Rise of Complex Societies: The Origin of Writing


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In our last session we discussed the origins of writing, in particular the development of cuneiform. This included a brief look at the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Cyrus Cylinder as examples of texts written in cuneiform.

Below are two videos which discuss the Cyrus Cylinder and its significance in more detail:


Lost Landscapes of Palaeolithic Britain


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Those who are interested in Palaeolithic Britain may wish to take a look at this volume:

White, Mark and Bates, Martin and Pope, Matthew and Schreve, Danielle and Scott, Beccy and Shaw, Andrew and Stafford, Elizabeth (2016) Lost Landscapes of Palaeolithic Britain. Project Report. Oxford Archaeology.

The chapters are available as a free download from the Oxford Archaeology website.

Iron Age Leicestershire: The Hallaton Treasure


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The Hallaton Treasure, which can be seen at the Harborough Museum in Leicestershire, was discovered in 2000 by metal detectorist, Ken Wallace, and other volunteers from the Hallaton Fieldwork Group. Along with the Hallaton Fieldwork group, The University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) began excavating what turned out to be one of the most important Iron Age sites in Britain. They discovered over 5,000 glittering coins, mysterious offerings and a beautiful and unique 1st century Roman cavalry helmet as part of what is known as the Hallaton Treasure project.

Further reading:

The Hallaton Treasure: evidence of a new kind of shrine? (Current Archaeology)
The Hallaton Hoard (Portable Antiquities Scheme)
The Iron Age and Roman East Leicestershire Hoards (British Museum)
The Hallaton Treasure (Wikipedia)
Hallaton helmet unveiled after nine-year restoration (BBC News)
Hallaton Roman coin is ‘oldest found in Britain’ (BBC News)

Rise of Complex Societies: The First Cities


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In our last session we discussed the rise of the first cities, in particular Uruk, but also Ur, Jericho and Çatalhöyük. This short video clip shows a CGI reconstruction of the Shrine of the Hunters at Çatalhöyük:

Ian Hodder has been involved with the Çatalhöyük excavation for some years and in this video he talks about the ‘Origins of Settled Life: Göbekli and Çatalhöyük’:

We also made comparisons between Mesopotamia and the first cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Egypt with Nekhen and Memphis, and Caral in Peru.


Iron Age Leicestershire: Hillforts and Roundhouses


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In our second session about Iron Age Leicestershire, we looked at the topic of settlement, investigating both hillforts and roundhouses. One of the sites we examined was the hillfort at Burrough Hill which was the subject of a training excavation by the University of Leicester from 2010 – 2014. Information about the project’s findings, including posters presenting each season’s discoveries, are available on their website.

This news clip, which aired on BBC East Midlands Today, relates to an Iron Age skeleton discovered at Burrough Hill:

This video by the University of Leicester discusses recent Iron Age finds from Glenfield Park:

There is an article, published in the BBC Countryfile magazine, which provides more information about British hillforts and recommends some that they consider worth a visit.

You may also want to check out Atlas of Hillforts website; if you agree to their Terms and Conditions, then click OK, you can explore the map of hillforts in Britain and Ireland.

The BBC History website has an animated reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse, which may also be of interest.

Rise of Complex Societies: Transition to Farming


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In the first session, we looked at the domestication of plants and animals, as well as the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural lifestyle, something which is sometimes called the ‘Neolithic Revolution‘. Farming is believed to have begun in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Levant region, which stretches from northern Egypt through Israel and Jordan to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then occurred independently in other regions of the world at different times from 11,000 years ago. Recent evidence, however, is suggesting that the first stirrings of the revolution may have begun even earlier, perhaps as far back as 19,000 years ago.

To quote from the previous link: “Our work suggests that these hunter-gatherer communities were starting to congregate in large numbers in specific places, build architecture and show more-complex ritual and symbolic burial practices – signs of a greater attachment to a location and a changing pattern of social complexity that imply they were on the trajectory toward agriculture.”

In the short video clip below, Craig Benjamin explains how agriculture drove change and why humans took the risk of abandoning foraging.

Oakham Castle Community Archaeology Dig: An Introduction — ULAS News


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Welcome to the Oakham Castle Community Archaeology Dig. This is our first post of several about the upcoming excavation, so come back to discover more about what we find as the excavation progresses. What are we doing? Well, over two weeks at the end of April 2018, University of Leicester Archaeological Services in partnership with […]

via Oakham Castle Community Archaeology Dig: An Introduction — ULAS News

Iron Age Leicestershire: Corieltauvi


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The Corieltauvi (formerly thought to be called the Coritani, and sometimes referred to as the Corieltavi) were a tribe of people living in Britain prior to the Roman conquest, and thereafter a civitas of Roman Britain. Their territory was in what is now the English East Midlands. They were bordered by the Brigantes to the north, the Cornovii to the west, the Dobunni and Catuvellauni to the south, and the Iceni to the east. Their capital was called Ratae Corieltauvorum, known today as Leicester.


Corieltauvi (Wikipedia)
Native Tribes of Britain (BBC)
Coinage and the Settlements of the Corieltauvi in East Midland Britain (pdf)

Iron Age Leicestershire: Iron Working


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The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age system, preceded by the Stone Age (Neolithic) and the Bronze Age. As its name suggests, Iron Age technology is characterized by the production of tools and weaponry by ferrous metallurgy (ironworking).

In the session, we listened to a segment of this podcast by Naked Archaeology on iron, glass and slag. In addition, an episode of BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time‘ from 2011 discusses discuss the dawn of the European Iron Age and provides a useful overview.

Reading List: Rise of Complex Societies


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Whilst it is not essential to do any background reading before the course begins, you may find it useful to do so. The reading list below contains books that you can read. You don’t have to read all of these and we don’t specify any that you must read. Instead, these are readings you can use to gain a preliminary understanding of topics, as well as to study in more depth those parts of the course you are particularly interested in. You may also want to take a look at magazines such as British Archaeology, World Archaeology and Current Archaeology.

Further suggestions about ways you can extend your understanding of topics through books, television etc may also be posted as appropriate on this blog.


Barker, G. 2009. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why did Foragers become Farmers? Oxford University Press.

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs and Steel. Vintage Press.

George, A (trans.). 2000. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Classics.

Gnanadesikan, A.E. 2008. The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet. Wiley-Blackwell.

Gosden, C. 2003. Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Hodder, I. 2011. Religion in the Emergence of Civilization: Çatalhöyük as a Case Study. Cambridge University Press.

Hodder, I. (Ed.) 2014. Religion at Work in a Neolithic Society: Vital Matters. Cambridge University Press.

Kriwaczek, P. 2012. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization. Atlantic Books.

Leick, G. 2002. Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City. Penguin.

Miles, R. 2010. Ancient Worlds: The Search for the Origins of Western Civilization. Penguin.

Scarre, C. (ed.). 2018. The Human Past. 4th edition. Thames and Hudson Ltd.