Artefacts_of_Cognition_the_Use_of_Clay_T

Artefacts_of_Cognition_the_Use_of_Clay_T - Artefacts of...

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Artefacts of Cognition: the Use of Clay Tokens in a Neo-Assyrian Provincial Administration John MacGinnis, M. Willis Monroe, Dirk Wicke and Timothy Matney The study of clay tokens in the Ancient Near East has focused, for the most part, on their role as antecedents to the cuneiform script. Starting with Pierre Amiet and Maurice Lambert in the 1960s the theory was put forward that tokens, or calculi, represent an early cognitive attempt at recording. This theory was taken up by Denise Schmandt-Besserat who studied a large diachronic corpus of Near Eastern tokens. Since then little has been written except in response to Schmandt-Besserat’s writings. Most discussions of tokens have generally focused on the time period between the eighth and fourth millennium bc with the assumption that token use drops off as writing gains ground in administrative contexts. Now excavations in southeastern Turkey at the site of Ziyaret Tepe — the Neo- Assyrian provincial capital Tušhan — have uncovered a corpus of tokens dating to the first millennium bc. This is a significant new contribution to the documented material. These tokens are found in association with a range of other artefacts of administrative culture — tablets, dockets, sealings and weights — in a manner which indicates that they had cognitive value concurrent with the cuneiform writing system and suggests that tokens were an important tool in Neo-Assyrian imperial administration. technology offers better solutions to some, but not all, aspects of the problems presented. In the Near East tokens played a part in incipient bureaucracy for the simple reason that they met a need superbly. This did, indeed, lead on to the emergence of actual writing but even as writing developed there is no condition that writing would necessarily be superior to tokens in every respect. There may indeed be ways in which tokens were a more flexible and easier system than writing and had a role which added utility, flexibility and accessibility to the bureaucratic process, a ‘force multiplier’ which enhanced the working of cuneiform bookkeeping; aspects of this were articulated by Oppenheim some time ago (see below). To give an analogy, in fact quite close to the grain, the invention of the word processor does not stop us using pens and pencils: they are different tools used for different things. As with any other aspect of complex civiliza - tion, communication is likely to be effected through a portfolio of parallel technologies. In any case, as will be demonstrated, although the data we present Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24:2, 289–306 © 2014 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research doi:10.1017/S0959774314000432 Received 5 Nov 2012; Accepted 18 Mar 2013; Revised 30 Oct 2013 The inventions of recording systems are milestones in the human journey and any finds which contribute to the understanding of how these came about or to documenting the geographic and temporal spread of not just writing itself but also the ancillary processes make a basic contribution to mapping the progress of mankind. In the case of Mesopotamia, it is gener
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