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The Theory and Practice of Ethnoarcheology with special reference to the Near East - article ; n°1 ; vol.6, pg 55-64

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Paléorient - Année 1980 - Volume 6 - Numéro 1 - Pages 55-64
Ethnoarcheology, broadly defined, refers to any use by archeologists of published or unpublished data drawn from ethnographie sources and used to aid archeological interpretation. Recently there has been a burst of interest among archeologists in obtaining relevant ethnographie data by undertaking fieldwork in living communities themselves. The theory and practice of ethnoarcheology are discussed, and a summary is provided of results from some recent studies in the living archeology of the Near East.
L'ethnoarchéologie, prise au sens large, a trait à l'utilisation par les archéologues, de données, publiées ou non, provenant de sources ethnographiques utilisées dans le but d'aider à l'interprétation archéologique. Les archéologues se sont récemment rendu compte de l'intérêt que pouvaient présenter des données ethnographiques pertinentes qui résultent d'un travail sur le terrain dans les communautés vivantes mêmes. La discussion porte sur la théorie et sur la pratique de l'ethnoarchéologie : l'article nous offre un récapitulatif des résultats tirés de quelques études récentes de « l'archéologie vivante » au Proche-Orient.
10 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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Patty Jo Watson
The Theory and Practice of Ethnoarcheology with special
reference to the Near East
In: Paléorient. 1980, Vol. 6. pp. 55-64.
Abstract
Ethnoarcheology, broadly defined, refers to any use by archeologists of published or unpublished data drawn from ethnographie
sources and used to aid archeological interpretation. Recently there has been a burst of interest among archeologists in obtaining
relevant ethnographie data by undertaking fieldwork in living communities themselves. The theory and practice of
ethnoarcheology are discussed, and a summary is provided of results from some recent studies in the "living archeology" of the
Near East.
Résumé
L'ethnoarchéologie, prise au sens large, a trait à l'utilisation par les archéologues, de données, publiées ou non, provenant de
sources ethnographiques utilisées dans le but d'aider à l'interprétation archéologique. Les archéologues se sont récemment
rendu compte de l'intérêt que pouvaient présenter des données ethnographiques pertinentes qui résultent d'un travail sur le
terrain dans les communautés vivantes mêmes. La discussion porte sur la théorie et sur la pratique de l'ethnoarchéologie :
l'article nous offre un récapitulatif des résultats tirés de quelques études récentes de « l'archéologie vivante » au Proche-Orient.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Watson Patty Jo. The Theory and Practice of Ethnoarcheology with special reference to the Near East. In: Paléorient. 1980, Vol.
6. pp. 55-64.
doi : 10.3406/paleo.1980.4259
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/paleo_0153-9345_1980_num_6_1_4259Vol 1980 PALEORIENT
THE THEORY
AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE NEAR EAST
P.J WATSON
ABSTRACT Ethnoarcheology broadly defined refers to any use by archeologists of published or unpublished data drawn from
ethnographic sources and used to aid archeological interpretation Recently there has been burst of interest among archeologists in obtaining
relevant ethnographic data by undertaking fieldwork in living communities themselves The theory and practice of ethnoarcheology are
discussed and summary is provided of results from some recent studies in the living archeology of the Near East
RESUME ethnoarcheologie prise au sens large trait utilisation par les archéologues de données publiées ou non provenant de
sources ethnographiques utilisées dans le but aider interprétation archéologique Les archéologues se sont récemment rendu compte de
intérêt que pouvaient présenter des données ethnographiques pertinentes qui résultent un travail sur le terrain dans les communautés
vivantes mêmes La discussion porte sur la théorie et sur la pratique de ethnoarchéologie article nous offre un récapitulatif des résultats tirés
de quelques études récentes de archéologie vivante au Proche-Orient
DEFINITIONS subject matter being investigated then archeologists
must supplement and complement the data base by
doing ethnographic fieldwork themselves In other The word ethnoarcheology is inherently ambi
words the fundamental issue is one of relevant data guous and is variously defined but there is considerable
Once problem or problem-area is defined then we merit in recent suggestions by Gould and Stiles
must be prepared to go to the data sources wherever that the term be used to encompass systematic compari
they may be found in time or space that will provide sons for purposes of archeological interpretation or
