Archaeological study provides evidence of the deep roots of wealth gaps in post-Neolithic Eurasia

17-11-2017 by Robyn Mason

The School of Archaeology’s Prof Amy Bogaard has co-authored a paper published in Nature which provides evidence that increasing dependence on agriculture and especially draught animals like cattle intensified wealth inequalities over time. Two School of Archaeology Post-Docs (Dr Amy Styring and Dr Jade Whitlam) worked alongside Amy and the international team of archaeologists conducting this study. They analysed house sizes at 62 archaeological sites across North America, Europe and Asia, and two from Africa. The sites represent a range of economic systems spanning the past 11,000 years, from those of hunter-gatherers to ancient cities. The team demonstrated that a relatively simple and universal parameter, variability of house size within a community, is a plausible measure of social inequality in that group. In societies in which most people have similar economic standing, houses tend to be the same size. But for groups in which some have greater wealth than others, a mix of smaller and larger houses is more common. The results showed that Eurasian sites reached significantly higher degrees of inequality than North American ones, even when their respective agricultural economies had existed for equivalent amounts of time. Their leading hypothesis is that draught cattle as a labour-saving device in agricultural production sustained greater inequality in the Old World.


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