By James L. Boone, J. Emlen Myers, and Charles L. Redman
American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 92, No. 3 (1990)
Abstract: The study of complex societies, especially those with documentary sources, provides an unparalleled opportunity for the archeologist to contribute to an understanding both of the past and of contemporary society. We argue that available documentary sources for early North African state societies can be effectively combined with anthropological insight to formulate interpretive models to derive more meaning from the archeological record. The illustration we provide comes from early Islamic North Africa. We postulate that during the Medieval period two widely different sociopolitical contexts existed, giving rise to diverse urban patterns. Most importantly, we argue that the second of these patterns represents a widespread situation that is inadequately treated in the literature.
Introduction: It is widely acknowledged by both archeologists and historians that by working together they can provide each other with substantial benefits. These benefits range from dates for specific events and discovery of important monuments to details of individual households and the source of a specific material product. Successful examples of this interaction abound in the literature of historical archeology in North America and medieval archeology in Europe. Many of these examples focus on specific insights provided by texts or specific discoveries by archeologists that illuminate issues in texts. It should be recognized, however, that the investigations of many historic-period societies do not lead to the discovery of new texts, and many settlements are not the subjects of specific historic descriptions. Hence, for much of historic period archeology, the field research design and the actual analysis of the material may not be affected by the fact that some people knew how to write at that time.