Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human
T. Douglas Price and Gary M. Feinman
This volume on the emergence of inequality brings a renewed perspective, through
varied lenses, at questions surrounding the origins of modern human social orga-
nization. In 1995 we edited a volume entitled Foundations of Social Inequality,
concerned with many of these same issues. Here we return to this fascinating
subject, to unanswered questions, new ideas, and new directions of study and
Archaeology provides a unique perspective on this question because of the time
depth available. Many aspects of our human condition evolved in the deep past and
cannot be fully understood without the long vantage point of history and prehistory.
This is certainly true for the fundamental principles of human organization—
the structure and function of the operation of society—which have been present
for thousands of years. The study of inequality is essentially a concern with the
evolution of human society and in fact is a predominant issue in recent considera-
tions of social evolution (e.g., Ames 2007, Earle and Johnson 2000, Marcus 2008,
Pluciennik 2005, Rousseau 2006, Shennan 2008, Trigger 2003).
This chapter is intended to outline some of the major questions concerning
inequality and to introduce the contents of this volume. We will do this ﬁrst by
considering a deﬁnition of social inequality and some of the evidence that has been
used to identify this condition in the past. A subsequent section pursues key ques-
tions. Why are we still talking about these issues? Why does the emergence of social
inequality matter, and what don’t we know? There are three major issues in the
archaeological study of inequality that relate to the questions of when, why, and
how. When did inequality originate? Why did inequality emerge in human society?
How did/does it operate? Are there different manifestations of inequality that struc-
ture human society? These questions are considered in our discussion and in the
chapters that follow.
T.D . Pr ic e (B)
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA
T.D. Price, G.M. Feinman (eds.), Pathways to Power, Fundamental
Issues in Archaeology, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-6300-0_1,
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
2 T.D. Price and G.M. Feinman
A Deﬁnition of Social Inequality
There are few larger questions in the prehistory of our species than the emergence of
social inequality. Social inequality, the organizing principle of hierarchical structure
in human society, is manifested in unequal access to goods, information, decision
making, and power. Status is the determinant of social position, and status differ-
entiation is the foundation of inequality. A variety of human conditions are used in
ordering social hierarchies and in determining status and access. These include age,
gender, birth order, class, race, and a number of others. Social inequality is a charac-
teristic of virtually every society on earth today and its history goes back thousands
This structure of unequal relations, of status differentiation, is essential to higher
orders of social organization and is basic to the operation of more complex societies.
So, questions about inequality are intricately bound up with questions concerning
human cooperation, leadership, and social differentiation both vertical (hierarchical)
and horizontal. An understanding of the transformation from relatively egalitar-
ian societies to more hierarchical organization is fundamental to our knowledge
about the contemporary world. This volume is intended to examine some of the
mechanisms, forces, and motivations involved in the shift in human societies
from egalitarian to hierarchical and the relationship between these changes and
Why Are We Still Talking About Social Inequality?
A fair question might be raised at this point—why are we still talking about the
emergence of social inequality? The simple answer is that we still don’t know very
much. The origin of inequality remains essential because there is no scholarly con-
sensus. The jury is still out. Archaeologists working in vastly different time periods
seem to suggest that inequality appears de novo in their particular part of time and
space. Individuals working in the Iron Age or with state-level societies often write
as though inequality was something new and previously unknown. Different forms
of inequality may appear in social and political arrangements, but it is our distinct
impression that status differentiation and inequality have been around for a very
We do know that social inequality has been the dominant structuring principle
in most human societies over the last 5,000 years or more. At the same time, we
still do not know precisely when or why this principle became dominant, or how it
operated in the past. How was inequality expressed in the past? Were there different
trajectories to hierarchy?
At some point in the deep human past, the biological imperative for dom-
inance behavior, common in our closest animal relatives, was dampened by a
cultural mechanism. This mechanism, known as egalitarianism, reﬂects the impor-
tance of cooperative behavior in the emergence of culture, in learning and sharing
1 Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human Social Organization 3
knowledge, and in survival (e.g., Boehm 1993,2000, Knauft 1991, Wiessner
2002). Human society operates within this didactic tension between dominance and
equality, between hierarchical and egalitarian, between modes of behavior that
feature or privilege the group to those that accent individuals.