information to solve the problem In the case of eth model building of ethnographic with archeological
noarcheology archeologists not only carry out field- data and patterning The data may come
work in living societies but also some of them are from published sources from archival material inclu
making unique methodological contributions to study ding museum or other collections) from experiments
of the relationships between material culture and its from field observations in living society or from some
social or behavioral matrix 4) combination of these Field observations in living socie
ties are also referred to as living archeology action
archeology or archeological ethnography and these
are the primary focus of this paper THEORY
Although the above definition of ethnoarcheology is
logical and useful it is well to remember that this Fundamental to consideration of archeological inter
approach whatever it may be called to understanding pretation is the fact that barring use of time machine
the past is only one of large number of potential data we can never know the past directly We can describe
sources archeologists may need to explore Ethnoar and explain the past only via observations made in the
cheology is not panacea for the ills of archeological present and via the uniformitarian assumption not
interpretation any more than is say settlement archeo that there is one-to-one correspondance between pre
logy Archeology is of necessity and by definition sent events and processes and those of the past but
highly eclectic discipline its practitioners require detai rather that we can attain knowledge of past events or
led data and models from wide variety of sources processes by observing present-day ones then reasoning
such as botany zoology geography geology and eco systematically from those observations to
nomics and numerous subdivisions of these One of the remains left by the past events and processes
these sources is ethnography living societies as known On the basis of perceived similarity in form between
through published and unpublished information If that ethnographically known and archeologically recovered
information is inadequate for particular problem or materials the archeologist infers similarity offunction
GOULD 1974 29 1980 3-4 WATSON LEBLANC and REDMAN 1971 114-121
STILES 1977 88 LEONE 1973 KRAMER 1979 in press
55 THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY
derived from ethnographies of African Bushmen to help There is considerable amount of literature generated
interpret the lifeways of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gathe by prehistorians discussing this procedure 5) but the
rers in the Near East) situation can be very briefly summarized as follows
It is usually believed that direct historical analogy is An analogy however simple or complex it may be
better i.e. stronger more secure more likely to be this feature is hearth vs this archeological culture
correct than general comparative analogy Certainly the represents the remains of Polynesian-style chiefdom)
more closely-related and the more similar the ethnogra is an hypothesis that except for such routine identifi
phically documented situation is to the archeologically cations as the hearth in the above example which are
documented one the more abundant plausible analogies usually readily accepted by colleagues must be
will be But once the archeological material is beyond tested against the archeological record before it can be
the recognition of living members of the ethnographi accepted as probably correct In other words ethnogra
cally documented group 10) the two kinds of analogy phic information is simply very rich source of hypo
are logically equivalent Both are simply sources of thetical interpretations for archeological material left by
hypotheses facilitating interpretation of archeological extinct human groups These interpretations can be
materials There is perhaps in some sense greater checked or tested by inferring consequences from them
degree of probability that hypothetical interpretations that should be evidenced in the archeological record if
drawn from direct historical sources are more valid than the interpretations are correct Hill provides an
those drawn from sources remote in time and example of how such testing can be done in an actual
space l) but this proposition although intuitively very archeological situation Should evidence for the inferred
plausible and appealing is not well demonstrated consequences indeed be forthcoming from further exa
mination of the archeological record then the interpre number of writers have strongly cautioned archeo-
tation is strengthened To assert that series of positive logists about the pitfalls of overreliance or naive re
outcomes to such tests proves the truth of the original liance on ethnographic analogy 12 Many of these
hypothesis is to commit an error in logic affirming the cautionary points are well-taken although clear recogni
