This volume emerged from an increasing awareness among archaeologists that while researchers have explored some of the technological, subsistence, and economic dimensions of the Near Eastern Neolithic, far less attention has been paid to understanding the nature of social organization for this important period. In relation to other topics, it has only been in the last 20 years or so that researchers have started to study the nature of Neolithic social organization in any detailed fashion. Given that the Neolithic provides our earliest case studies for how food production, social differentiation, and population aggregation and growth are interrelated, it is all that much more surprising to recognize that as archaeologists we do not have a comprehensive understanding of some of the social foundations within Neolithic communities. Archaeologists, for example, have only a limited understanding of how the household served as a social and economic unit, how kinship might have been organized, or the degree to which leadership was identified, shared, and allocated within communities. The breadth of research in this volume furthers our understanding of the Neolithic as an economic event, opening up what is unquestionably the Pandora's box of the Neolithic: studying the dynamic nature of social arrangements, how these behaviors were linked to material culture, and how they help us understand the trajectory of life within Neolithic communities. Ultimately, addressing these issues is not only challenging, but it requires focusing new attention on issues of social agency and understanding how different social practices may have been employed to define, shape, and manipulate identities at the household, kin-group, and community level. This tentative exploration of human agency, while still in its infancy, represents an impor-

tant departure from previous studies, requiring an interpretive framework based on Neolithic data sets.

Six of the chapters in this volume were originally written for a symposium, titled "SocialConfigurations of Near Eastern Early Neolithic: Community Identity, Heterarchical Organization, and Ritual," held in 1995 at the Sixtieth Annual Meeting for the Society of American Archaeology in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Building on this foundation, these original studies have been expanded and five other chapters have been incorporated into the volume to address complementary dimensions of Neolithic social organization. In this collection, researchers synthesized recent anthropological and archaeological thought concerning the variation within—and the nature of— Neolithic social arrangements. Drawing on both the results of recent archaeological research as well as anthropological theory, the authors recon-structkey aspects of ritual practices, labor organization, and collective social identity at the scale of the household, community, and region. The chapters encompass a range of methodological and theoretical perspectives and utilize innovative analytic approaches in the study of mortuary, settlement pattern, and architectural data to better understand the processes of (and reasons for) specific social arrangements and ritual and mortuary practices. As such, each ofthe contributing authors struggles with the highly complex, and often avoided, interpretive interface between archaeological data sets and social interpretation of the Neolithic of the Near East. The goals of this volume, therefore, are not to reject traditional or other important research agendas nor to enforce a specific theoretical or methodological approach. Rather, this collection is envisioned as a vehicle by which discussion of other social dimensions of the Neolithic can be brought to the attention of archaeologists, anthropologists, and prehistorians to enhance the existing reconstruction of this fascinating period of time.

My thanks go to the participants in the original symposium, the participation by the audience during the symposium, and the other researchers who agreed to contribute to this book. The addition cf these papers has greatly expanded the scope and nature of discussion, debate, and reflection on a wide range of theoretical and methodological issues related to the nature of social organization of the Near Eastern Neolithic. The preparation of this volume, as well as the task of organizing the original symposium, has been facilitated by the enthusiasm, interest, and energy of all of the participants. Beyond this list, I would like to thank Ofer Bar-Yosef, Herman Makler, C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, T. Douglas Price, and Gary Feinman for their active support with the publication of this volume. It was Ofer who first pushed me to organize the original symposium and T. Douglas who pushed this work at Plenum and introduced me to Eliot Werner. Thanks are also give to Eliot Werner, Archaeology Czar at Plenum, who has made the processes cf negotiation and publication a direct, honest, and enjoyable task. Publication of this work was facilitated by critical financial support from the American School of Prehistoric Research, support that I am most grateful for. The cover artwork kindly provided by Nigel Goring-Morris and Michael Rosenberg is from their excavations at Kfar HaHoresh and Hallan , emi. Finally, I want to express my thanks to Meredith S. Chesson, my wife, friend, and mate, who serves as a continuing source of advice, help, patience, and support. It is to her that this book is dedicated.

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