A number of authors have written about the evolutionary value of cooperative
behavior (e.g., Bowles 2006, Fehr and Fischbacher 2004, Henrich 2003, Maschner
and Patton 1996,Nowak2006, Smith and Choi 2007), in the face of the competition
that is natural selection. Bowles, for example, argues that lethal conﬂicts between
early human groups may have selected for more altruistic units. He suggests that
practices such as food sharing beyond the family, monogamy, and other forms of
reproductive leveling were crucial to this process and presume advanced cognitive
and linguistic skills associated with fully modern humans.
The roots of cooperation and egalitarian behavior are probably linked to the evo-
lution of groups and social cognition in the human species. Tomasello et al. (2005,
see also Dunbar 1993) have proposed that the crucial difference between human
cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in col-
laborative activities with shared goals and intentions: a shared intentionality. The
remarkable human capacity for cooperation thus seems to have evolved mainly for
interactions within the group. It is because they are adapted for such collabora-
tive activities that human beings are able to do so many exceptionally complex and
impressive things (e.g., Tomasello 1999).
We suggest that a small degree of inequality in some form or another has always
been present in human society, albeit largely suppressed among various groups of
hunter-gatherers. At some point in time, perhaps with the rise of Homo sapiens
sapiens, human relations must have been transformed by the rise of cooperation and
egalitarian behaviors that were selected for learning and alliance building. We would
argue that inequality and dominance behavior re-emerge in early farming societies
(or perhaps earlier, see, e.g., Coupland et al. 2009, Hayden 2001) as human numbers
increase and larger group size becomes common. Various causes for an increase in
human numbers and group size with the advent of agriculture have been proposed
(e.g., Armelagos et al. 1991, Cohen 1977, Sellen and Mace 1997, Spielmann 1989).
Becker et al. (1990), for example, document a fascinating relationship between food
costs and fertility in historical Europe. Group size apparently increased dramatically
in the Neolithic, but again speciﬁc causality is not well understood (e.g., Adams and
Kasakoff 1975, Bandy 2008, Bentley et al. 1993, Johnson 1982, Sussman 1972).
Whatever the reason, there seems little doubt that human numbers increase dramat-
ically during the Holocene, and speciﬁcally with the onset of the Neolithic (e.g.,
Boquet-Appel and Bar-Yosef 2008, Chesnais 1986).
The advent of larger group sizes and greater densities of interpersonal interac-
tions likely was intertwined with new social arrangements. Boyd and Richerson
(1988; Richerson et al. 2003) have demonstrated from game theory and com-
puter simulation that reciprocal cooperation becomes more difﬁcult as group size
increases. In a very real sense, human society over the last 100,000 years or
more may have been characterized by a fundamental tension between relations
based on dominance, hierarchy, and kin altruism (part of our primate heritage)
4 T.D. Price and G.M. Feinman
and new capacities for social cognition, cultural learning, alliance building, and
cooperation, whether the latter behaviors were learned or part of recently acquired
innate tendencies (Boehm 2000, Stone 2008: 79, Tomasello et al. 2005).
A major question we consider in this volume involves the different pathways
or trajectories that the development of social inequality follows. We suggest that
the tension between cooperation and dominance in human behavior is reﬂected in
different paths of leadership and in the organization of inequality over time and
space. Certainly there is a great deal of variation in inequality represented among
the societies, both ancient and modern, encountered in the pages of this book. Some
of that inequality is a matter of degree, but other differences relate to the nature
or the speciﬁc ways in which inequality can be articulated. Blanton, Feinman, and
others (Blanton et al. 1996, Feinman 1995,2000,2005) have described these latter
trajectories as ranging between corporate and network (or exclusionary) modes of
interconnection between leaders and followers. At one end of a range, leadership
and inequality emphasize the group and the special roles within that group, while at
the other end of the spectrum leadership is more directly linked to the amassing of
wealth, and those individuals who hold power stand out ostentatiously from the rest
of the population (e.g. Bender 1978,1989, Hayden 1990,2001).
The deﬁnition of this range of variation was inﬂuenced by Renfrew (1974), who
contrasted group-oriented and individualizing chiefdoms, as well as by Lehman
(1969), who contrasted different ways that power may be wielded. In more collec-
tive, corporately organized groups, leaders tend not to monopolize wealth in their
own hands, but they do use their ofﬁces or special access to societal beliefs and ritu-
als to wield their power and inﬂuence. For example, larger Puebloan societies in the
past, as well as in more recent times, may have been organized in this way (Feinman
2000, Feinman et al. 2000, Mills 2000).
