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Social Transformations and Ceramic Production during the 4th millennium BCE in the Shahrizor Plain and Bazyan Valley, Iraqi Kurdistan. A Geochemical and Petrographic Study.



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The Late Chalcolithic (c.4400-3200 BCE) in Mesopotamia featured new forms of socio-political and economic organisation, increasing material cultural homogeneity, resource accumulation and (re)-distribution. The Uruk Phenomenon (traditionally dated to c.3600-3200 BCE) is characterised by the presence of a distinctive suite of southern material culture including pottery, architectural styles, and accounting devices across northern Mesopotamia. This phenomenon remains a key, yet contentious issue in archaeological literature following three decades of debate: Current arguments for the transmission of the Uruk Phenomenon are however, primarily based on evidence from archaeological investigations on the Middle Euphrates and include emulation, trade or exchange, and transhumance. Despite the influx of archaeological investigations into Iraqi Kurdistan over the last decade, the majority of current discussion on the processes and transmission of this phenomenon is based upon investigations along the Middle Euphrates. The mechanisms underpinning the transmission of the Uruk Phenomenon, or how it was maintained within Iraqi Kurdistan remain poorly understood. This thesis investigates the effects of the Uruk Phenomenon upon local communities in Iraqi Kurdistan. I analyse pottery assemblages from three sites located in the Shahrizor, and Bazyan Valley of Iraqi-Kurdistan. Detailed analysis of the pottery assemblages allows for identification of chronologically sensitive forms, to allow for more accurate relative dating of future assemblages in the region. Using an adapted version of the chaîne opératoire, I utilise ceramic petrography to investigate provenance which I couple with pXRF for bulk ceramic composition, and to compliment the petrographic study. FTIR enables examination of pottery firing temperature. This PhD provides new insights into the Uruk Phenomenon’s transmission. I demonstrate variable local responses to a supraregional network, through active choices in the pottery production of local communities. Furthermore, I explore the ways that Iraqi Kurdistan, a regionally diverse area interacted with and was influenced by southern Mesopotamia, and vice versa. Material cultural transformations are deemed locally driven and inspired, despite arguments that southern Mesopotamian influence meant elimination of local traditions and homogenisation of material culture, particularly pottery. My approach takes a regional view focussing upon one area of Iraqi-Kurdistan to assert that local patterns should be understood and assimilated to understand the larger picture of this highly complex, regionally diverse process.





McMahon, Augusta
Renette, Steve


Archaeology, Archaeometry, Ceramic Analysis, Ceramic petrography, Chaine operatoire, FTIR, Late Chalcolithic, Mesopotamia, Uruk Expansion, Western Asia


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1945629)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (Grant no. 1945629)