Social inequality before farming? Multidisciplinary approaches to the study of social organization in prehistoric and ethnographic hunter-gatherer-fisher societies

Moreau, Luc 

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Archaeological investigations over the past 50 years have challenged the importance of domestication and food production in the emergence of institutionalized social inequality. Social inequality in the prehistoric human past developed through multiple historical processes that operate on a number of different scales of variability (e.g. social, economic, demographic, and environmental). However, in the theoretical and linguistic landscape of social inequality, there is no clear definition of what social inequality is. The lifeways of hunter-gathererfisher societies open a crucial intellectual space and challenge to find meaningful ways of using archaeological and ethnographic data to understand what social inequality exactly is with regard to variously negotiated or enforced cultural norms or ethoses of individual autonomy. This interdisciplinary edited volume gathers together researchers working in the fields of prehistoric archaeology and cultural and evolutionary anthropology. Spanning terminal Pleistocene to Holocene archaeological and ethnographic contexts from across the globe, the nineteen chapters in this volume cover a variety of topics organized around three major themes, which structure the book: 1) social inequality and egalitarianism in extant hunter-gatherer societies; 2) social inequality in Upper Palaeolithic Europe (c. 45,000–11,500 years ago); 3) social inequality in prehistoric Holocene hunter-gatherer-fisher societies globally. Most chapters in this volume provide empirical content with considerations of subsistence ecology, demography, mobility, social networks, technology, children’s enculturation, ritual practice, rock art, dogs, warfare, lethal weaponry, and mortuary behaviour. In addition to providing new data from multiple contexts through space and time, and exploring social diversity and evolution from novel perspectives, the collection of essays in this volume will have a considerable impact on how archaeologists define and theorize pathways both towards and away from inequality within diverse social contexts.

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research