In contrast, the chiefdoms of prehispanic Panama generally were character-
ized by more individualizing chiefs, who derived considerable resources through
exchange and warfare. Prestige goods, such as decorated metal objects, were both
distributed to followers to encourage allegiance and worn and held by chiefs to dis-
play their own power, which often was passed down through lineal descent to their
immediate kin (Fowler 1992,Helms1976,1979, Linares 1977). Clearly, both of
these regions were internally heterogeneous, characterized by spatial and temporal
diversity, but in an overarching sense, the bases of power were markedly different
in accord with the contrast outlined above (see also Earle 1997).
The Chapters in This Volume
The following paragraphs provide an overview of the chapters in this volume in
order of appearance. Our goal is to provide a brief summary to introduce the authors
and their essays. We believe strongly that the chapters collected here provide an
extraordinary statement on the study of inequality in human society and a starting
point for breakthrough research in the future.
1 Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human Social Organization 5
Ken Ames (PhD, Washington State 1976, Professor, Portland State University)
begins this series of contributed papers with an outstanding essay on the nature of
and the relationship between dominance and cooperative behaviors in human soci-
ety. Ken’s deep background in hunter-gatherer studies brings important insight to
the subject. He reminds us of the fact that both of these behaviors are present in all
human societies. Ken argues that dominance behavior, rather than equality, is likely
the norm in human society. We need to describe and document the nature of egalitar-
ian societies, rather than prove the existence of inequality among hunter-gatherers
and early farming societies in the archaeological record.
There are many cases of discordance between expectations for egalitarian behav-
ior and visible evidence for hierarchy in the archaeological record: small-scale
societies that exhibit some degree of inequality, but lack many of the other traits
associated with complexity. Ames provides examples from several prehistoric
North American cultures. Recognizing this variability in the archaeological record,
Ames examines the foundations of our concepts regarding inequality. He visits
a series of issues including the human propensity for inequality based on our
primate heritage, conceptions of egalitarianism—including its origins and persis-
tence, explanations for the long-term existence for prestige seeking, the evolution of
prestige technologies, and the evolution of egalitarianism.
Important concepts in this consideration are external and internal constraints on
cultural variation (Trigger 1991), dominance and prestige (Henrich and Gil-White
2002), and attention structures and costly signaling. The idea of attention structures
and rank orders comes from ethological research with primates and pre-school age
children. The frequency of being at the center of attention may be the best measure
of status (Hold-Cavell 1996: 20). Attention structure also may complement costly
signaling and conspicuous consumption, at least in terms of status dynamics. Costly
signaling has been used to explain the seemingly irrational displays associated with
high status (Bliege Bird and Smith 2005, Smith and Bliege Bird 2005). In terms of
attention structure, costly signaling is what one does to attract and sustain attention.
Ames’ discussion leads to a conclusion that human inequality and egalitarianism
may be aspects of the illusive quality of “modernity.”
Dick Drennan, Christian Peterson, and Jake Fox
This chapter also considers the variation in manifestations of hierarchy present
among archaeological cultures. The chapter is a thoughtful and deliberate con-
sideration of the degrees and kinds of inequality from the minds of Robert D.
(Dick) Drennan (PhD, University of Michigan, 1976, Professor, University of
Pittsburgh), Christian Peterson (PhD, 2006, University of Pittsburgh, Assistant
Professor, University of Hawai’i at Manoa), and Jake R. Fox (PhD, University of
Pittsburgh, 2007, Assistant Professor, Radford University).
6 T.D. Price and G.M. Feinman
This chapter sets the tone for the volume, emphasizing the evidence for multiple
pathways to power, using examples from a variety of prehistoric contexts. These
authors take an objective approach to distinguishing levels of inequality, quantifying
major variables like burial contents and construction, household differences in size
and wealth, and amount of public architecture. Their aim is to develop methodology
for comparing both kind and degree of hierarchy among early complex societies. In
this chapter the focus is largely on chiefdoms, but the methods they are using can
be applied across a broad range of human societies. Emphasis is on the empirical
archaeological evidence. They point out that inequality may not be expressed in all
categories of archaeological evidence and that it is thus essential to consider a range
of information in such studies. They note for example that an archaeological culture
may have a very homogeneous set of burials, but nonetheless possess hierarchical
social organization that might be manifest in household wealth.
The authors use statistical analysis—multidimensional scaling—of data on vari-
ation in burial, household assemblages, and public construction to examine the
organization of status, wealth, and economic and ritual specialization. These analy-
ses tend to reveal differences in status versus wealth revealed in patterns of corporate
versus individual structures for hierarchical organization. The results of their study
point to several conclusions. There is substantial variability in how inequality is
expressed among archaeological cultures. This variation is measurable and quantiﬁ-
able and expressed in different kinds of archaeological evidence. Drennan, Peterson,
and Fox argue that more quantitative investigations of hierarchical societies are
needed to begin to better understand and explain this variation.
