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Mesopotamia Before History by Petr Charvát
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Mesopotamia Before History

by Petr Charvát

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Mesopotamia Before History
by Petr Charvát
Routledge, 2002
ISBN: 0203259076; Taylor & Francis digital e-Library edition (PDF), 281 p.

Review date: January, 2013 (imported from GR, February, 2014)

With over a century of solid archaeological and epigraphical study in the region of Ancient Mesopotamia now behind us, we have a decent grasp on much of the region's history and culture, and there are a fair number of books on these subjects designed for both scholarly and general readers. Most such books begin around 3000 BCE, with the advent of writing, and there is very little to be said about the prehistoric period. As something of a remedy to that situation, Charvát gives us Mesopotamia Before History.

Within the pages of this book, the author traces the archaeological record from palaeolithic times through the Early Dynastic period. Upon entering his discussion of the ED, Charvát does rely to no small extent on inscriptions, but most of these could be considered 'protohistorical', as true 'historical' documents written in the mature Sumerian cuneiform script do not appear until the final phase of the Early Dynastic. Even within the proto- and early historical periods of the region, he relies heavily upon the archaeological record.

What I liked about this book is that for each of the six pre-/protohistorical periods (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic/Epipalaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Uruk, and Jemdet Nasr/Early Dynastic), the author not only provides raw archaeological data but also a synthesis of those data. He begins each chapter with a rundown of key sites, their locations, history of excavation, and the artifacts and ecofacts found in each. He then follows with a section of interpretation, generally focusing on such areas of human culture as economy, technology, society, and metaphysics. Although I wish the first few chapters had been longer and presented more information, I commend his approach, integrating cultural anthropology into what is essentially an archaeological treatise, and using the latest research and theoretical framework when doing so.

Unfortunately, Charvát's approach suffers from a dry writing style that is not always clear, a tendency to be long-winded on certain topics, and an assumption of previous knowledge of the subject. This book is meant for the specialist, and one who has spent some time in the field of study. Especially helpful is a familiarity with cuneiform, as he relies heavily upon inscriptions in much of the second half of the book, especially when discussing toponymy and societal hierarchy.

The book includes a map and numerous photographs and drawings, as well as an extensive bibliography and an index that was perhaps not as organized as it could be, which is quite distressing because this book is a much better go-to reference on specific topics than it is a cover-to-cover read. Although presenting the reader with interesting information, Charvát does not do so in the clearest, most user-friendly way. Nonetheless, along with books like Delisle's The Early Prehistory Of Mesopotamia: 500,000 To 4,500 BC and Pollock's Ancient Mesopotamia, it is a welcome addition to the slowly growing family of books presenting an archaeological view of Mesopotamian culture before the historical period.

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Rating:

2½ stars: Better than average. Whereas many reviewers tend to be more generous, most works I rate receive two or three stars. At this rating, all my expectations have been met; there are few technical, conventional, or factual flaws, if any, and I found the work to be mildly entertaining and/or sufficiently informative, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list of recommendations. A 2½-star work is better than just "OK" but I wouldn't quite call it "good". Equivalent to a school grade of 'B-', or a little better than average. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Feb 24, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0415251044, Hardcover)

Mesopotamia was one of the earliest regions to produce writing, literature and the fine arts, as well as being one of the first areas to construct states. This comprehensive and detailed survey of the region's prehistory and protohistory shows how these fascinating developments were possible.
Petr Charvát explores the economic, social and spiritual spheres in Mesopotamia from the Palaeolithic to the time of the early states, c. 100,000 BC to 2334 BC. The narrative is supplemented by numerous descriptions of the principal archaeological sites for each phase, and by conclusions outlining the most important developments and changes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:41 -0400)

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