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Book description

In this ground-breaking work, Norman Yoffee shatters the prevailing myths underpinning our understanding of the evolution of early civilisations. He counters the emphasis in traditional scholarship on the rule of 'godly' and despotic male leaders and challenges the conventional view that early states were uniformly constituted bureaucratic and regional entities. Instead, by illuminating the role of slaves and soldiers, priests and priestesses, peasants and prostitutes, merchants and craftsmen, Yoffee depicts an evolutionary process centred on the concerns of everyday life. Drawing on evidence from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica, the author explores the variety of trajectories followed by ancient states, from birth to collapse, and explores the social processes that shape any account of the human past. This book offers a bold new interpretation of social evolutionary theory, and as such it is essential reading for any student or scholar with an interest in the emergence of complex society.


'Myths of the Archaic State clears away the cobwebs of an earlier generation of anthropological thought and, in its strongest moments, points toward a new configuration of global history.'

Source: Science

'Norman Yoffee identifies a series of what he terms 'myths' in archaeological thought, and then proceeds to demolish them one by one, using an astonishing array of case studies, from Mesopotamia to Chaco Canyon. His book is provocative, inspirational, transformative, and so full of small (and weighty) gems that it is a pleasure to read.'

Katharina Schreiber - University of California, Santa Barbara

'A highly stimulating book that expounds a clear line of argument while maintaining an entertaining line of discourse. Yoffee has written a superb and exciting book that will provoke thought and discussion wherever it is read.'

Roger Matthews - Institute of Archaeology, University College London

'Norman Yoffee has written an elegant witty, and substantive critique of neo-evolutionary theory in archaeological anthropology.'

Philip Kohl - Wellesley College

'I strongly recommend Myths of the Archaic State to anyone interested in social evolution.'

David Webster - Pennsylvania State University

'Profoundly interesting volume.'

Bruce Trigger - McGill University

'… a very valuable and up-to-date contribution to one of the major research topics in the history of humankind.'

Source: Journal of Comparative Human Biology

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