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Greater Post-Neolithic Wealth Disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesoamerica

by Timothy Kohler, Gary Feinman, Christian E Peterson, Alleen Betzenhauser, Matthew Pailes, Elizabeth C. Stone, Laura Ellyson, Linda Nicholas, Ronald "Sonny" Faulseit, Amy Styring, Jade Whitlam, Mattia Fochesato, and Samuel Bowles

Nature, 2017

Kohler, Timothy A., Michael E. Smith, Amy Bogaard, Gary M. Feinman, Christian E. Peterson, Alleen... more Kohler, Timothy A., Michael E. Smith, Amy Bogaard, Gary M. Feinman, Christian E. Peterson, Alleen Betzenhauser, Matthew Pailes, Elizabeth C. Stone, Anna Marie Prentiss, Timothy Dennehy, Laura Ellyson, Linda M. Nicholas, Ronald K. Faulseit, Amy Styring, Jade Whitlam, Mattia Fochesato, Thomas A. Foor, and Samuel Bowles. 2017. Greater Post-Neolithic Wealth Disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesoamerica. Nature 551(7680): 10.1038/nature24646. How wealth is distributed among households provides insight into the fundamental characters of societies and the opportunities they afford for social mobility. However, economic inequality has been hard to study in ancient societies for which we do not have written records, which adds to the challenge of placing current wealth disparities into a long-term perspective. Although various archaeological proxies for wealth, such as burial goods or exotic or expensive-to-manufacture goods in household assemblages, have been proposed, the first is not clearly connected with households, and the second is confounded by abandonment mode and other factors. As a result, numerous questions remain concerning the growth of wealth disparities, including their connection to the development of domesticated plants and animals and to increases in sociopolitical scale. Here we show that wealth disparities generally increased with the domestication of plants and animals and with increased sociopolitical scale, using Gini coefficients computed over the single consistent proxy of house-size distributions. However, unexpected differences in the responses of societies to these factors in North America and Mesoamerica, and in Eurasia, became evident after the end of the Neolithic period. We argue that the generally higher wealth disparities identified in post-Neolithic Eurasia were initially due to the greater availability of large mammals that could be domesticated, because they allowed more profitable agricultural extensification, and also eventually led to the development of a mounted warrior elite able to expand polities (political units that cohere via identity, ability to mobilize resources, or governance) to sizes that were not possible in North America and Mesoamerica before the arrival of Europeans. We anticipate that this analysis will stimulate other work to enlarge this sample to include societies in South America, Africa, South Asia and Oceania that were under-sampled or not included in this study.

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Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape4.11 · Rating details ·  9 Ratings  ·  0 Reviews

The alluvial lowlands of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia are widely known as the “cradle of civilization” owing to the scale of the processes of urbanization that took place in the area by the second half of the fourth millennium BC.

In Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization, Guillermo Algaze draws on the work of modern economic geographersThe alluvial lowlands of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia are widely known as the “cradle of civilization” owing to the scale of the processes of urbanization that took place in the area by the second half of the fourth millennium BC.

In Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization, Guillermo Algaze draws on the work of modern economic geographers to explore how the unique river-based ecology and geography of the Tigris-Euphrates alluvium impacted the development of urban civilization in southern Mesopotamia. He argues that these natural conditions granted southern polities significant competitive advantages over their landlocked rivals elsewhere in Southwest Asia, most importantly the ability to easily transport commodities. In due course, this resulted in increased trade and economic activity and higher population densities in the south than were possible elsewhere. As southern polities grew in scale and complexity throughout the fourth millennium, revolutionary new forms of labor organization and record keeping were created, and it is these socially created innovations, Algaze argues, that ultimately account for why fully developed city-states emerged earlier in southern Mesopotamia than elsewhere in Southwest Asia or the world....more

Hardcover, 246 pages

Published November 15th 2008 by University Of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2008)