Our attachment to ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Egypt as the 'birthplace of civilization', where the foundations of our own societies were laid, is as strong today as it has ever been. When the Iraq Museum in Baghdad was looted in 2003, our newspapers proclaimed 'the death of history'. Yet the ancient Near East also remains a source of mystery: a space of the imagination where we explore the discontents of modern civilization. InWhat Makes Civilization? archaeologist David Wengrow investigates the origins of farming, writing, and cities in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the connections between them. This is the story of how people first created kingdoms and monuments to the gods - and, just as importantly, how they adopted everyday practices that we might now take for granted, such as familiar ways of cooking food and keeping the house and body clean. Why, he asks, have these ancient cultures, where so many features of modern life originated, come to symbolize the remote and the exotic? What challenge do they pose to our assumptions about power, progress, and civilization in human history? And are the sacrifices we now make in the name of 'our' civilization really so different from those once made by the peoples of Mesopotamia and Egypt on the altars of the gods?
Dr. David Wengrow is Reader in Comparative Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. He trained in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Oxford, and has conducted fieldwork in both Africa and the Middle East. His research explores early cultural transformations across the boundaries of Asia, Africa, and Europe, including the emergence of the first farming societies, states, and systems of writing. He has also written on the history of archaeological thought and the role of the remote past in shaping modern political identities. His past appointments include Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, and Frankfort Fellow in Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at the Warburg Institute, London.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgements
Introduction: a clash of civilizations?
Part One: The Cauldron of Civilization
1. Camouflaged Borrowings
2. On the Trail of Blue-Haired Gods
3. Neolithic Worlds
4. The (First) Global Village
5. Origin of Cities
6. From the Ganges to the Danube: the Bronze Age
7. Cosmology and Commerce
8. The Labours of Kingship
Part Two: Forgetting the Old Regime
9. Enlightenment from a Dark Source
10. Ruined Regimes: Egypt at the Revolution
Conclusion: What Makes Civilization?