in the Northern Negev Desert,” in O. Bar Yosef and A. Khazanov (eds.) Pastoralism in the Levant: Archaeological Material in Anthropological Perspectives, (1992); Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan (2007, co-edited with P. M. Michèle Daviau, R. W. Younker, and M. Shaer; London: Equinox), and most recently, Journey to the Copper Age – Archaeology in the Holy Land (2007, San Diego Museum of Man).

Bertille Lyonnet (Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques, Paris)

Bertille Lyonnet has conducted archaeological surveys and excavations in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, the North-West Caucasus and most recently in Azerbaijan. She has a longstanding interest in pastoral nomadism in a variety of periods and regions ranging from post-Hellenistic Bactria to Syria in the third millennium BCE. She is the editor of Prospection archéologique du Haut-Khabur occidental (Syria du N.E.) Volume 1 (2000) and the author of “Le peuplement de la Djéziré occidentale au début du 3e millénaire, villes circulaires et pastoralisme: questions et hypotheses”, in M. Lebeau (ed.) About Subartu (1998); “L’occupation des marges arides de la Djéziré: pastoralisme et nomadisme aux débuts de 3e et du 2e millénaire,” in B. Geyer (ed.) Conquête de la steppe et appropriation des terres sur les marges arides du Croissant Fertile (2001); “Le nomadisme et l’archéologie: problèmes d’identification. Le cas de la partie Occidentale de la Djéziré aux 3ème et début du 2ème millénaire avant notre ère,” in C. Nicolle (ed.) Nomades et sédentaires dans le Proche-Orient ancien (2004). She is also the editor of Les cultures du Caucase, VIe-IIIe millénaires avant notre ère, leurs relations avec le Proche-Orient (CNRS Editions, ERC 2007).

Anne Porter (School of Religion, University of Southern California)

Anne Porter received her PhD from the University of Chicago, and specializes in the complex societies of Mesopotamia from the fourth to mid-second millennium BCE. As co-director of the Euphrates Archaeology Project, she has been excavating at the Tell Banat settlement complex in Syria. She is the author of “The Dynamics of Death: Ancestors, Pastoralism and the Origins of a Third Millennium City in Syria” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 325 (2002) and “Communities in Conflict: Death and the Contest for Social Order in the Euphrates River Valley” Near Eastern Archaeology 65/3 (2002); “You say Potato, I say…Typology, Chronology and the Origin of the Amorites,” in C. Marro and C. Kuzucuoglu (eds.),Sociétés humaines et changement climatique à la fin du Troisième Millénaire: une crise a-t-elle eu lieu en Haute-Mésopotamie? (in press). She is currently working a book provisionally titled Mobilizing the Past.

Robert Ritner (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Robert Ritner specializes in Roman, Hellenistic, Late and Third Intermediate Period (Libyan and Nubian) Egypt. He is currently working on a study of Libyan dynastic rule in Egypt, tracing cross-cultural interactions from Predynastic through Saite eras, entitled Libya in Egypt: the Impact of Tribalism on Dynasties 19 through 26. A portion of this work was presented in “Fragmentation and Re-integration in the Third intermediate Period,” paper given at a conference on The Libyan Period in Egypt: Historical and Chronological Problems of the Third Intermediate Period, Leiden, 2007. He has also published over 100 works on Egyptian religion, magic, medicine, language and literature, and social and political history, including recently, “The Cardiovascular System in Egyptian Thought,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65 (2006), and “‘And Each Staff Transformed into a Snake’: The Serpent Wand in Ancient Egypt,” in K. Szpakowska (ed.), Through a Glass Darkly: Magic, dreams and prophecy in Ancient Egypt, (2006). He has also served as academic advisor to two recent British Museum exhibits “Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth,” and “Eternal Egypt,” and he has served as consultant and lecturer for the traveling Cairo Museum exhibit “Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt.”

Steven A. Rosen (Department of Bible, Archaeology, and Ancient Near East, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Steve Rosen received his PhD from the University of Chicago, and has excavated a number of sites in Israel and Turkey, most recently at Ramat Saharonim (“Investigations at Ramat Saharonim: A Desert Neolithic Sacred Precinct in the Central Negev” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 346 [2007]). He is the editor of the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society, and his interests and expertise are apparent in his publications, among them Lithics after the Stone Age: A handbook of Stone Tools from the Levant (AltaMira 1997); The ‘Oded Sites: Investigations at Two Early Islamic Pastoral Encampments in the South Central Negev (with Gideon Avni) (Ben Gurion 1997); “The Tyranny of Texts: A Rebellion against the Primacy of Written Documents in Defining Archaeological Agendas,” in A. M. Maeir, and P. De Miroschedji (eds.), “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times” Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion on His Sixtieth Birthday; and “The Nabateans as Pastoral Nomads: An Archaeological Perspective,” in K. D. Politis (ed.), The World of the Nabataeans (2007).

