These examples are dealt with as emblematic cases of different models of society, types of interaction with alien groups, levels of integration, and development dynamics. By analyzing and comparing these examples, the paper aims to show how interethnic contact impacted differently on different societies according to their types, the reasons and purposes of the interaction, and the degree of integration achieved.
Intercultural contacts and community interactions not only are well-attested in archaeology, but also have often been the main focus of interest by scholars. One of the main reasons why these phenomena have acquired such importance in archaeological research is that the dynamics of cultural transmission have indeed been one of the main drivers of processes of change 1. Different schools of anthropology have variously explained cultural contacts by emphasizing either population movements or interaction spheres and hybridization, technological transfer, or exchange and trade.
The world-system model has been applied to early societies, being based on the theoretical assumption that unequal and unbalanced trade relations between different ethnic groups necessarily result in the acquisition of the dominant group model by all of the communities involved in the relationship. This approach does not sufficiently account for the variety and complexity of the dynamics of contacts and mingling among prehistoric communities, which depend on the different social and economic structures and needs of the populations involved.
These boundaries were, in my opinion, attenuated and flexible in prestate and early-state societies, when political territories and borders had not yet been precisely established 9 , In these societies, the individual and group identities may have been more related to their social and cultural affinities belonging to tribes, villages, kinship groups, clans, etc.
The flexibility of boundaries in prestate societies was probably one of the main conditions for the constant and widespread movements of individuals and groups, which are well-attested in several pre- and protohistoric societies in various regions of the Near East.
The very wide circulation of objects and materials and the appearance of culturally hybrid features may have been the result of a variety of forms and ways of contact, ranging from repeated or occasional events—meetings, feasting, etc.
But the question one has to ask when trying to recognize the possible different groups coming into contact is how we can define them: Were they different ethnic groups?
And what perception did these groups have of themselves and of their diversity? The relation between ethnicity and culture in the study of societies of archaeological interest is one of the most complex issues, particularly when the analysis has to depend exclusively on sources of material culture, as is the case with prehistoric societies.
But, in recent times, some authors have correctly shown that such a difference is of subtle or negligible importance, if not nonexistent 17 — Looking at the C. Renfrew statements about ethnicity 20 , he uses a multifactor definition including shared culture community of customs and beliefs , religion, common descent, shared history that means shared memory and myths , a shared language and name, and a shared territory ref.
Ethnicity is therefore the construction of a common identity based on the perception of common origin, history, traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, and possibly language. Were the differences that we observe in the material culture consciously exhibited expressions of a group identity? The first thing to establish is whether a group, while manifesting cultural features of different origins, symbolically tends to emphasize or minimize them.
The differences may be annulled as the result of a powerful process of integration, whose outcome can be either the hybridization of the two cultures or the supremacy of one over the other, with the effect of doing away with the original multicultural situation. The community self-perception can therefore change over time by incorporating original multiple identities into one.
The third crucial aspect of the problem we are addressing here is the role played by the various forms of interaction and cultural integration in the social change that possibly occurred in the communities involved. We are now going to examine some examples of prehistoric Near Eastern societies that we can consider as being wholly or partly multiethnic, each characterized by different patterns of interaction and degrees of integration.
We will try to highlight the peculiarities and the differences, as well as the different impacts these various modes of interaction had on the processes of social and cultural change. Each of these cases is emblematic, in its own way, of different modalities, motivations, and effects of contact, and thus offer the opportunity to analyze the social and cultural impact of different forms of contact and perhaps ethnic mixing.
The first case I would like to consider here concerns the societies living in Upper Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium BCE. Northern and Southern Mesopotamia had been characterized by deeply different types of societies in the sixth millennium BCE, albeit linked to each other by repeated and continuous relations and contacts over more than two millennia How and why did this far-reaching change take place?
