Killing Civilization: A Reassessment of Early Urbanism and Its Consequences

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UNM Press, Apr 15, 2016 - Social Science - 368 pages

The concept of civilization has long been the basis for theories about how societies evolve. This provocative book challenges that concept. The author argues that a “civilization bias” shapes academic explanations of urbanization, colonization, state formation, and cultural horizons. Earlier theorists have criticized the concept, but according to Jennings the critics remain beholden to it as a way of making sense of a dizzying landscape of cultural variation. Relying on the idea of civilization, he suggests, holds back understanding of the development of complex societies.

Killing Civilization uses case studies from across the modern and ancient world to develop a new model of incipient urbanism and its consequences, using excavation and survey data from Çatalhöyük, Cahokia, Harappa, Jenne-jeno, Tiahuanaco, and Monte Albán to create a more accurate picture of the turbulent social, political, and economic conditions in and around the earliest cities. The book will influence not just anthropology but all of the social sciences.


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1 Civilization or Morgans Golem
2 The Golems March
3 Becoming a City
4 Çatalhöyük and the Aborted Cities of the Neolithic Near East
5 Cahokias Failure and the Creation of the Mississippian Cultural Horizon
6 Harappa and the Walled Cities of the Indus River Valley
7 Jennejeno and the Clustered Cities of the Inland Niger Delta
8 Tiahuanaco and the Creation of the Andean Middle Horizon
9 Monte Albán and the Making of a Zapotec State
10 Without Civilization
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About the author (2016)

Justin Jennings is the curator of New World archaeology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto. His recent books include Beyond Wari Walls: Regional Perspectives on Middle Horizon Peru (UNM Press), Tenahaha and the Wari State: A View of the Middle Horizon from the Cotahuasi Valley, and Globalizations and the Ancient World.

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