Topic ID #20210 - posted 5/31/2012 1:19 AM

Occupy the Neolithic: Social Immobility in the Stone Age

Jennifer Palmer

Occupy the Neolithic: Social Immobility in the Stone Age
By Michael Balter, ScienceNOW

Even the most democratic societies are rife with social and economic inequalities, as the current tension between the poorer “99 percent” and the richest “1 percent” vividly illustrates. But just how early in human events such social hierarchies became entrenched has been a matter of debate. A new study of skeletons from prehistoric farming communities across Europe suggests that hereditary inequality was an early feature, going back more than 7,000 years ago.

Most researchers agree that social hierarchies began with the advent of farming. The earliest known farming communities are found in the Near East, dating back almost 11,000 years. Archaeologists have looked for evidence of social stratification in these societies with mixed results. Some early farming societies show signs that people played different roles and that some were buried with greater ritual — shuffling off this mortal coil with a number of elaborate “grave goods,” including pottery and stone tools. However, there is little evidence that social inequality was hereditary or rigidly defined.

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