Quantification of Social Inequality in Prehistoric Societies

Research project T1_1

This project will contribute to the theorisation of social inequality within the humanities and the social sciences. It works on a continental scale and builds on the distinguishing feature of archaeology with its long-term observations over millennia, covering the time period from the Late Glacial Maximum to the first millennium CE. For the first time, it puts social inequality in the context of the evolution of productivity and population sizes as well as combining tried-and-tested single proxies in a multiproxy strategy, which should lead to a reduced set of factors/indices for social inequality.

The general research objectives focus on
1) formulating a hypothesis on how the already mentioned three variables (social inequality, population number, productivity) were related,
2) identifying archaeological proxies for social inequality,
3) applying a multi-proxy approach,
4) conducting case studies, while aiming to
5) formulate tailor-made indices of social inequality in archaeology.

The project builds on a couple of regional case studies, dealing with inequality and storage practices (indicating differences in access to resources) from various sites and periods, e.g., Western Linearbandkeramik (LBK), Central European Late Bronze Age (urnfield), Early Iron Age Western Hallstatt, and Late Iron Age oppida settlements. Quantitative analyses of the distribution of wealth in burials and graveyards identify significant social differences in the mise-en-scene and equipment of simple as well as exceptionally rich burials, including Central European Early Neolithic and Bronze Age graveyards as well as Mycenaean and Celtic elite burials.
As a starting point, LBK graveyards are investigated with regard to variation within and between sites. All burial objects can be given values, using ethnographical, historical or experimental data on labour time necessary for their production. The same method can be applied in other cultural contexts of later periods, which already show much higher inequality in grave goods.
 ROOTS of Inequalties
The so-called “Mask of Agamemnon” from shaft grave V, Mycenae, 16th century BCE (photo: Xuang Che).

Project by Tim Kerig tkerig@roots.uni-kiel.de




Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions