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Citadel and Cemetery in Early Bronze Age Anatolia

July 2017 (121.3)

Book Review

Citadel and Cemetery in Early Bronze Age Anatolia

By Christoph Bachhuber (Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology 13). Pp. xii + 223, figs. 42, tables 6, maps 6. Equinox Publishing, Sheffield, England 2015. $120. ISBN 978-1-84553-648-0 (cloth).

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This monograph is the first scholarly work to explicitly consider the ascendance of the citadel amid the decline of villages in Early Bronze Age (EBA) Anatolia. It examines the divergent social worlds of these two settlement types in light of theoretical and methodological models, which diverge from the cultural-historical frameworks that have dominated Anatolian archaeology for decades. The geographical scope of the volume is determined by the distribution of citadels, which are found on alluvial plains in southern, central, and western Anatolia, as well as in parts of the northwest Aegean. The temporal frame is the third millennium B.C.E., which is equivalent to the EBA in this region.

The book succeeds in synthesizing broad diachronic societal changes in the EBA and bringing our understanding of multiple EBA archaeological sites in Anatolia up-to-date. This includes reexamining well-known sites such as Troy and Poliochni as well as introducing new material from Bademağci, Seyitömer, and others. The volume is structured chronologically, and the details of particular sites are considered in light of anthropological issues, including village social organization (ch. 3), geographic communities and ancestral landscapes (ch. 4), monumentality and urbanization (ch. 5), wealth and power (ch. 6), motivations for trade (ch. 7), and gift giving and public spectacles (ch. 8).

Throughout the book, Bachhuber incorporates concepts such as peer polity interaction, elite place making, commensal politics, and actor-network theory, eventually concluding that universalist evolution is the most suitable overarching narrative for EBA Anatolia (184). This variety of theoretical perspectives is variously enlightening and frustrating. At best, the approach engages the archaeology of EBA Anatolia with recent discussions about urbanization, monumentality, ritual practice, and political economy; at worst it obscures its own key contribution as a narrative synthesis of Early Bronze Age social organization and social change.

The introductory chapter on four “proto-histories” of EBA Anatolia is effective. This historiography demonstrates how certain great sites (Troy, Alacahöyük, Kültepe) and compelling narratives (Homer, Hittites, Assyrians, Indo-Europeans) have shaped our understanding of the period. The tendency to reify famous sites is maintained throughout the book, which regularly discusses the results of canonical, previously published sites in case studies. Overall, the presentation of extant archaeological data is comprehensive and coherent. The author’s comments on areas of consensus and gaps in knowledge are particularly valuable and should help inform future research.

The discussion of villages and cemeteries in chapters 3 and 4 sets up one of the book’s central arguments, which is that the “ancestral ideology” of Early Bronze (EB) I–II villages did not evolve directly into the “elite ideology” of EB III citadels but rather one eventually replaced the other (107, 128–29). In other words, citadels initially coexisted with villages, until a new form of social power (an elite network strategy, represented by citadels) fueled the abandonment of villages and led to nucleation at larger centers. An ancillary outcome of this urbanization was that villagers were divested of their core cosmological beliefs (which were linked to ancestral landscapes) and introduced to new sacred rites such as wealth sacrifice, feasting, and cremation on citadels. The observation that urbanization took hold in Anatolia during the mid third millennium B.C.E. is well known to practitioners of Anatolian archaeology. Bachhuber’s insistence that this watershed moment represents a fundamental shift in EBA “social logic” is a significant new contribution to the discussion (170).

The chapter titled “The Monumental Choreography of Citadels” attempts to unpack the watershed moment in which citadels diverged from their village neighbors and became elite places. Bachhuber suggests that citadels represent the top tier of a settlement hierarchy and that villages occupy the lower tiers. One reason for the citadel’s ascension ca. 2600 B.C.E. is that monumental building activity required labor input from outside villagers; this led to the eventual abandonment of the rural villages and nucleation in citadels. The discussion of how citadels came to dominate cultural landscapes and transformed into socially exclusive places through ambitious monumental construction projects appropriately draws on the concept of elite place making (K.D. Fisher, “Placing Social Interaction: An Integrative Approach to Analyzing Past Built Environments,” JAnthArch 28 [2009] 439–57; W. Ashmore, “On Ancient Placemaking,” in Ö. Harmanşah, ed., Of Rocks and Water: Towards an Archaeology of Place. Joukowsky Institute Publication 5 [Oxford 2014] 40–6).

The rise of the EB I–II villages and the subsequent homogenization of material culture, increase in competitive emulation, and ascendance of the citadel in EB III are charted carefully in chapters 3–5. Chapters 6–8 discuss the apex of this phenomenon in detail. Bachhuber situates the collapse of EB III societies against the backdrop of climactic disaster and sociopolitical upheavals in the broader region. He argues that disenchantment with the citadel phenomenon led to a systemic collapse, which was exacerbated by an urbanization process that had forced farmers to abandon their villages and core cosmological beliefs (182). Bachhuber’s dynamic reconstruction of the EB III collapse as the outcome of multiple, intersecting societal and cosmological factors is compelling, and it will likely stimulate further research in the area.

The book is clearly a useful and important contribution to the field of EBA archaeology. Its intended audience is English-speaking archaeologists working in Anatolia, and its synthetic structure makes it valuable also for those working in neighboring regions seeking comparanda. Overall, this comprehensive narrative synthesis is a positive contribution to the field.

Laura K. Harrison
Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies
University of South Florida

Book Review of Citadel and Cemetery in Early Bronze Age Anatolia, by Christoph Bachhuber

Reviewed by Laura K. Harrison

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 3 (July 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1213.Harrison

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