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Complex Dynamics in Society: An application of complexity studies on community formation in South West Anatolia during the Hellenistic Period (323-133 BC)

The main goal of this PhD research is to study community formation and development in southwestern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) during the Iron Age, Achaemenid and (early to mid) Hellenistic periods (8th to 2nd centuries BCE). The main case studies are two neighbouring, contemporaneous communities, Sagalassos and Düzen Tepe. Findings on this local scale are then scaled up to treat community formation dynamics on a sub-regional scale – corresponding to the study region of the Sagalassos Project – and the interregional scale, covering Pisidia, Lycia and Pamphylia.

The outset of the research program grew out of the realization that approaches to community development during these periods, throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, were all too often grounded in an explicitly ‘Hellenocentric’ framework of polis formation. Within such a framework, aspects of urbanization and development of extensive structures of socio-political organisation are considered mainly through a dichotomy of Hellenic versus ‘indigenous’ cultural identity and society. Several problems can be associated with such an approach, not in the least a clear disregard for existing variability in community organization and operation throughout time and space. Additionally, the roots of the transposition of Greek cultural modes of community development from the Aegean ‘heartland’ towards other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, can be traced back, at least partially, to a ‘Eurocentric’ discourse stacked up against the ‘East’ in its own proper context. Along with this differentiation between Greek and ‘other’ cultural modes of living, a priori differences in social complexity are often presupposed. Percolating from (neo-)evolutionary approaches, a clear differentiation between so-called ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ societies is employed, with all associated implications for development of social, political and economic structures.

Despite its commonly problematic usage, the high potential of the concept of social complexity for studying community formation and development in the past is highlighted in this research. One of the development goals of the research project was therefore to devise a framework built around a better conceptualisation of social complexity dynamics. The major theoretical sources of inspiration for this framework were drawn from complex systems research. This approach offered a suitable pathway to trace dynamics and developments of complexity in social systems without carrying any inherent teleological notions, thus overcoming the existing limits to the concept of social complexity by effectively bridging the previously assumed ‘gap’ between simple and complex societies. Social complexity can be ideally conceptualised as an analytical unit to approach aspects of multi-scalar structure (moving from the foundational level of social interaction, to the emergent level of collective organization, and back), information processing as an essential feature of organizational development, communities as nexus for collective action, and a proper embedding of the social system within its environmental context from which it derived its necessary energy and resources to sustain system dynamics (studied through the coupling of social-ecological systems).

The end goal of the research is to present a conceptual model of community formation and development, exploring several of the various possibilities offered by a complex systems approach. The utility and validity of this framework is demonstrated through its application on the aforementioned case studies. To avoid any potential mismatches between the extensive conceptual framework and its archaeological application in archaeology, two intermediate chapters are added to discuss the analytical operationalisation and narrative framing of such an application. Specifically, this research focuses on in-depth material studies of pottery derived from excavations and surveys conducted at a number of selected sites. To this end, an integrative approach is employed which combines all steps in raw material selection, production, distribution and usage of these material objects in an encompassing view, and links this evaluation of material culture to wider organizational structures and societal dynamics at play in these communities at the time. This pottery dataset is then compared and critically evaluated against other strands of data from the selected case studies.

Date:1 Oct 2014 →  30 Sep 2018
Keywords:Social complexity, Achaemenid Period, Community formation, Sagalassos, Complex systems, Hellenistic period, Southwest Anatolia, Iron Age, Material culture
Disciplines:Archaeology, Theory and methodology of archaeology, Other history and archaeology, History
Project type:PhD project