consequent) but in practice most of us certainly do tion of the analogies as hypotheses to be tested rather
tend to accept such tested propositions as proven unless than as ready-made interpretations obviates many of the
further work casts doubt on them difficulties Gould has recently elaborated the cautionary
theme in what believe to be somewhat misleading It is widely recognized that there are two kinds of
way 13 He notes as have various of the authors cited analogy the direct historical and the general compara
above that many prehistoric societies have no ethnogra tive The former is possible in those parts of the world
phically known counterparts This is certainly true and where prehistory developed directly into history where
means that efforts to interpret their remains necessitate ethnographically and historically known groups can be
careful attention to wide variety of information and traced back into protohistory and beyond There are
alternatives data on the social behavior of large carni examples in several parts of the Old and New Worlds
vores for instance may be highly relevant to unders some of the best known being the peasant communities
tanding early hominid subsistence in southern and eas of the Near East 7) the Australian aborigines 8) and
tern Africa during the basal Pleistocene Gould conclu the native American societies in Meso-america and the
des Given such framework basing understanding of Southwestern U.S 9)
past human adaptations on analogy to present day adap General comparative analogy means using for the tations] one cannot know more about the past than one purposes of archeological interpretation seemingly
appropriate parallels from any source no matter how
distant in time or space for instance using information 10 See OSWALT 1974 for description of archaeoethnology
in Alaska where living Eskimo informants recognize and explain ob
jects excavated from the most recent strata of an archeological site ASCHER 1961 BINFORD 1967 CHANG 1967 GOULD similar situation was recorded by F.W Hodge when working in the 1978 Ch 10 1980 Ch.2 SCHRIRE 1972 WATSON 1979a proto-historic Zuni site of Hawikuh New Mexico SMITH WOOD- Ch WATSON LEBLANC and REDMAN 1971 49-51 see also BURY and WOODBURY 1966 174) LEROI-GOURHAN 1978 11 STILES 1977 96 HILL 1968 12 HEIDER 1967 THOMSON 1939 STANISLAWSKI 1973 KRAMER 1979 WATSON 1978 1979a FREEMAN 1968 BINFORD 1968 GOULD 1978 1980 13 GOULD 1978 250-259 1980 Ch THOMPSON 1958 STANISLAWSKI 1969a 1978
56 THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY
already knows about the present 14 He finds this fact The major theoretical points made in the preceding
unacceptably restraining and wishes to develop an discussion are further illustrated in the next section of
approach to ethnoarchaeology that will allow us to this paper
dispense with analogies altogether The allegedly non-
analogical approach he offers is presented in some detail
PRATICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY IN THE in his book LIVING ARCHAEOLOGY He defines
NEAR EAST interpretive principles and models by combining ethno
graphic data on subsistence technology and demogra Although substantial published results are only now phy with environmental information on climate topo beginning to appear for the Near East 16) there has graphy flora fauna and other resources The resulting been explicit concern with ethnoarcheologically derived interpretive models facilitate his understanding of Aus information for many years 17 One reason for this is tralian prehistory and have considerable potential use that the Near East is one of those world areas where the fulness for aiding broad understanding of foraging or
direct historical approach can be very successfully ap hunting-gathering human groups in many times and plied large percentage of the recently published eth places However applying these interpretive models noarcheological data is focused upon demographic is means applying ethnographic analogies to the archeolo- sues 18 Sumner and Kramer 1978 are concerned with gical record The may be relati deriving reliable estimates of population sizes for whole vely complex and presented in framework that inclu communities and regions whereas Kramer 1979 and des well-demonstrated or widely accepted uniformita- Jacobs discuss in some detail the relationships between rian principles about the behavior of cryptocrystalline architecture sizes and distributions of floor plans and substances when knapped by human tool-maker for features and the size and organization of human groups instance or the relationships of size and structure of constructing and occupying the architecturally-defined animal groups to climatic fluctuations) but the resulting spaces 19 The information derived from such studies models inevitably depend upon analogies derived from is of obvious relevance to archeologists assessing the observation of living groups interacting with their natu nature and impact of population shifts during the food- ral environments
