May 29, 2012

Could The Trend Towards Inequality Be Bred Into Us?

Michael Harper for RedOrbit.com

The age-old struggle between classes may be even older than we thought, according to a new study carried out by archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford.

According to their research, hereditary inequality may have begun as early as 7,000 years ago in the Neolithic era. The archeologists found evidence showing farmers who were buried with tools were also buried in better land than those farmers without.

The research was published yesterday, May 28, in PNAS.

To conduct their research, the archeologists studied more than 300 human skeletons from across sites in central Europe. Professor Alex Bentley led the research along with an international team of archeologists. Together, they discovered evidence that Neolithic farmers didn´t always have the same access to land, the earliest sign of inequality ever discovered.

“It seems who your parents were mattered even then," said Dr Penny Bickle of Cardiff University, one of the international team of researchers, according to the Guardian.

To find these results, Bentley, Bickle and team studied levels of radioactive isotopes which can provide insight into the diet of these farmers since childhood. The researchers also analyzed strontium isotopes in the skeleton´s tooth enamel and found some of these individuals lived on food grown in the most fertile and productive ground available.

The archeologists also noticed some of the male skeletons were buried with chopping and cutting tools known as adzes. These tools were often polished and prized, as they were made from carefully selected stone. Such tools are believed to have been a status symbol of wealth and prosperity. As the isotope markers in the enamel were laid down since childhood, the researchers believe these individuals were born into the wealth they had and held onto it till the end, as suggested by the skeletons being buried next to their adzes.

"This strongly suggests that access to the best soils was being passed on between generations," Bickle told the Guardian.

"Thus, while I think it's not news that status differences and subsistence specialisms date to the Neolithic, this is perhaps the first time we've been able to show that inheritance was a large part of this."

Those men buried without adzes who are believed to have lived in similar settlements had different strontium levels, suggesting their food came from less-than-fertile ground.

Bentley and Bickle say these varying levels suggest these men could have survived on wild plants or could have even been excluded from farming in the best soil available.

As for the women, the isotope analysis revealed they were more likely to hail from areas other than where they were born, suggesting  they had moved from their homeland to be with their partners.

“It seems the Neolithic era introduced heritable property (land and livestock) into Europe and that wealth inequality got underway when this happened,” Professor Bentley told the Daily Mail.

“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.”