Central Planning and Urban Emergence in Early Bronze Age Cities of Northern Mesopotamia


The dominant interpretive frameworks for the origins of Early Bronze Age (ca. 2600-2000 BC) urbanism in northern Mesopotamia all revolve around goal-oriented actions of powerful elites: planned creation of cities, their palaces, temples and walls; and the creation and manipulation of intensified staple-based political economies based on centralized storage and redistribution.  In other words, EBA cities were largely planned by central decision-makers.  In proposing an alternative model, this study employs two approaches that Tony Wilkinson mastered in the course of his career.  Empirically, it draws on the full archaeological landscape, including settlement patterns but also off-site features surrounding and between them.  It interprets these data through a dynamic modeling lens based on Wilkinson’s “Modeling Ancient Settlement Systems” (MASS) project, which attempted to see social evolution as an emergent result of actions of individuals and households, rather than only decisions of kings and other elites.  It concludes that urban form in the EBA was a product of social forces outside the concerns (or control) of elite households, and that unambiguous royal interventions in urban structure were reactions to these processes, rather than causative of them.
Last updated on 03/06/2021