How long did this process last? What does the disappearance of the Halaf culture mean? Is there any evidence of a mixing of different cultural groups, and what was the nature of the hybridization process? To thoroughly understand the dimension of this phenomenon, one must start by examining the main features characterizing the Halaf societies and comparing them with the characteristics of the new society. The sixth millennium communities occupying Upper Mesopotamia and its neighborhoods were small or very small communities spread over a very vast territory incorporating different environments, from the wide steppe of Jezira to the mountainous regions of Eastern Anatolia Fig.
The villages consisted of scattered round houses with secondary small structures dispersed in the open areas between the main buildings Fig. It is very difficult, judging from the ground plans of the few extensively excavated Halaf villages, to recognize individual family spaces because the domestic activities seem to have been carried out in the open spaces, probably largely shared, or in structures showing no clear connection with individual houses.
This picture is well in keeping with the settlement patterns and the subsistence economy of these societies. The Halaf villages were usually grouped into small neighboring settlements, which often seem not to have been occupied simultaneously, with the population shifting from one to another in the course of time, sometimes reflecting an integrated modular system of occupation or suggesting more general community segmentation processes 23 , The archaeological data recovered in the Halaf sites, as in the previous Neolithic communities of the Jezira, reveal the integration of various activities agriculture, animal rearing, hunting , probably conducted by groups or sectors of the population on a seasonal basis, in a kind of community specialization that may have required the products to be redistributed and circulated widely in a sort of regional integrated system.
The existence of such a system is supported by the presence in various settlements of large multicell buildings used as communal storehouses 25 , No religious or ceremonial buildings have been found in these villages, and no evidence of a hierarchically structured society is recognizable, either in the settlements or in burial customs. All of the evidence therefore suggests that the seventh and sixth millennia communities of Upper Mesopotamia were markedly egalitarian. The change observed in Northern Mesopotamia and beyond in the fifth millennium BCE is striking and accompanied by the introduction of several new elements of material culture of southern origin, as well as by totally new types of settlement and social organization.
One of the best-known sites where the change has been documented fairly well is Tepe Gawra, a site extensively excavated in past times in eastern Upper Mesopotamia 27 , 28 , where new architectural models and new types of pottery and other artifacts, all reminiscent of southern types, emerged together with a wholly new society. We may hypothesize that the subsistence economy also changed toward a less varied and more agriculturally oriented production system, as suggested by the more stable sedentary population and the slightly larger sites although their size is not comparable with those of the contemporary southern settlements.
The society seems to have ceased being totally egalitarian. A temple area with tripartite buildings similar to the Southern Mesopotamian temples even in the decoration of the walls with pillars and recessed niches dominated the settlement in the late Ubaid phase at Tepe Gawra, in level XIII Fig.
An emergent hierarchy therefore seems to have appeared in this site, probably linked to the management of worship, temple activities, and redistribution, as was also the case in Lower Mesopotamia. A certain emergent elite at least partly controlling the circulation of staple products is suggested by the fact that redistribution practices, indicated by the rich assemblages of seals and sealings—a tool previously used in the Neolithic communal storehouses in this same region 25 —were concentrated in temples and some houses.
The changed function of sealing practices is very significant: They ceased to be used for regulating forms of collective redistribution in egalitarian contexts and rather became an instrument of control over the circulation of goods in prestige and somehow unequal circuits 29 , Indeed, the sealing of the containers kept in the houses suggests unequal economic relations between the families. The growth of unequal relations in northern societies was something completely alien to the local Halaf socioeconomic system, whose reproduction seems to have been guaranteed for a long time by the perfect working of some leveling devices, such as, perhaps, the fission of communities to maintain the small dimension of villages, or the collective storage and redistribution practices, which had been very effective to maintain egalitarian relationships for almost two millennia.
