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Do civilizations independently invent themselves or are they the result of cultural diffusion? The contributors to this volume do not attempt to provide a definitive answer to this contentious question, one of the most debated issues of the past century. Instead, they shift the focus from theory to reality by presenting empirical evidence on a wide range...
Do civilizations independently invent themselves or are they the result of cultural diffusion? The contributors to this volume do not attempt to provide a definitive answer to this contentious question, one of the most debated issues of the past century. Instead, they shift the focus from theory to reality by presenting empirical evidence on a wide range of cultural phenomena in history and prehistory, thereby demonstrating the processes whereby cultural traits are acquired and modified—the dynamics of transmission and transformation. The range of topics covered in this volume is of extraordinary breadth. Attention is paid to biological organisms at the cellular level on the one hand and to developments spanning an entire continent on the other. Victor H. Mair traces the distribution of belt hooks and belts from the steppes to North and Central China. At the other end of Asia, Irene Good shows how textiles were used as a medium of exchange in the third millennium B.C. and explicates their cultural significance. In a chapter on the spread of bronze metallurgy across Asia, Andrew Sherratt documents the means whereby complicated technologies were adapted by distant peoples. Yan Sun clarifies the mechanisms whereby bronze implements were used to convey political messages locally and regionally in East Asia. Using linguistic and philological analyses, Peter B. Golden elucidates the ethnogenesis of the Turks, and Michael Witzel reconstructs the complex interrelationships among migratory and settled peoples in western Central Asia during the Bronze Age. Through an inspection of dozens of images and a close reading of textual sources, Elfriede R. Knauer determines the origins of the Chinese goddess known as Queen Mother of the West, an enigma that has puzzled scholars for more than a century. In another piece of trans-Eurasian investigation, Thomas Allsen provides an account of hunting with trained cheetahs. Extending their purview beyond Europe and Asia, John Sorenson and Carl Johannssen use abundant botanical and zoological evidence to affirm that the Old World and the New World must have been in contact long before the fifteenth century. Rounding out the volume is a survey of the problem of modernocentrism by Jerry H. Bentley, in which he provides numerous instances of a globally intertwined past that is not so different from the human present as often imagined. Together these essays constitute a fresh, new look at the way early societies were intimately interrelated. The results of the research presented here show unmistakably that, just as they do today, human beings in antiquity found it natural to share their cultures far and wide. Employing an impressive battery of disciplinary approaches (history, archaeology, art history, linguistics, philology, biology, anthropology), the contributors have created a picture of the human past that is certain to stimulate future research.
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