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The ‘Mesopotamian trap’: from the ‘first’ international to dynamic multiplicity

You are warmly invited to join us for this archaeology research seminar with guest speaker, Dr Brieg Powel on 29th February. This event is hybrid, and in person in Harrison Building, Room 101. Calendar invitations will be sent separately.

Event details


Several scholars have sought to identify a ‘first’ international, with the relations between Sumerian city-states in lower Mesopotamia, c.4000-1800 BCE, being a common suggestion. In identifying a ‘first’ international, such efforts establish a starting point for disciplinary enquiry, along with criteria for identifying an ‘international’. Relying on interdisciplinary research, they perpetuate social evolutionary typological frameworks and presentist ontologies that prejudice against forms of political organisation other than literate sedentary states. Methodological and cultural biases in disciplinary archaeology drive their focus on the cities and states, unwittingly maintaining the propaganda of the cities’ ancient rulers and European colonial ontologies. This embeds state-centrism at the expense of more comprehensive understandings of the period’s ‘international’, its actors, and their relations. Alternative archaeological and anthropological research on west Asia in this period reveals a complex relational network of multiple, permeable, and overlapping polities – including but also stretching far beyond Sumer – that was instrumental to the social, political, economic, and demographic processes in the region. These findings inform a new ontology of the international as a dynamic multiplicity that is relational, historicised, and multi-scalar, comprised of fluid, permeable, overlapping, and diverse polities.


Harrison Building 101