Culture Contact, Cultural Integration and Difference: A Case from Northern Mesopotamia
Ancient northern Mesopotamia reveals the presence of southern Uruk-style material cultural elements along with indigenous styles in fourth millennium B.C.E. In this study, I argue that we need to focus on the ways northern Mesopotamian societies constructed ‘cultural difference’ through an analysis of the meanings of southern-style elements within northern contexts. I further argue that an investigation of culturallyparticular ideas of “own” and “other” should involve a relationship between analytic and folk categories of cultural boundaries.
In this article, I revisit one of the most intriguing archaeological cases of culture contact between north and south Mesopotamia, the so-called “Uruk expansion” in the fourth millennium B.C.E. (ca. 3700-3100 B.C.E.). During this period northern Mesopotamian sites reveal widespread distribution of southern Uruk-style material cultural elements along with indigenous styles (Stein 1999; Frangipane 2001, 2002b; Rothman ed. 2001; Postgate ed. 2002). I focus on the socio-cultural meanings of southern-style elements within the indigenous northern Mesopotamian sites. I suggest that we need to investigate the culture-internal symbolic divisions of ‘cultural difference’ through diachronic contextual examination of material culture, and in so doing we can arrive at an understanding of how people in the past themselves constructed cultural differences. Therefore, I investigate the culturally-particular ways of envisioning and representing the ‘own’ and the ‘foreign’.
However, to be able to achieve this we indeed need to consider the relationship between indigenous construction of cultural difference and our analytic cultural boundaries, as there can be a divergence between folk and analytic boundaries. Therefore, I evaluate the utility of the anthropological concept of culture in the archaeological investigation of culture contact situations with reference to an example of cultural interaction between the societies of Mesopotamia during the fourth millennium B.C.E.. I adopt theoretical elements such as the concepts of cultural integration, and folk and analytic cultural boundaries from Boasian anthropology.
The article consists of two main parts. The first part provides a discussion of the theoretical concepts of cultural integration and folk and analytic boundaries. The second part evaluates the utility of these concepts through an analysis of a wall-painting from an indigenous site (Arslantepe) located in northern Mesopotamia