Insights into Social Inequality: A Quantitative Study of Neolithic to Early Medieval Societies in Southwest Germany

Research project T1_3

This project deals with five cemeteries from Southwestern Germany, which date in different epochs from the Early Neolithic, ca. 5200 BCE, to the Early Medieval Period, ca. 500 CE.
The aim is to identify hierarchical and heterarchical differences within the cemeteries, which are based on variations in the distribution of grave goods, pit sizes and distances between the graves. Bio-anthropological and isotope data are also included in the analyses.
Based on burial pit size distributions, house size distributions, and strontium isotope analyses, previous investigations show that the Early Neolithic and Early Medieval Period cemeteries reveal rather low degrees of inequality, whereas the Early Bronze Age and especially the Iron Age sites reveal rather high degrees of social inequality. In the Early Iron Age case, the relatively high level of social inequality is probably linked to the emergence of a centralised chiefdom system and a technologically improved and adapted subsistence economy. A network of power led to the accumulation of prestige goods and to the emergence of princely burials. The Early Bronze Age site of Singen shows a strategy based on a corporate mode of power. The decrease of inequality in the Early Medieval Period can be associated with turbulence during the migration of peoples and the large amount of evidence of violence. Both factors support the rather low level of social inequality at that time.

Project by Ralph Großmann


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