Friday, November 25, 2022

"November 26, 1922, marks what is arguably the most famous discovery in the history of archaeology"

From the MIT Press Reader:

The Archaeology of Inequality
Ancient skeletons, funerary practices, and DNA reveal layers of inequality in past societies.

November 26, 1922, marks what is arguably the most famous discovery in the history of archaeology. On that day, the British Egyptologist Howard Carter made a small hole through which he could insert a candle in the sealed doorway of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber and thus lit the interior. As his eyes slowly adapted to the darkness, he was able to make out a chamber that had not been disturbed for over 3,000 years.

Tutankhamun was just an obscure pharaoh during his lifetime, and there is evidence that he was hastily buried; the second of the three nested coffins seems to have originally belonged to someone else. And yet the inner coffin, in which his mummy was discovered, is made of solid gold, weighing almost 250 pounds. One can barely imagine how impressive the burials of such powerful leaders as Khufu, Thutmose III, or Rameses II must have been; alas, they were all looted in antiquity.

But contrary to popular belief and cinematic glorification, most archaeologists would say that the search for spectacular treasures isn’t their main research objective; they want to understand the daily life of past civilizations. Still, both extremes — the fabulous wealth of kings and the hardscrabble existence of common people — contribute to an understanding of what can be argued is one of the main goals of archaeology: to document and study the evolution of inequality in ancient societies. This also involves the question of how to recognize and quantify it.

One of the most obvious approaches would be through the assessment of differential goods deposited in graves. But richly furnished graves may not simply be evidence of social differentiation; rather, they may be an attempt to demonstrate the importance and distinction of a family in relationship to other kindreds — a social importance that may not exist in reality. Moreover, social stratification can be based on wealth but can also be based on personal prestige and power. Therefore, it isn’t always possible to assess social differences by comparing graves with goods to those without them.

Aztec society, even with its horrific human sacrifices, was at the time
of the Spanish conquest more egalitarian than Mexico 200 years later.


If interested see also:

Jan. 2, 2017
To Create A "1%" In A Social Hierarchy You Don't Need An Economic Surplus, Just A Storable Form Of Wealth
So there I was, reading the abstract of "Hazelnut economy of early Holocene hunter–gatherers: a case study from Mesolithic Duvensee, northern Germany", thinking about Nutella and Frangelico when this grabbed my eye:
...High-resolution analyses of the excellently preserved and well-dated special task camps documented in detail at Duvensee, Northern Germany, offer an outstanding opportunity for case studies on Mesolithic subsistence and land use strategies. Quantification of the nut utilisation demonstrates the great importance of hazelnuts. These studies revealed very high return rates and allow for absolute assessments of the development of early Holocene economy. Stockpiling of the energy rich resource and an increased logistical capacity are innovations characterising an intensified early Mesolithic land use...
Stockpiling, storage, commodities, well that's right in our wheelhouse,* and if I can combine it with the last remnants of interest in Piketty's approach to inequality.....maybe I can synthesize something halfway original...

Yeah, it's already been done.
Here's VoxEU, September 2015:
Cereals, appropriability, and hierarchy
The Neolithic Roots of Economic Institutions....
We've looked at some aspects of pre-historic inequality a few times. If interested see after the jump. From the always interesting Heritage Daily:
An international team of archaeologists have discovered that a wealth gap existed in the Neolithic, around 6,600-years-ago.
At the town of Osłonki, in Poland, some people were buried with more valuable artefacts than others—including some of the first copper artefacts in Northern Europe. However, researchers were unsure whether this inequality in death translated into a wealth gap in life. Whilst such gaps have been established in other periods of history, this is not the case for the Neolithic.

The possibility remains that wealthy graves may reflect funerary donations to valued community members, so may not translate into an individuals wealth in life. To investigate this, Dr Chelsea Budd, from Umeå University in Sweden, and an international research team examined stable isotopes from different burials at Osłonki.

Stable isotopes are chemical elements incorporated into someone’s skeleton that vary based on their diet. “Initially, we were just interested in studying the food they ate to understand the development of farming in early prehistoric Europe.” said Dr Budd.

However, the results, published in the journal Antiquity, revealed that those buried with valuable beads and elaborate copper artefacts, do seem to have been wealthier in life as well as in death. Specifically, the isotopes indicate they likely had greater access to cattle from high-quality pastures....

"Intergenerational wealth and inequality in the animal world" (plus human elites and theft)
Storage: Very Important To Roman Emperors and Commodities Market Manipulators
Intensification of agriculture and social hierarchies evolve together, study finds
Mechanization, Productivity and Inequality: It Was Ever Thus
Ox-drawn plows to blame for increased inequality in Eurasia beginning in 4,000 BC
Thieving Elites And Complex Societies and What's With Larry Fink And All The Other Bald Guys?

And finally:
Fairness, Capuchin Monkeys and Wall Street
This is a few years old but contains some good lessons so is probably worth reposting
The speaker, Frans de Waal, is one of the heavyweights of the primate world. Actually, we all are among the heavyweights of the primate world but he's up there with Jane Goodall in the study of primates.
A quick hit via TED: