Session: #171

Theme & Session Format

6. Material culture studies and societies
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

The Emergence of Social Inequality in Europe and Southwest Asia: From the Later Upper Palaeolithic to the Early Bronze Age
The emergence of social inequality in the human past is the subject of long-running debates amongst archaeologists and anthropologists. Social evolutionary narratives that posit a unilineal increase in social inequality and complexity from the end of the Palaeolithic to the emergence of early state societies are being increasingly challenged, yet they are difficult to dispel. They are based in large part on the historical context in which archaeology and anthropology emerged as disciplines in the modern West. This legacy has come under sustained critique, leading scholars to question not just the social evolutionary underpinnings, but our definitions of social inequality as well. Recent research has not only problematized the idea that hunter-gatherers were consistently egalitarian during the Palaeolithic, but also whether social inequality was present in Neolithic and subsequent societies and how it manifested itself.

Given these critiques, archaeologists and anthropologists must rethink how social inequality should be identified and approached by considering the specific circumstances and conditions under which fluid and flexible forms of hierarchy may emerge and how they may have become more permanent and lasting. The transition to agriculture in Southwest Asia and its arrival in Europe is still seen as a key moment that may have engendered the establishment of more permanent and strict social hierarchies. There is now increasing evidence, however, that various forms of social difference may have existed well before the emergence of fully sedentary agropastoralist societies.

This session invites papers focusing on a wide spectrum of material correlates associated with social inequality in the archaeological record between the Late Upper Paleolithic and Early Bronze Age such as funerary practices, resource abundance, demography, settlement patterns etc.
Social inequality, Upper Paleolithic, Epipalaeolithic/Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Southwest Asia/Europe
Session associated with MERC:
Session associated with CIfA:
Session associated with SAfA:
Session associated with CAA:
Session associated with DGUF:
Session associated with other:


Main organiser:
Rune Iversen (Denmark) 1
Scott Haddow (Canada) 1
Tobias Richter (Germany) 1
Guus Kroonen (Netherlands) 2
1. University og Copenhagen
2. Leiden University