Social prejudice is not a modern concept, but an early feature going back to the Stone Age more than 7000 years ago, claims a new study.
Archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford have traced hereditary wealth and inequality to the earliest days of farming in the Neolithic era.
Studies provides new evidence that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without them.
Dr Penny Bickle of Cardiff University, one of the international team of researchers stated, "It seems who your parents were mattered even then. This strongly suggests that access to the best soils was being passed on between generations.
“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."
“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.”—Alex Bentley
Analysis of more than 300 skeletons
To get an insight into the timing and nature of these social inequalities, the researchers studied the tooth enamel of more than 300 skeletons from seven burial sites across Europe.
The team focused on strontium isotope of the skeletons, which is increasingly used to trace place of origin and movement of populations.
The analysis suggests that men buried with stone tools for smoothing or carving wood, known as adzes (thought to be an indication of higher social status), grew up on loess soils than those who were buried without adzes.
Team leader, Alex Bentley, professor of archeology and anthropology at the University of Bristol stated, “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.”
The “patrilocality” social system
The team also looked at female skeletons which comprised 153 of the total individuals analyzed.
The isotope analysis revealed a greater strontium variation in females compared to their male counterparts, which suggest that the women originated from areas outside those where they were buried.
According to scientists, this strongly indicates the “patrilocality” social system where women move in from other regions to live with their husband after marriage.
Prof Bentley concluded,“Our results suggest the origins of differential access to land can be traced back to an early part of the Neolithic era, rather than only to later prehistory when inequality and intergenerational wealth transfers are more clearly evidenced in burials and material culture."
“It seems the Neolithic era introduced heritable property – land and livestock – into Europe, and that wealth inequality got underway when this happened."
"After that 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."
The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 28.