It is possible, or even probable, that the Halaf societies went into crisis at the very end of the sixth millennium BCE, due to their remarkable demographic and geographical expansion, which may have met social and environmental constraints. The possible adoption of new sociopolitical models from Southern Mesopotamia may have therefore been an answer to this crisis. But, how might they have been introduced? And how did the physical contact and interaction between the two cultures take place? There is some evidence to suggest that the powerful interference from Southern Mesopotamian cultures in the life of northern communities was largely due to the movements northwards of some people, perhaps in small groups, for some reasons settling in new areas, or even sites, formerly occupied by the Halaf groups, with whom the southern communities had traditionally had capillary and continuous relations for a long time.
This long interaction may have facilitated the contact and the mutual acceptance of the two groups. But, how did the two societies mingle and assimilate each other to the point that the old local culture seems to have disappeared?
Interesting archaeological evidence of a possible physical movement of people from the South is again recognizable at Gawra: In one of the earliest fifth millennium levels level XV , two tripartite buildings have been unearthed that show the same layout as the houses found in the Hamrin valley, further south 31 Fig. The pottery also shows a fairly radical change: It was still, although less frequently, painted, but in the new Ubaid style Fig. And the presence in some sites of eastern Jezira of sherds with Halaf decoration and Ubaid manufacture techniques side by side with sherds of Halaf ware decorated in the Ubaid style, may suggest a long period of cohabitation of people belonging to the two groups and imitating each other.
Other sites on the western and northern borders of Upper Mesopotamia—T. Kosak Shamali, Tell el Abr, Kenan Tepe, Domuztepe 32 — 35 —although less extensively investigated, have also revealed a fifth millennium occupation dating back to the beginning of the period, thus proving the contemporary introduction of the new Ubaid-related cultural elements in the whole of the northern region.
Various northern elements have also been readapted to the needs of the new society, and new features emerged. Mass-produced bowls and the use of sealing practices were therefore both a development of northern traits in the new hybrid society to answer the needs brought about by the emerging forms of social, and embryonically economic inequality.
Only afterward were sealing practices also adopted in Southern Mesopotamia and Susiana at the very end of the fifth millennium BCE whereas soon afterward the mass production of bowls—although with various manufacturing techniques—spread over a very wide area and became one of the most distinctive feature of Late Chalcolithic societies in the whole Greater Mesopotamia and beyond.
The mingling and hybridization of the two cultures in Upper Mesopotamia therefore seems to have produced innovations that also spread north—south, opposite to the way previously taken by the main direction of cultural transmission. The intercultural interaction achieved a high degree of integration in Upper Mesopotamia and Southeast Anatolia, in which the new southern-inspired sociopolitical models adopted in the course of the fifth millennium BCE totally prevailed on the local one, radically transforming it.
The disappearance, at least as we may see it, of the indigenous Halaf culture, its subsistence modes, and organization system seems to have been the result not only of an emulation of foreign cultural components, but of having adopted the structural and social relational models of the southern neighbors, with whom they must have come into systemic contact. The long process of interaction and integration brought about far-reaching development with a high capacity for expansion and created new types of socioeconomic relations full of consequences and potential for the future.
The case dealt with here radically differs from the previous example but is equally meaningful and emblematic. It reveals the wide-ranging relations that nascent state formations established with other communities to incorporate them into the economic circuits that they themselves governed, thereby broadening their range of action. Particularly in their formative phases, such systems were mainly based on the accumulation of staple goods and labor, which, together with redistribution practices, constituted the basis of their way of operating.
The Uruk period fourth millennium BCE in the broader Mesopotamian world was a time in which these forms of centralized political, economic, and administrative systems underwent primary development, sometimes accompanied by a remarkable process of urbanization 38 — In connection with these developments, there is a great deal of archaeological evidence of the expansion of interregional relations on a large scale, encompassing a very wide area, running from the Persian Gulf to the mountains of Eastern Anatolia and beyond.
But this expansion was not only the result of the drive to expand the developed South toward a less urbanized North, as some have suggested 3 , 4 , 42 , but it was the result of the general trend in every center to interact very closely with other populations, who were somehow interfering in their sphere of action. One very clear and well-documented example of the complexity and variety of these relations is the case of Arslantepe, in the Malatya plain, in the Anatolian Upper Euphrates.
