The Archaeology of Prehistoric Arabia: Adaptation and Social Formation from the Neolithic to the Iron Age.

Author:Yule, Paul A.
Position:Book review

The Archaeology of Prehistoric Arabia: Adaptation and Social Formation from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. By PETER MAGEE. Cambridge World Archaeology. New York: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2014. Pp. xv + 309, illus. $99.

Peter Magee here presents a synthesizing study of the archaeology of Arabia from 9000 to 800 BCE and positions it in a broader Near Eastern context (p. 2). Little of his previous work has been cast in terms of American anthropological archaeology, but this one is. It focusses more on anthropological issues than antiquarian ones. Magee concentrates on the earlier periods, as opposed to his many Iron Age studies.

This book has an inexpensive binding but is printed in good quality. The maps are well drawn and have good contrast; some photos do not (e.g., figs. 2.17, 3.4, 3.16) or say little about the object (figs. 2.9, 8.5). The many maps relate uncomfortably to the text. Individual images do not characterize their periods as well as comparisons do. The images derive from a variety of sources. The drawings range from simple to good. Some are unattractive (e.g., figs. 6.17, 6.20, 6.25) or otherwise problematic (e.g., fig. 8.4 has no topographic data or context).

Ten chapters begin with a history of research beginning with Carsten Niebuhr and its effect on present-day archaeology. Current thought on research on "statehood" focusses on key sites such as Uruk/Warka. In chapter 1, Magee describes how the inhabitants of Arabia experienced economic and social change and contrasts the two adaptations (p. 11). Magee names two "important syntheses of the archaeology from c. 800 BC onwards" (p. 13), which he does not want to duplicate. However, one of these deals solely with the Yemen (Breton 2000) and the second (Hoyland 2003) is a fine book on Arabs and Arabia, philologically based with a thirty-page chapter on art and archaeology. These are not archaeological books on Arabia per se as a whole, as suggested.

Magee writes a detailed account in chapter 2 of ecological and environmental diversity in Arabia, the basis for further chapters. He divides Arabia into southeastern, western, and northeastern parts. For whatever reason, he has included Oman in the section "Western Arabia" (pp. 26-27). Although most writers understand the Nejd as a part of Saudi Arabia (maps; figs. 2.16, 3.3, 5.13), in reality it extends southward through the Yemen.

Magee's treatment of the key parameter climate as it develops is thorough, the basis for what...

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