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Understanding Early Civilizations
A Comparative Study

  • Date Published: June 2007
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521705455


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About the Authors
  • This book offers the first detailed comparative study of the seven best-documented early civilizations: ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Shang China, the Aztecs and adjacent peoples in the Valley of Mexico, the Classic Maya, the Inka, and the Yoruba. Unlike previous studies, equal attention is paid to similarities and differences in their sociopolitical organization, economic systems, religion, and culture. Many of this study's findings are surprising and provocative. Agricultural systems, technologies, and economic behaviour turn out to have been far more diverse than was expected. These findings and many others challenge not only current understandings of early civilizations but also the theoretical foundations of modern archaeology and anthropology. The key to understanding early civilizations lies not in their historical connections but in what they can tell us about similarities and differences in human behaviour.

    • Comprehensive - first comprehensive study of how early civilizations worked
    • Comparative - a major contribution to the comparative study of human behavior
    • Challenging - calls into question conventional understandings of how a comprehensive theory of social behavior can be constructed
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This work is a milestone in the scientific study of sociocultural evolution … I know of no other comparative study of early civilizations of similar scope, depth, and originality.' Philosophy of the Social Sciences

    'Its comprehensiveness of theme, readiness to pursue profound if difficult and sometimes not readily answerable questions, and impressive control of a wide range of sources, reflect distinguished thought and dedicated effort … a major achievement.' The International History Review

    'Understanding Early Civilizations is the capstone of Trigger's remarkable archaeological career. This is, quite simply, a definitive work.' Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara

    'Trigger's study is monumental and magisterial. It is a work to treasure and digest for years to come.' Philip L. Kohl, Wellesley College

    'The latest in Trigger's impressive string of ground-breaking works … An astounding work of scholarship.' Boyce Richardson

    'This book is an extraordinary undertaking and a great achievement … It provides an accessible introduction to the problems and priorities of cross-cultural comparison and approaches to early civilisations.' Antiquity

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2007
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521705455
    • length: 774 pages
    • dimensions: 236 x 175 x 43 mm
    • weight: 1.43kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Introduction:
    1. Rationalism and relativism
    2. Comparative studies
    3. Defining 'early civilization'
    4. Evidence and interpretation
    Part II. Sociopolitical Organization:
    5. Kingship
    6. States: city and territorial
    7. Urbanism
    8. Class systems and social mobility
    9. Family organization and gender roles
    10. Administration
    11. Law
    12. Military organization
    13. Sociopolitical constants and variables
    Part III. Economy:
    14. Food production
    15. Land ownership
    16. Trade and craft specialization
    17. Appropriation of wealth
    18. Economic constants and variables
    Part IV. Cognitive and Symbolic Aspects:
    19. Conceptions of the supernatural
    20. Cosmology and cosmogony
    21. Cult
    22. Priests, festivals, and the politics of the supernatural
    23. The individual and the universe
    24. Elite art and architecture
    25. Literacy and specialized knowledge
    26. Values and personal aspirations
    27. Cultural constants and variables
    28. Culture and reason
    29. Conclusion

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Anthropology of Ancient Civilizations
    • Archaeology of Ancient Civilizations
    • Comparative Studies in Cultures
    • Early Civilizations of the Old World
    • Forensic anthropology and Bioarchaeology
    • History of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia
    • History of Greek and Roman civilizations
    • Old World Archaeology
    • Rise and Falll of Ancient States
    • Rise of Ancient Civilizations
    • The Urban Revolution
    • World Civilization I
    • World History to 1600
    • World Prehistory
  • Author

    Bruce G. Trigger, McGill University, Montréal
    Bruce G. Trigger is James McGill Professor in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University and has carried out archaeological research in Egypt and the Sudan. His current interests include the comparative study of early civilizations, the history of archaeology, and archaeological and anthropological theory. He has received various scholarly awards, including the prestigious Prix Léon-Gérin from the Quebec government, for his sustained contributions to the social sciences. He is an honorary fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and an honorary member of the Prehistoric Society (UK). His numerous books include The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (1976), A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge 1989), Early Civilizations: Ancient Egypt in Context (1993), and Sociocultural Evolution (1998), and The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume 1 (Cambridge 1996), co-edited with Wilcomb E. Washburn.

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