This site was a regional center lying on the borderline between different cultural worlds and geographic environments and, in the latter half of the fourth millennium, established wide-ranging relations with culturally different components. But at the same time, there is a good archaeological evidence indicating that Arslantepe also established wide-ranging relations with the Anatolian mountain peoples, probably specialized pastoralists It was with these latter groups that complex dynamics of interethnic relations were established.
This radical transformation of the public area from the temple architecture of the previous period into a fully fledged multifunctional palatial complex, which also comprised the residences of the elite, was an extraordinary and somehow precocious achievement in the process of state formation A The palatial complex.
B Animal breeding patterns. C — E Materials from the Late Chalcolithic palace period. What is most important for our purposes here is the fact that many of the changes observable in the archeological materials at Arslantepe in LC5 relate to different cultural environments, thereby suggesting that the external relations of the site expanded widely in various directions. This change shows the dominance of specialized pastoralism probably linked to the use of byproducts dairy products and wool , even though the finding of substantial quantities of bones disposed of as food waste shows that these animals were also widely used for their meat 46 , The first two changes are to be ascribed to the intensified relations established with the Mesopotamian world, of which Arslantepe seems to have been a partner interacting on an equal footing.
This privileged relationship certainly led the local elites to emulate their southern neighbors, probably considered to be very powerful, without, however, undergoing any kind of cultural, and certainly not political, submission, and without any evidence of ethnic cohabitation and mixing. The other three new features were related to each other and all together suggest a different type of interaction with the communities of the northern mountainous regions. These communities must have been transhumant pastoralist populations moving along the mountain range to the north of Arslantepe, perhaps coming down on a seasonal basis to the Euphrates Valley, where they could certainly find outlets for their products and interesting opportunities to relate to the emerging early-state centers.
These centers must have interacted with them from a position of strength, steering relations to their own benefit and incorporating the pastoralist groups into the centralized economic system. Specialized sheep pastoralism was certainly also a distinctive feature of the whole urbanized Uruk world But the fact that, on the one hand, Arslantepe was not an urban context, and, on the other, the extraordinary increase in sheep rearing on the site was accompanied by the emergence of Red-Black ware, alien to the local tradition and much more similar to north-central Anatolian examples, suggests that the development of sheep rearing on the site was due to the involvement of external pastoralist groups coming from the north, who were incorporated as a specialized productive component into the economic system governed by the Arslantepe elites.
The great development of metallurgy at the end of the fourth millennium and the close similarity between the metal objects found in the palace and those produced by the pastoralist communities, which would subsequently settle on the site after the collapse of the centralized system at the beginning of the third millennium BCE Fig. The fairly sudden appearance of a Central Anatolian-like red-black ware and its very different manufacture technology at the end of LC4, and its regular, although minor, use in the palace buildings, almost exclusively in the form of table vessels for eating and drinking and high-stemmed bowls for ceremonial use , suggest that other groups producing this pottery frequented the public area on a regular basis.
The cooccurrence of this ware and the wheel-made light-colored pottery in the Uruk tradition, both emblems of different worlds and with a powerful symbolic-identity value, reveals the desire of the different groups operating in the palace to keep their identity visible, evidencing a certain degree of self-awareness and suggesting a multiethnic composition of the population present in the Malatya plain at the end of the fourth millennium BCE.
Integrating different productive components of diverse origins and cultures into a centrally governed economic system did not therefore wipe out the identity, features, and recognizability of the groups concerned, which, on the contrary, seem to have emphasized their diversity also in practices performed inside the buildings in the palace complex. Moreover, the great variety of the iconographies and styles shown by the seal designs used in the palace, which is unique in Near Eastern glyptic assemblages 53 , suggests that these varied motifs and styles probably identified various components that, through them, represented themselves and their different identity in the administrative environment.