For all the recent concern about rising income inequality – and the debates on the subject that are bound to continue through the November elections – a study released this week suggests that inequality has been part of human society for many millennia.
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the Nationals Academy of Sciences, archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford in England describe evidence of inequality among Neolithic farmers more than 7,000 years ago (well after the time of Neanderthal man, as even an Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer can attest). The researchers studied more than 300 skeletons from sites in central Europe. Some were buried with adzes – wood-working tools — while others were not.
Those adzes, which the authors write were made “from raw stone often exchanged over hundreds of kilometers and requiring a long preparation process,” may have “conveyed social, or even status differences.” The researchers found that those buried with the tools likely had greater access to better, more fertile, land than those without such tools. So the men of greater means had better access to preferred farming areas – access that could then be passed down to their descendants.
"It seems the Neolithic era introduced heritable property (land and livestock) into Europe and that wealth inequality got underway when this happened,” said Professor Alex Bentley of the University of Bristol in a press release about the study. “After that, of course, there was no looking back: through the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Industrial era wealth inequality increased but the 'seeds' of inequality were sown way back in the Neolithic."