Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BBR 18:1 (2008) p. 135
Alan H. Simmons. The Neolithic Revolution in the Ancient Near East: Transforming the Human Landscape. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 2007. Pp. xvii + 338. ISBN 0-8165-2442-4. $55.00 cloth.
Human culture underwent a dramatic change as societies shifted from a predominantly subsistence level of hunting and gathering to communities centered on villages and sedentary food production that yielded a surplus. Simmons, professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, describes the period in which this transition is generally believed to have happened around 13,000 to 7,000 years before the present.
Even though this volume is entitled The Neolithic Revolution in the Ancient Near East, its focus is on the Levantine Corridor stretching from south of the Dead Sea up the Jordan River to the Lebanese mountains and reaching the northern portion of the Euphrates. Other areas of the ancient Near East are hardly mentioned besides, perhaps, the most important Neolithic site, Çatalhöyük, and a chapter on the “colonization” of Cyprus. Also missing are some bibliographic references that one might expect from a book on this topic such as Hans Nissen’s The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000-2000 b.c. (University of Chicago Press, 1990). The absence of references such as this is probably due to the more narrow geographic focus of this volume. While much of the data concerning the Neolithic period comes from the Levantine Corridor, fuller integration of other sites and regions would have enhanced this book.
In charting the changes of the human landscape Simmons favors an “advanced processualism” model of the adoption of sedentary food production. This is an adapted version of a theory advanced by Brian Hayden that views food as an indicator of status and power. In this model hunters and gatherers were able to create a stable source of surplus food and individuals held feasts in order to consolidate power. Domestication occurred out of the context of rival “big men” competing to outdo one another in hosting feasts. To this model Simmons also incorporates other factors such as population pressure and ecology. In time, scholars may look back on theories that emphasize the integration of power with food production more as an indicator of modern Zeitgeist and academic trendiness than ancient reality.
A particularly valuable aspect of this volume is the fact that Simmons presents many differing theories in almost every discussion. This is of great value since it indicates areas of debate that are often glossed over in volumes intended for non-specialists. Furthermore, Simmons assiduously avoids the common pitfalls of labeling every unknown object as “cultic” and every Le...
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