Mark Aldenderfer (PhD, Penn State University, 1977, Professor, University of
Arizona) in Chapter 4 examines the role of ritual and religion in creating and main-
taining inequality, a reminder that there are many facets to this topic. Mark argues
in his chapter that religion needs to be considered among the causal factors that led
to the emergence and establishment of persistent inequality in the past. Religion is
a vague and abstract concept in archaeology, so he focuses not on deﬁnition, but
action—on what religion does.
He points out that actors of all kinds—aggrandizers, their followers, and their
opponents—live in a context that is in part created and directed by religious practice
and belief. Aldenderfer argues that religion is part of practice, of the habitus,in
the social and economic world and cannot be understood outside of other aspects
of human behavior. More speciﬁcally, in terms of the debate here, he argues that
religion provides the sanctions for the emergence of persistent social inequality or
creates resistance to it (Aldenderfer 1993,2005: 30). The changes in human social
behavior that we seek to understand likely involve important beliefs and practices
that were key elements in the lives of the actors. In sum, Aldenderfer argues that we
need to look for the material manifestations of religion in the archaeological record
of societies experiencing the emergence of persistent social inequality.
1 Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human Social Organization 7
Brian Hayden and Suzanne Villeneuve
The next contribution moves in a different direction, as Brian Hayden (PhD,
University of Toronto, 1975, Professor, Simon Fraser University) and Suzanne
Villeneuve (MA, University of Victoria, 2008) ask a very pragmatic question: who
beneﬁts from status differentiation? Their study of this question focused on the
chiefdoms on Futuna, some 500 km northeast of Fiji. Futuna is a relatively small
volcanic island, only 20 ×5 km. Today, 5,000 people live on the island, politi-
cally divided into two competing chiefdoms in a total of 14 villages. They examine
the question of who beneﬁts from the perspective of political ecology—the way in
which resources (and in particular surplus resources) are used by certain members
of pre-industrial communities to acquire practical, political, and economic beneﬁts.
It is important to note that pigs represent the consummate wealth item on Futuna,
used for feasts, while bark cloth and mats were highly valued wealth items produced
by women. Pigs represent a household’s major investment of surplus food and labor.
The main points in this study by Hayden and Villeneuve are that feasting
played a critical role in creating political complexity, that creating political hier-
archies requires considerable supplemental resources beyond subsistence needs
(Rambo 1991)—especially for the feasts and prestige goods required to make these
systems function—and that the possibility of controlling some portion of commu-
nity surpluses provided great potential for self-aggrandizement and the acquisition
of power which consequently motivated ambitious individuals to create complex
Hayden and Villeneuve argue that claims that chiefs served their communities to
their own material detriment are untenable and inaccurate. Nor do traditional chiefs
appear to take up their positions primarily out of a sense of duty. On the basis of
their Futunan research, it seems clear that chieﬂy families were the main beneﬁ-
ciaries of the chiefdom political organization. Just as in transegalitarian societies,
aggrandizers are the motivating force behind a number of social, political, and ideo-
logical changes. They use a range of strategies to achieve self-interested goals; they
pander to common interests when necessary, they use economic leverage or coer-
cion when they can, and they promote new ideological concepts as justiﬁcations
for their endeavors or as a means of obtaining compliance. The ultimate motivation
for developing and maintaining status inequality is the beneﬁt conferred on those in
T. Douglas Price and Ofer Bar-Yosef
The volume then moves to a series of case studies from the Old World, arranged
in chronological order from the Neolithic, to the Bronze, and ultimately the
Iron Age. Price (PhD, University of Michigan 1975, Professor, University of
Wisconsin-Madison, University of Aberdeen) and Ofer Bar-Yosef (PhD, Hebrew
University, 1970, Professor, Harvard University) raise again the question of the
8 T.D. Price and G.M. Feinman
origins of inequality, arguing that agriculture and status differentiation appear
almost simultaneously. Focus is on Southwest Asia and the changes from the
Natuﬁan to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Their discussion involves a review of archae-
ological evidence from the time of the transition to agriculture in the ancient
Near East. The context for this review is the emergence of social inequality and
whether this phenomenon is associated with the beginnings of farming. The shift
from hunting to farming takes place in the Levant and southern Anatolia between
approximately 14,500 and 8,200 cal BP.
