Current issues in state formation: the Mediterranean and beyond

Venue: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States

Event Date/Time: Oct 17, 2003 End Date/Time: Oct 19, 2003
Abstract Submission Date: Feb 01, 2003
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Current issues in state formation: the Mediterranean and beyond.
An International Colloquium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
October 17-19, 2003

First Announcement and Call for Papers

In the past two decades traditional developmental and gradualist paradigms for the emergence of complex or “state” societies, in Old World archaeology and beyond, have been challenged by the development of new theoretical frameworks as well as new approaches to archaeological and environmental contexts. Our definitions of the state as well as our methods of interpretation—if not also the recovery and analysis of data—have been transformed in a number of quarters.

As recent intensive archaeological surveys reach publication stage, their results have generated vast amounts of new archaeological and environmental data, as well as regional perspectives that allow us to analyze the changing physical structure of pre-state and state territories, and to recognize scale and environment as two crucial variables in the evaluation of the origin and ultimately the form and function of the state. Environmental studies, regional ceramic studies, and the analysis of floral and faunal remains from excavation contexts have offered insights into the nature of pre-state societies, as well as the changing character of human-landscape interaction and the nature of regional integration during periods of state formation.

The time seems right for a reconsideration of some key issues in the study of state formation. In recent years the debate has become mired in an increasingly sterile opposition between evolutionist frameworks and critiques steeped in postmodern thought. While the need to have more context-sensitive interpretations than those formulated in the 1960s and 70s is widely felt, many are reluctant to abandon the concept of state formation (and urbanization) as some radical critics suggest. The colloquium specifically aims at exploring alternative perspectives that may allow comparative analyses of early states that steer clear of the epistemological pitfalls inherent in social darwinism and teleology. Heterarchy, Weak State models, studies emphasizing the role of continuing pre-state social structures and other bottom-up theorizations may point in the right direction.

All of the above seems to have had a particular impact on the archaeology of the Mediterranean, perhaps as a result of the richness and diversity of the cultures involved and of the surviving evidence. For instance, the debate concerning the Aegean and Greek world has been particularly active, with the publication of a wealth of important new evidence and interpretative syntheses. Yet there has been no sustained attempt yet at adopting an explicitly comparative approach and at integrating datasets from a wide range of neighboring geographical contexts. The Mediterranean, with its complex system of interactions across long distances offers a unique opportunity to draw comparisons between commensurable cultures.

Another key issues that the colloquium will address is the role of environmental and productive evidence in our understanding of state formation. General ecological models have been often advanced, but there is a marked scarcity of middle range theorizing on how ecofactual evidence should be integrated in specific historical reconstructions. More case-studies are required, investigating if and how is food production affected by political change. The environmental evidence is also key to a realistic view of what sustains statal structures and of their relationship with underlying long-term subsistence activities.

In short, the purpose of the colloquium is to assess the current state of the field, to bring together diverse practitioners and strands of the discourse on early state societies, and to encourage a broad discussion of methods, approaches, and case studies. At least three major sessions are planned: one early states theories going beyond simple evolutionism, one specifically presenting and discussing Mediterranean case-studies and one on the contribution of environmental archaeology to the problem. Proposals for other sessions and individual papers are invited.

Interested contributors should submit titles and 250-words abstracts by February 1st, 2003 to Donald Haggis (, Nicola Terrenato (, or Robert Vander Poppen (