South Asia: From early villages to buddhism
I mentioned the chapter in a previous post, but I didn’t cover it in any detail and I thought that I probably should, even if it’s not – in my opinion – one of the better chapters in the book. I’m currently finishing the chapter after that one, chapter 15, about ‘Complex Societies of East and Southeast Asia’, which covers stuff taking place in that region during the time period from the 3rd century BC up to the end of the Khmer Empire.
Having some background knowledge about the stuff that’s covered in a specific chapter, a situation I’ve been in a few times, can truly impact reading experience, and I’m not sure I’d have read the book quite the same way if I’d read it some years ago. Generally, if you know stuff from other sources it’s easier to realize just how much stuff is actually covered in a book like this. Robin Lane Fox used more than 700 pages in his book The Classical World to cover what The Human Past spends, what, 4-5 pages on? Similarly, Gernet spends more than 100 pages on the developments taking place from the early Warring States period of Ancient China to the end of the Han Dynasty – a much more condensed version is naturally presented in THP. Heather’s book? Well, here’s what THP has to say about one of the main subjects covered in that book, THP page 429:
“In eastern Europe, the River Danube formed the frontier of the empire. Over the centuries that followed, extensive interaction took place between the Roman provinces and the territories beyond, in the form of trade, cultural and technological borrowing, diplomatic exchange, and military action, until the Roman/non-Roman division dissolved in the late 4th and 5th centuries AD.”
That’s one way of putting it. Or you could write a book about it. Or several books, many have been written about that topic. Something I have thought of as rather interesting is how the book is actually, the scope of the material covered taken into consideration, quite focused on the evidence and the specifics – main sites, findings, etc. There’s less room to spare for ‘the big picture’ than you might have thought, even if it is fundamentally pretty much nothing but a book about big picture stuff. But a lot of the big picture stuff that is included is big picture stuff that has been made plausible by presenting or at least talking about some the evidence first – you don’t see many conclusions you don’t know how the authors arrived at. ‘After having looked closely at the middens found (you’d be surprised how much you can learn from old middens) at these three sites, we can see that the number of sheep bone fragments increase over time and that the number of gazelle bone fragments decrease over time, indicating that (something about domestication and decreased reliance on game as a protein source)’ – no, that’s not a quote from the book, but most of the book is conceptually like this: What did the people living at that point in time leave behind, and what can we conclude based on what they left behind? It’s fascinating how much stuff can actually be covered in such a manner in such a short amount of space, all things taken into consideration.
I expect to have another one of those ‘I’ve read about this before’-experiences when I read chapter 17 (From Village to Empire in South America), given that I’ve previously read Metraux. It should be mentioned that having read other stuff about a subject also makes the newly acquired knowledge easier to put into context and recall afterwards but you guys probably already know that. It’s great if the authors disagree about something, because then you start to feel a need to remember what the other guy said, leading to a more critical reading of both materials. The fact that I hadn’t read anything about the prehistory of South Asia before may be part of why I didn’t much like the chapter, but it’s not the only reason. Anyway, with all that out of the way; I’ve added some links to the type of stuff that’s covered in chapter 14 below. I’ve tried to select only somewhat-substantial articles:
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