Sadr takes as his starting point Kroeber's "symbiosis" model for nomadism,
which stresses linkages between nomads and state-level societies.
He prefers this to the more popular "ecological" model, which stresses
nomadism's direct economic advantages in particular environments. There
are, then, different kinds of pastoralism: mixed economy, with symbiosis
within the family; agropastoralism, with symbiosis between segments or
clans within an ethnic group; and true nomadism, with symbiosis at the
regional level, between specialised nomadic and agricultural populations.
Sadr suggests that the origins of nomadism lie in a progression through
these three stages, accompanying population growth and an increase in
the complexity of social organisation.
Having briefly discussed some of the problems distinguishing different
forms of pastoralism in the archaeological record, Sadr then presents his
major case-study. This is of the Southern Atbai, a region of south-east
Sudan on the modern border with Ethiopia, from 3500 BC through to 500 AD.
The remainder of the book presents evidence from elsewhere in Northeast
Africa during the same period. The support this offers for the symbiosis
theory is (as Sadr himself clearly realises) sketchy, particularly for
the origins of nomadism in a progression between stages of pastoralism.
But the analysis is intriguing and The Development of Nomadism in
Ancient Northeast Africa is a deft and suggestive combination of theory
and evidence. Anyone interested in nomadism should read it.
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