producing and urban revolutions
Hence remarks about the desirability of dis Hole 20 has provided very useful ethnoarcheologi pensing with ethonographic analogy are confusing be cal information on an Iranian pastoral nomadic goup cause as noted above we cannot learn anything about the Baharvand His study is meant to help solve the the past except by means of the present and specifically problem of detecting nomads archeologically and thus by means of drawing parallels analogies between the enable the evaluation of the role played by pastoral remains of past events or processes and those we know nomads in Near Eastern prehistory This question beco or believe to result from events and processes observa mes especially intriguing for the period of early state ble in the present It is simply not possible to dispense formation in Mesopotamia during the fourth millen with analogies in interpreting the past Gould himself nium B.C realizes this at least intuitively because for purposes Some researchers are documenting artifacts and tech of his own research he constructs models and hypo niques relevant to interpreting specific details of the theses based on his own and others ethnographic obser archeological record in both prehistoric and historic vations combination with lawlike generalizations time ranges 21 while others record details of domestic drawn from biology and other natural sciences 15 activities and the resulting artifact distributions 22) Perhaps he is simply using the words ethnographic
analogy in very narrow and limited way or perhaps 16 HOLE 1978 1979 KRAMER 1978 1979 in press WAT
he means to discourage unthinking and inappropriate SON 1979a
17 ADAMS 1958 BRAIDWOOD and REED 1957 HARLAN application of untested analogies to the archeological
1967;HILLMAN 1973 NISSEN 1968 OCHSENSCHLAGER record In any case considerable amount of confusion 1974a WATSON 1966 WEINSTEIN 1973 has been introduced into the ethnoarcheological litera 18 JACOBS 1979 KRAMER 1978 1979 SUMNER 1979 ture 19 See also WATSON 1978 and 1979a Ch
20 HOLE 1978 1970
14 GOULD 1980 32 21 HILLMAN 1973a KRAMER in press Ch.III OCH
15 1980 Ch.3-10 see especially such discussions as SENSCHLAGER 1974 WATSON 1979a Ch 3-5
those on pp 62-69 86-87 108-112 126 132 22 LLADE 1978
57 THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY
Before discussing some of the results of the studies important recent studies can be indicated The discus
enumerated above we should return briefly to the theo sion is organized under two headings subsistence
retical points made in the second section of this paper and technology and demographic issues
Application of the direct historical approach under Subsistence and technology As already noted most
lies all the investigations listed Most of those who have of the ethnoarcheological research on subsistence has
published explicitly ethnoarcheological work are prima centered around investigation of the food-producing re
rily interested in the early village range of Near Eastern volution ca 10000 to 7000 B.C. Therefore the avai
prehistory and the origins of food-production 23 lable publications stress data on wheat and barley
Hence their aim is to gather data from the contempo cultivation sheep/goat pastoralism and the details of
rary Near East relevant to understanding this major preparing the yields of domesticated species for human
economic transformation that took place in the ancient consumption 27)
Near East Because population pressure is currently With respect to pastoralism Frank Hole 28 provides
believed to have been an important causal factor in the statistics on herd sizes and composition for the Bahar
food-producing revolution 24) good deal of attention vand nomads that supplement and refine earlier data
is being paid to empirical information on population published by Fredrik Barth for another group the Bas-
density and other demographic matters seri 29 Both Hole and Barth state that pastoralist
Two closely related levels of investigation are being family needs at least 200 sheep and goats to maintain
pursued one at the household level What is the modest livelihood This is also the optimal number that
can be managed by an ordinary family without em average size of family groups in contemporary Near
Eastern peasant villages and how much space do they ploying hired herders 30 In his general discus
occupy and one at the community level What is sions 31 Hole emphasizes the origin and development
the average population density per hectare of village of pastoralism as an alternative lifeway to that of settled
area Other matters being examined include the organi viltage farming It is now widely believed that pastoral
zation of roofed and unroofed household space and the economies appeared quite early in the Near East and
nature and distribution of archeologically visible featu probably played an important role in the development
res and functionally-specific buildings of complex civilized societies in southern Mesopotamia
