What to Do with "Megasites" in Prehistory? Further Exploring the "Megasite" Conundrum

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Periodically in the prehistory of human settlement very large sites have appeared which challenge our assumptions about settlement categories. Such sites, including Chaco Canyon, the Trypillia megasites, Bigo, Taosi and Co Loa, are often characterized as urban, proto-urban, pre-urban or not urban. However, even when making allowances for regional variation in urban form, these sites are anomalous. Roland Fletcher has argued that they might usefully be considered as examples of a unique trajectory of growth towards extensive dispersed settlement forms, complementary to but different from the trajectory of low-density agrarian urbanism and the recent trajectory towards dispersed industrial urbanism. A session at the SAA conference in 2013 explored the characteristics of some salient examples of these settlements, including the European Iron Age Oppida, Cahokia and Great Zimbabwe. This session will include additional regions and time periods, particularly in Africa, South America, the southwest USA and Asia and extend the discussion of how to theorize them. A consideration of these sites as comparable phenomena has the potential to transform our models of settlement growth, give new significance to regional culture histories, and perhaps have implications for our urban future.

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  • Documents (10)

  • Apples and Oranges? Positioning Regional Archaeology in a Global Perspective (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachael Lane.

    This paper focuses on issues and methodological approaches to the comparison of archaeological sites, scaling from a regional to a global perspective, with a specific focus on settlement archaeology. The key issue appears to be the logical difficulty of contextualizing regional culture historical data within theories of global settlement patterns. A secondary problematic issue related to the one aforementioned is in the comparison of data sets with highly variable integrity at both these scales,...

  • Corneşti-Iarcuri:ten years of research at the largest prehistoric site in Europe. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bernhard Heeb. Alexandru Szentmiklosi. Rüdiger Krause.

    Corneşti-Iarcuri 10 years of research at the largest prehistoric site in Europe The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, the Muzeul Naţional al Banatului Timişoara and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, have been investigating the archaeology as well as the landscape context of the Late Bronze Age settlement of Iarcuri in the Romanian Banat region with the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft for the last 10 years. The site is...

  • Early cities or large villages?: settlement dynamics in the Trypillia group, Ukraine (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marco Nebbia.

    During the 4th millennium BC a number of considerably big settlements have developed in the territory of modern Ukraine, thus constituting the biggest sites in Europe at that time. Mostly investigated only as single entities these "mega-sites" have never been considered thoroughly as part of the whole landscape of Trypillia settlements. Some scholars have argued that these could have been examples of early formed urban centres (aka "proto-cities"), others, instead, proposed that these were big...

  • The emergence of the Bel'sk settlement complex:landscape, population histories, and social structure (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Johnson. Timothy Taylor.

    During the Pontic Iron Age, ca. 700-300 BCE, large fortified settlement complexes that encompass areas between 100 ha and 5,000 ha emerged along the forest-steppe and steppe boundary in Ukraine. At Bel'sk, the largest settlement complex of its kind with three separate settlements were linked by a fortification wall spanning 33 kilometers, delineating a massive urban internal space from its hinterlands. Despite one hundred years of periodic archaeological investigation, much about the Bel'sk...

  • Evidence for complex society at Middle Preclassic La Venta settlements (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only William Rust.

    In the past, abundant ceremonial evidence found at La Venta and other Gulf Coast Olmec sites has spawned widely ranging views on the emergence of complex society in Mesoamerica. Evidence of dense local riverine settlement was gained from my survey at La Venta and surrounding sites in 1986-7, revealing household sites both on La Venta and surrounding villages on abandoned river courses. The chronological sequence has been guided by over 50 radiocarbon dates recovered from a series of domestic...

  • Large Walled Sites on the Chengdu Plain, Sichuan, China: Shifting Centers of Regional Emphasis (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rowan Flad.

    In the third millennium BC, several walled sites were inhabited in the Chengdu Plain of Sichuan, China. These late Neolithic settlements varied in size and shape, and they had mounded earth walls, some encompassing the largest areas of any known sites of their time in China. The site of Baodun is the largest known example, and has recently been the focus of extensive excavations. Other known sites in the region include Gucheng in Pi Xian County, the most completely preserved of these walled...

  • Longevity and authority in a mobile world the megasites of the Ugandan grasslands (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Reid.

    Much of the recent past of Great Lakes Africa is characterised by short-lived settlements and mobile societies, that produced ephemeral occupation sites. In part because of this, attention has long been drawn to sites like Bigo and Ntuusi which seem to offer much more substantive archaeological remains. Yet, notwithstanding the longevity of the latter and the extent of both, this is clearly not a simple occupation site featuring a large population. Rather it is much more effective to understand...

  • Mesopotamian Megasites before Uruk (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jason Ur.

    Discussions of "alternative" trajectories of urban growth are often compared to "classic" models from Old World civilizations, and most often Mesopotamia. It is said that Mesopotamian cities were dense and spatially discrete from their agricultural hinterlands, in contrast to new models of low-density urbanism. In fact, the earliest large settlement agglomerations ("megasites") in Mesopotamia were discontinuous and far less dense than the mature cities of the Bronze Age (after 3000 BC). This...

  • Re-Evaluating the Case for America’s First Cities: evidence from the Norte Chico region of Peru (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Piscitelli.

    The Late Archaic Period (3000-1800 B.C.) was a time of dramatic cultural transformations in the Central Andes. At the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C., at least 30 large, sedentary agricultural settlements with monumental architecture appeared between the Huaura and Fortaleza river valleys in a region known locally as the "Norte Chico" ("Little North"). Given the quantity, size, and complexity of monumental architecture at these sites, as well as the unique settlement patterns, some have...

  • Variation in Large Sites from the Longshan Period of Northern China (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anne Underhill. Fengshi Luan. Fen Wang.

    Recent research does not support the common view that the numerous large sites from the Longshan period of northern China ca. 2500-1900 BC represent a homogeneous type of settlement with respect to developmental process, scale, and organization. Most publications regard these large settlements as cities and expect they share specific features indicative of organizational homogeneity. The focus has been on large Longshan and later, early Bronze Age settlements in Henan province. We discuss...