The earliest large cities emerged in northern Mesopotamia during the Late Chalcolithic (c. 4200 – 2900 BCE). It was a time of transformation from local village-based social structures to big cities with hierarchical societies, more sophisticated division of labour and development of central authorities towards early states. The process of urbanization is well indicated by the rapid increase in settlement size, which at Tell Brak reached more than 120 hectares in mid-4th millennium BCE. It was however not clear whether this process was due to local population growth or migration and absorption of people from different areas. A recent bioarchaeological study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology offered a new line of evidence, suggesting that the Late Chalcolithic urban growth was supported by migration. Much like today, people migrated into the city and settled in neighborhoods based around their shared migratory origins. These neighborhoods remained distinct communities that did not begin to integrate for multiple generations.
The recent volume of Bioarchaeology of the Near East contains three regular papers and eight short fieldwork reports, with a broad range of topics. Nina Maaranen and colleagues from the ERC Hyksos Enigma project present research on dental non-metric traits at Avaris, the Hyksos capital city, compared to other samples from Egypt. Their results indicate that the people of Avaris were of different ancestry than Egyptians, supporting the hypothesis that a large-scale migration from the Levant to the eastern Nile delta occurred during the Second Intermediate Period.
The length of the period of breastfeeding depends on many factors, both individual and cultural or environmental ones. In human societies that have no access to easily digested food alternatives (this refers to foragers in particular) this period is usually longer, while in farming communities, where infants are fed with porridge or yoghurt, it can be shortened. This implies demographic consequences: a mother who breastfeeds her child for a shorter time can have more children, therefore, the breastfeeding period influences the birth rate.
Sumerians are known as the founders of the urban civilization that dominated in southern Mesopotamia in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. They developed a network of irrigation channels that made it possible to cultivate cereals in desert areas of the Lower Euphrates, introduced an ideographic script, initially pictographic and then simplified to the form of cuneiform characters impressed in wet clay, built the biggest cities in the world at that time, with monumental temples and enormous palaces.
The latest issue of Antiquity published a paper presenting results of biochemical analyses of human bones from a few sites situated in north-eastern Syria, and showing on this basis that in the 22nd century BC, when the Akkadian Empire was declining, there was no change in the local economy which could be a response to a long-term drought, and even if there was a temporary climate change, the local human societies survived it in a good condition.
Despite substantial evidence on the short-term effects of adverse climate shocks, our understanding of their long-term impact is limited. To address such a key issue, research has focused on ancient societies because of their limited economic complexity and their unparalleled experience of environmental and institutional change. Notably, ‘Collapse Archaeology’ literature has reported statistical evidence consistent with the mantra that severe droughts trigger institutional crises. This view, however, has recently been challenged by literature summarized in the paper Climate Change and State Evolution by Giacomo Benati and Carmine Guerriero.
Kings of Mari controlled an important trade route in the valley of the Euphrates River in the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE. Although their country was situated in an area with unfavourable conditions for agriculture, the economy of the kingdom of Mari could support a big population. The key to understanding this paradox is animal dung.
The kingdom of Mariwas the most powerful country of north Mesopotamia in the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Its power is reflected both by the size of its capital (modern archaeological site of Tell Hariri), which occupied an area of more than 60 hectares – more than Cracow in the 13th century – and by the fact that six of its rulers were included in the Sumerian King List, that is a record of the dynasties that were regarded as those holding superior power in Sumer. The dynasty from Mari was the only dynasty from north Mesopotamia on this list.