- People buried with stone ‘adzes’ had better farming land
- Inherited wealth began just as farming spread across Europe
- Social inequality began far earlier than many imagined
- Early Neolithic farmers divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’
The gap between rich and poor began far earlier than most of us might imagine.
In 5,000BC, long before the Egyptians built the pyramids, Europeans were already divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
Analysis of grave sites across central Europe found that 7,000 years ago, in the early Neolithic era, some farmers had better land – and better tools, which they were buried with.
Some farmers grew fat on fertile land, armed with the latest tools, while others starved – even when world population stood at a mere five to seven million, and farming had only just begun to spread across Europe.
What’s more, their children ‘inherited’ their wealth, starting a cycle that continues to this day.
Hereditary inequality began over 7,000 years ago in the early Neolithic era, with new evidence showing that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without.
By studying more than 300 human skeletons from sites across central Europe, Professor Alex Bentley and an international team of colleagues funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council uncovered evidence of differential land access among the first Neolithic farmers – the earliest such evidence yet found.
Radioaactive ‘strontium analysis’ of the skeletons, which provides indications of place of origin, indicated that men buried with distinctive Neolithic stone adzes (tools used for smoothing or carving wood) had less variable isotope signatures than men buried without adzes.
This suggests those buried with adzes had access to closer – and probably better – land than those buried without.
Professor Bentley, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, said: ‘The men buried with adzes appear to have lived on food grown in areas of loess, the fertile and productive soil favoured by early farmers. This indicates they had consistent access to preferred farming areas.’