Their discussion begins with a consideration of social inequality and some of
the arguments for the timing and nature of the shift from egalitarian to hierarchical
society. Evidence from the Natuﬁan and Neolithic periods is considered in detail
as it relates to questions about status differentiation in human society. Attention
is focused on burial practices and body decoration, household architecture and
contents, exotic artifacts, monumental construction, and variation in site size and
function. Price and Bar-Yosef suggest that indications of the emergence of inequal-
ity during the transition to agriculture are indeed present and can be used to argue
for a strong association between social relations and subsistence behavior, two of
the bigger changes that have taken place in the evolution of human society.
Kristian Kristiansen (PhD, University of Aarhus, 1975, Professor, University of
Gothenburg) examines the Bronze Age of northern Europe and another context of
inequality. In this case, Kristiansen writes about the decentralized complexity that
characterizes chiefdoms of the Bronze Age, distinct from more clear-cut, stratiﬁed
cultures in the eastern Mediterranean at this time. More speciﬁcally, he writes about
change over time in these societies that lasted from 1750 to 500 BC.
The arrival of the northern Bronze Age is characterized by the introduction and
use of simple bronze tools, especially axes. At the same time huge longhouses for
large (chieﬂy) households begin to appear. New tools, weapons, and ornaments
made of bronze appear, together with a warrior elite. After 1500 BC, a distinctive
Nordic Bronze Age culture appears, characterized by the construction of thousands
of large barrows, a new material culture, and new more elaborate house architecture.
Thousands of burial barrows marked long lines of communication and interaction
across the landscape of southern Scandinavia. Barrows belonged only to members of
chieﬂy clans, perhaps 15–20% of the population. These groups were highly diversi-
ﬁed in terms of power and prestige, with the lowest ranks being close to commoners,
as demonstrated by variation in burial wealth and the huge differences in farm sizes.
Kristiansen focuses on the analysis of political economy to understand how
complex power structures operated in societies deﬁned by the Germanic mode of
production (Gilman 1995), wealth ﬁnance (Earle 1997), or a prestige goods system
(Kristiansen and Larsson 2005, Kristiansen 1998). While the institution of ritual
chiefs represented the highest level of chieﬂy power, only enjoyed by a relatively
small group among the upper chieﬂy clans, access to the warrior groups was more
1 Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human Social Organization 9
open, and membership could probably be recruited from a larger segment of the
chieﬂy clans. Kristiansen argues that the pastoral economy of Early Bronze Age
Denmark was used as mobile wealth, linking production of cattle to the production
and distribution of prestige goods and control over people. He follows Bourdieu’s
(1977) argument to explain how gift obligations among elite are transformed over
time into tribute and slavery. For more than 1,000 years a relatively stable, complex,
hierarchical, and decentralized society existed in southern Scandinavia without large
settlements, concentrated population, or public works. Thus the Danish chiefdoms
relied heavily on networked strategies, using systems of wealth ﬁnance to structure
Tina Thurston (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996, Associate Professor,
SUNY—Buffalo) takes a detailed look at the Iron Age and what power and king-
ship meant in that time of transition to state-level societies, again in the context of
northern Europe, and particularly southern Scandinavia. Her title—“bitter arrows
and generous gifts”—in many ways captures the nature of hierarchical society dur-
ing the period between 500 BC and about AD 1075, including the Viking period
during the last 250 years or so.
This contribution begins with a detailed look at the meaning of power and its
use in archaeology. Thurston then considers various ways that power is expressed
among hierarchical human groups. Thurston points to two ends of a range among
such societies that reﬂect the network and corporate approaches we have discussed
above. Visual differentiation characterizes network structures in terms of architec-
ture, burial, and personal ornament. Chiefs and rulers rarely redistributed anything
unless they are forced to do so by the power of their constituencies (e.g. Fisher
2000). On the other hand, there are the enigmatic examples like the Anasazi,
Harappans, and Teotihuacanos that appear politically complex but show little evi-
dence for typical indicators such as aggrandizement of individual rulers, centralized
institutions, and markedly stratiﬁed social classes. Iron Age societies in south-
ern Scandinavia follow a pattern similar to what is described for the Bronze Age
(Kristiansen, this volume, Kristiansen and Larsson 2005). Her concern in this essay
is that many Iron Age archaeologists have failed to recognize this range of vari-
ation and that the complexity of the Iron Age is often underestimated because
of such oversight. She quotes Feinman et al. (2000: 450), who observed archae-
ologists “failed to recognize the potential for hierarchy and equality to coexist
simultaneously in all human societies.”