The aim of all this work is to define potential regula Although Near Eastern archeologists can obtain
good deal of useful information from recent and older rities between preser vable architectural remains and the
ethnographic studies of pastoral nomads 32) there is size and organization of the human groups producing
pressing need for more ethnoarcheological observation them These postulated regularities can then be used as
hypotheses possibly explanatory of portions of the before this way of life is completely gone
archeological record and testable against it For instance Subsistence and technology in contemporary Near
results from two contemporary Iranian villages give Eastern villages is variously addressed in the ethnogra
some support to suggestion 25 that human phic literature 33) but only few specifically ethnoar
beings require on the average about 10m2 of living cheological studies have been carried out 34 These
space 26) latter publications present detail on artifacts and tech-
27 HILLMAN 1973a HOLE 1978 KRAMER press RESULTS
WATSON 1979a
28 HOLE 1978 141-149
An exhaustive account of all ethnoarcheological re 29 BARTH 1961
30 See BECK 1980 for additional discussion and for data relative search in the Near East is beyond the scope of the
to the present paper but the results of some of the most 31 HOLE 1977 135-139 and HOLE 1978
32 For example AMANOLAHI-BAHARVAND 1975 BATES
1973 BECK 1980 in press DIGARD 1975 1978 IRONS 1975 23 Exceptions are ASCHENBRENNER 1976 and OCHSENS OBERLING 1974 DICKSON 1949 FEILBERG 1952 CHLAGER 1974a 33 See for instance ALBERTS 1963 ASWAD 1971 HAL- 24 BINFORD 1968 FLANNERY 1969 SMITH and LETT and SAMIZAY 1980 LAMBTON 1953 SWEET 1960 Other YOUNG 1972 references may be found in KRAMER 1978 and WATSON 1979 25 NAROLL 1962 34 HILLMAN 1973 JACOBS 1979 KRAMER in 26 LEBLANC 1971 KRAMER 1979 155 WATSON 1978 press. WATSON 1979a 279
58 THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY THE
niques with known antiquity in the Near East hand literature is now available for Near Eastern prehisto-
rians and has recently been summarized by Carol Kra spindles and looms and the ways they are used in
processing wool and goatshair for instance or manu mer 39 She finds that for the Zagros mountain and
facture and use of adobe and puddled adobe They also piedmont region of Iran density estimator of roughly
provide basic statistics on crop yields amounts of grain OO persons per hectare of village area is more accurate
consumed per capita per year etc as well as techniques than the 200 persons per hectare that is sometimes
for planting harvesting and processing grain and pas used 40 She also notes however that there may be
toral techniques and processes Many of the latter paral considerable variation in these averages from region to
region and that densities seem to be lower on the lel those used by pastoral nomads
Iranian and Anatolian plateaus than in the Zagros Obviously there is considerable variety in figures for Population density in towns and cities is an even more crop yields but data of these kind in combination with
complex question with figures ranging from 36 to 291 documentation of their physical environmental context
persons per hectare are precisely what are required to enable construction of
interpretive models like those discussed by Gould The average size of family groups in the villages
above descriptive of prehistoric lifeways in the Near studied by Jacobs Kramer and Watson ranges from 4.4
East and of possible explanations for major transforma to 8.75 found average living space to be highly
tions in those lifeways such as the development of variable in Tell-i Nun but as already noted there
state-based society) is some support for average 10 m2 per person
at the other two communities recently investigated Another ethnoarcheological data source is the repli
cative experiment Within the context of agricultural
origins in the Near East the best known such experi CONCLUSIONS
ment is that of Jack Har an 35 who harvested and
threshed wild wheat southeastern Turkey His results Although the practice of ethnoarcheology is not at all
suggest that family of five could harvest enough grain new according to Stiles it goes back at least to the 18th
in three weeks to last them year given natural stands century and even the word was used as long ago as as dense and abundant as the ones he observed the 1900(41) the present emphasis is unprecedented This Diyarbakir region So far no one has expanded upon or is in large part the result of development or evolution in tried to repeat Har harvesting experiment but this archeological theory and method but it is also partially should be done owing to the changing foci of research in ethnology and
Ochsenschlager has published descriptions of pottery social anthropology No longer are comprehensive de
and mud-vessel manufacture in southern Iraq which are tailed ethnographies being produced containing descrip
very clear examples of direct historical ethnographic tions of material culture technology or subsistence
