The seeds of economic inequality were sown back in the Stone Age, from which human society never looked back, researchers from Bristol University have said.
The research, carried out by archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford, found that inherited wealth and the inequality that brought began more than 7,000 years ago in the early Neolithic era.
New evidence from studies of burial sites across central Europe showed that the first farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without.
Strontium isotope analysis of the skeletons, which provides indications of place of origin, indicated that men buried with distinctive Neolithic stone adzes (tools used for smoothing or carving wood) had less variable isotope signatures than men buried without adzes. This suggests those buried with adzes had access to closer – and probably better – land than those buried without.
Professor Alex Bentley from Bristol University said: “It seems the Neolithic era introduced heritable property (land and livestock) into Europe and that wealth inequality got under way when this happened. After that, of course, there was no looking back: through the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Industrial era wealth inequality increased but the ‘seeds’ of inequality were sown way back in the Neolithic.”