In this context, Tina’s primary question becomes more than intriguing—what
was a king in the Iron Age north of the Alps? Her focus is on political organization,
its development, and the nature of political power. In the arena of the north, power
was constituted as a shared responsibility or privilege. Thurston argues for a view
of the northern European Iron Age as one in which decentralized power within a
stratiﬁed society is manifest in heterarchic organization and political power is
10 T.D. Price and G.M. Feinman
balanced between the warlord, and the assembly (or ting), and religious special-
ists who retain substantial power in their own realm. Kings they may be, but power
is shared and negotiated.
Gary Feinman’s (PhD, CUNY, 1980, Curator, Field Museum) contribution provides
a conclusion to this volume, as well as a very different perspective—bringing ideas
and concepts from the study of the past to bear on contemporary society. Feinman
(1995,2001, Blanton et al. 1996) has been at the fore of developing dual-processual
theory, postulating exclusionary (or network) versus corporate strategies in hierar-
chical society. In the exclusionary mode, political actors endeavor to consolidate and
monopolize sources of power. In the corporate mode, power is shared and divested
in different groups or social segments.
A number of questions and counterarguments have been raised about this theory.
In his essay here, Gary addresses those concerns though the use of the “metaphor”
of modern American political economy. Metaphor is, of course, the wrong word
because the modern American political economy is different only in scale in terms
of many of the principles that also operated in ancient chiefdoms and states. Gary
ﬁnds remarkable resonance between the implications of dual processual theory and
the operation of American government. At the outset it is important to note as
well that the corporate/exclusionary continuum in the way power was supported
and implemented is, in a sense, orthogonal to the vertical dimension of hierarchi-
cal complexity (Feinman et al. 2000: 454). That is to say, both forces of this theory,
corporate and network/exclusionary, operate in the same social and political context.
One of the advantages of considering modern history is the wealth of informa-
tion, quantitative data, and tight chronological control. Using this rich historical
database, Gary examines ﬁve key aspects of the corporate/network continuum: (1)
the balance of power or shifts in the ways that political power is divided or shared,
(2) the associated strategies of legitimation, (3) the relative importance of personal
networks, (4) the broader economic underpinnings of power, and (5) shifts in the
distribution of wealth and economic manifestations of inequality. The discussion of
these dimensions is followed by a consideration of some of the factors, strategies,
and global conditions that are thought to have fostered observed shifts. In conclu-
sion, Feinman returns to implications for the study of change and inequality in the
deeper archaeological past.
Pathways to Power
Selecting a title for a book is not an easy task. Pathways to Power is taken from the
paper by Brian Hayden that appeared in the volume Foundations of Social Inequality
in 1995. The title was chosen to indicate continuity with our earlier efforts. At the
1 Social Inequality and the Evolution of Human Social Organization 11
same time the subtitle—New Perspectives on the Emergence of Social Inequality—
emphasizes that many new ideas have emerged in the last 15 years and that our
understanding of the emergence of inequality has grown in that period.
The title also was selected to highlight the fact that this volume is indeed con-
cerned largely with pathways, with the various ways that human societies have
moved toward hierarchical structure and organization. The authors in the volume
look at inequality from many different perspectives, a variety of angles—theoretical,
ethnographic, ethnohistoric, typological, archaeological—and in many different
times and places. Times and places include the ancient Near East, Bronze Age
Europe, present-day islands in the South Paciﬁc, and modern America. The vocabu-
lary of concept and evidence used in the discussion of social inequality in the past is
staggering: ritual and religion, biology, population and fertility, prestige technology,
monumental construction, burial, household, feasting, agriculture, heterarchy, and
many, many more. This is a large and complex question in archaeological research.
The goals of a new book also vary considerably. We put this volume together
because of our common interest in the subject of social inequality as one of the
truly big questions in archaeology. We asked friends and colleagues to join us in
conference and authorship to share their knowledge and thoughts on this subject. It
is our hope that the results, compiled in this volume, will inspire new discussions of
the emergence of inequality and drive new research that will enlighten our under-
standing of hierarchy, and, more importantly, of the human condition in the deep
past as well as for the present and future.
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Aldenderfer, M. 2005. Preludes to Power in the Highland Late Preceramic Period. In Conlee,
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Armelagos, G.J., Goodman, A.H., and Jacobs, K.H. 1991. The origins of agriculture: Population
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