Benjamin Saidel (Department of Anthropology, East Carolina University)

Benjamin Saidel’s research focuses on tribe-state interactions in the southern Levant during proto-historical and historical periods. He is the co-editor with Eveline van der Steen of On the Fringe of Society: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives on Pastoral and Agricultural Societies (Archeopress 2007). His recent publications include “Test Excavations at Rogem Be’erotayim in Western Negev,” Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society 36 (2006), “On the Periphery of an Agricultural Hinterland in the Negev Highlands: Rekhes Nafha 396 in the Sixth through the Eighth Centuries C.E.,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 64 (2005), and “The Bedouin Tent. An Ethno-archaeological Portal to Antiquity or a Modern Construct?” in H. Barnard and W. Wendrich (eds.), The Archaeology of Mobility: Old World and New World Nomadism (2007). He is working with Mordechai Haiman to publish Haiman’s excavations of ten Early Bronze Age sites in the Negev from 1980 to 1983.

Jeffrey Szuchman (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Jeffrey Szuchman is an archaeologist who has excavated at sites in Turkey and Israel. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Oriental Institute. His research focuses on the consequences of Middle Assyrian (ca. 1400–1050 BCE) expansion and administration for the sedentarization and ultimate state formation of Late Bronze Age pastoral nomadic tribes in north Syria and southeast Turkey. He is working on a book entitled The End of the Bronze Age in Northern Mesopotamia: Middle Assyrian Hanigalbat and the Rise of the Arameans, and is the author of “Mobility and Sedentarization in Late Bronze Age Syria,” in H. Barnard and W. Wendrich (eds.), The Archaeology of Mobility: Old World and New World Nomadism (2008).

Eveline van der Steen (School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool)

Eveline van der Steen’s work focuses on the development of tribal societies in Israel/Palestine and Transjordan, and the phenomenon of tribal state formation in various archaeological periods, using ethnohistorical models based on Late Ottoman (18th to early 20th century AD) developments in the region. She is also involved with the Wadi Arabah Project, which aims to study the Wadi Arabah as a historically dynamic area linking southern Jordan with the Negev. The is the author of Tribes and Territories in Transition: the Central East Jordan Valley in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Ages: a Study of the Sources (Peeters 2004); “Nineteenth-Century Travellers in the Wadi Arabah,” in P. Bienkowski and K. Galor (eds.), Crossing the Rift: Resources, Routes, Settlement Patterns and Interaction in the Wadi Arabah (2006); “The Sanctuaries of Early Bronze Age Ib Megiddo: Evidence of a Tribal Polity?,” American Journal of Archaeology 109 (2004); and co-editor with Benjamin Saidel ofOn the Fringe of Society: Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological Perspectives on Pastoral and Agricultural Societies (Archaeopress 2007). She is also preparing the excavation report of Tell el-Mazar, a Late Iron/Persian site in the east Jordan Valley.

Donald Whitcomb (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

Donald Whitcomb is an Islamic archaeologist who has excavated in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iran. He has served as the director of the Islamic Project at Aqaba and member of the Wadi Arabah project. His recent work has focused on sedentarization, urbanization, and interregional trade. He is the editor of Changing Social Identity with the Spread of Islam, Archaeological Perspectives (Oriental Institute 2004), and author of “Archaeological Evidence of Sedentarization: Bilad al-Sham in the Early Islamic Period,” in S. Hauser (ed.) Die Sichtbarkeit von Nomaden und saisonaler Besiedlung in der Archäologie: Multidisziplinäre Annährerungen an ein methodisches Problem (2006); “Islamic Archaeology and the “Land behind Baghdad” in E. Stone (ed.) Settlement and Society. Essays Dedicated to Robert McCormick Adams (2007); and “Land behind Aqaba: The Wadi Arabah during the Early Islamic Period” in P. Bienkowski and K. Galor (eds.), Crossing the Rift: Resources, Routes, Settlement Patterns and Interaction in the Wadi Arabah (2006).

For information and free registration, contact

Jeffrey Szuchman (Organizer)
Post-Doctoral Scholar
Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
1155 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
USA
szuchman@uchicago.edu
Tel. +1 (773) 702-7497

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