Study: Social Inequality Has Been Around Since the Stone Age

A team of archaeologists finds the earliest evidence of differential land access among European farmers in the Neolithic era.

Study of the Day

PROBLEM: The custom of inheriting land and livestock engendered the ever-present issue of social inequality. When did this practice begin?

METHODOLOGY: Archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford studied more than 300 human skeletons from sites across central Europe. They used strontium isotope analysis to help determine the origin of the remains.

RESULTS: Men buried with distinctive Neolithic stone adzes, which are tools used for smoothing or carving wood, had less variable isotope signatures than men buried without adzes. This suggests that those equipped with the stone tools had access to closer, more fertile land than those buried without. Moreover, early Neolithic women were more likely than men to have originated from areas outside those where their bodies were found, suggesting patrilocality or the male-centered kinship system where females move to reside in the location of the males when they marry.

CONCLUSION: Hereditary inequality appears to have begun over 7,000 years ago in the early Neolithic era. Lead author R. Alexander Bentley says in a statement, "[T]here 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."

SOURCE: The full study, "Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe's First Farmers," is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In