UM's Anna Prentiss Finds
Archaeological Evidence of Social Inequality
November 20, 2017
The origins of social inequality
might lie in the remnants of ancient Eurasia's agricultural societies,
according to an article recently published in the major science journal
A newly-published article in
Nature on historical social inequality includes data from University of
Montana excavations at Bridge River, British Columbia.
The article, "Greater post-Neolithic
wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesopotamia,"
includes research from Anna Prentiss, a professor in the Department of
Anthropology at the University of Montana.
Prentiss and UM anthropology Professor Emeritus Tom Foor provided data
from the archaeological sites at Bridge River, British Columbia, and
As people became more agricultural and settled, the rich became richer
as the ancient farmers who could afford oxen, cattle and other large
animals increased their crop production. This provided significant
opportunities for amassing and transmitting wealth, and the degree of
household wealth-based inequality became much higher in Old World,
Eurasian contexts, as measured by house size.
"High degrees of inequality did not contribute to long-term stability in
ancient societies," Prentiss said. "That is something that should
concern us given the extraordinary high degree of inequality in our own
study is based on data gathered from a research team that studied 63
archeological sites across four continents, dating between 9000 B.C. and
1500 A.D. It is one of the first studies to use archaeological data to
measure inter-household inequality between Old and New World sites.
The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the
Humanities provided grants contributing to the research.
Prentiss also added her research to a book titled "The Last House at
Bridge River." The book explores the history of the indigenous peoples
living in the Pacific Northwest during the Fur Trade period. The Bridge
River archaeological site contains 80 housepits, and 8,000 animal bones
and 12,000 artifacts originated from the Fur Trade period alone.