analogy applied to specific artifacts 36 On the basis of techniques At the same time simple societies and tradi to objects currently manufactured in nearby tional societies are disappearing or are already gone
villages Ochsenschlager was able to identify fragments Thus the majority of practicing archeologists have re
of six types of containers found in ED III contexts at the cently realized or been convinced of the necessity for
Sumerian site of Tell al-Hiba(37) specific kinds of detailed observations in living societies
only to find that few of their non-archeological collea There are few other ethnoarcheological and many
gues are making such and that the oppor ethnographic publications that contain descriptions and
tunities to make them are vanishing rapidly illustrations of artifacts or artifact-complexes of interest
to Near Eastern archeologists 38) Fortunately for Near Easternists the potential for
ethnoarcheological research in western Asia is good Demographic issues With respect to the demogra
deal greater than in many other regions In spite of phic questions referred to earlier growing body of
rapid industrialization and forces of moderniza
tion there are many sectors of rural and urban popula-
35 HARLAN 1967
36 OCHSENSCHLAGER 1974a
37 1974 173-174
39 KRAMER 1978 38 For example FEILBERG 1952 HANSEN 1961 FFLER
40 Compare ADAMS and NISSEN 1972 and FRIEDL 1967 FFLER FRIEDL and JANATA 1974
41 FEWKES 1900 579 WULFF 1966
59 THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF ETHNOARCHEOLOGY
ADAMS McC and NISSEN tions who maintain their traditional lifeways Even so it
1972 The Uruk Countryside Chicago University would seem justifiable to urge that any archeological
staff resident in an appropriate region of the Near East of Chicago Press
should include someone whose primary duties are eth-
noarcheological The expedition ethnoarcheologist need ALBERTS
1963 Social Structure and Culture Change in an not confine his or her work to the contemporary popu
Iranian Village Ph dissertation Depart lation but could also do archival research and carry out
ment of Anthropology University of Wis replicative experiments like Har an
consin From general world-wide perspective it appears
that ethnoarcheological research in the Near East is
AMANOLAHI-BAHARVAND presently in the vanguard This is not only because so 1975 The Baharvand Former Pastoralists of Iran many people are doing it besides the published studies Ph dissertation Department of Anthro referred to above there is work currently in progress in pology Rice University Cyprus 42) Greece 43) and every Near Eastern coun
try where the political situation permits) but also be
ASCHENBRENNER cause many of the investigators are coordinating their 1976 Archaeology and ethnography in Messenia efforts sufficiently to assure comparability of re In DIMEN and FRIEDL E. ed Regio sults 44 This last matter is one of considerable impor nal Variation in Modern Greece and Cy tance It is highly desirable to have number of diffe prus Toward Perspective on the Ethno rent case studies available from one region so that graphy of Greece Annals of the New York systematic comparisons can be made between and
Academy of Sciences 268 158-167 among them Isolated studies scattered around the
world are very weak basis for the comprehensive
ASCHER knowledge we need and must obtain soon if we are to 1961 Analogy in archaeological interpretation obtain it at all The practice of ethnoarcheology if
Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 17 carefully done is highly rewarding but also it is extre
317-325 mely pressing Traditional ways of living are under
siege all over the world It is by no means inappropriate
ASWAD that archeologists those scholars most concerned 1971 Property Control and Social Strategies Set with ancient lifeways are now assuming some of the tlers on Middle Eastern Plain Anthropolo initiative in documenting those traditions
gical Papers of the Museum of Anthropology Patty Jo WATSON 44 Ann Arbor University of Michigan Washington University
St Louis Missouri U.S.A
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the alluvium illustrated by Mesopotamia BATES In KRAELING and ADAMS McC 1973 Nomads and Farmers Study of the Yö ed City Invincible 24-34 with Discus rük of Southeastern Turkey Anthropological sion 34-46 see especially comments by Papers of the Museum of Anthropology 52 FERNEA Chicago University of Chicago Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press
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Herd owners and hired shepherds the 1980 40 Compare ADAMS and NISSEN 1972
41 FEWKES 1900 579 of Iran Ethnology XIX 327-351
42 LLADE 1978 Economic transformations among in press 43 ASCHENBRENNER 1976 Nomads 1962-1977 In BONINE and 44 See the chapters on Iran in KRAMER 1979 and the general
discussion in KRAMER 1978 KEDDIE ed Modern Iran The Dialec-
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63