What counts about inequality the cemetery of Bronze Age aristocrats

"There is this saying that there has always been rich and poor, but it's a lie. Before the Neolithic [about 10,000 years ago], we lived in a world where we were all practically the same." Leonardo García Sanjuán, from the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the University of Seville, says that he often reminds his students that, despite now seeming natural, the hierarchies and inequalities that today govern human societies are something relatively recently in a species that emerged more than 200,000 years ago,

The nature of that transition is one of the most interesting mysteries in human history. It is accepted that the loss of that supposed first-hand paradise, in which men and women collected the fruits that the countryside offered without demand and where animals were killed to eat their meat, had to do with livestock, agriculture and the adoption of sedentary is. In what anthropologist Jared Diamond called the worst mistake in human history, bands of hunters and gatherers began domesticating animals and grains and settled around the lands where they did it. This allowed the accumulation of wealth, the need for armed men to protect it, and the emergence of growing classes and inequalities. The adaptation to that way of life was a disaster [at least for several millennia] for most, who ended up enslaved to the land and its lords, suffered more diseases from human agglomerations and, as the archaeological remains show, lost a stature and a fortress that did not recover until only a century ago,

In rebuilding this process by which humanity became what may now seem eternal to us, the Bronze Age, between 4,200 and 2,800 years ago, is a period with a peculiar interest. "From the Neolithic period there are clans that accumulate riches and in the Bronze Age there is the culmination of that process, with the emergence of quasitic families, a distinction between nobles and commoners and an association of the nobles to war. It's a fledgling feudal society," says García Sanjuán.

zoom in Reconstruction of a Bronze Age population in Germany. bunterhund

Archaeology had already done this reconstruction, but last week, a paper published in the journal Science provides accurate and quality information for a sharper recreation of those centuries. A team in which specialists have collaborated in recovering and interpreting the DNA of people who died thousands of years ago and archaeologists who know the sites of that period, analyzed the way of life of a community that inhabited the Lech Valley, near Augsburg ( Germany), 4, 000 years ago. Their results, obtained from the study of tombs and objects found next to human remains, show a type of coexistence common in societies such as Greek or Roman 15 centuries later, in which aristocratic families lived with less-certain people who would be their servants, in some cases enslaved. The authors also point out how the burial of children with rich funeral homes suggests that social status was passed down through families. Of the societies in which everyone was born equal, he had already moved on to others in which some claimed themselves as descendants of those who created the norms that ordered society or even the gods


Other discoveries of the study has to do with marital customs. Women who lay with the aristocrats and shared their high status were not born in the Lech Valley. The enamel analysis of their teeth contained chemical elements that did not link them to the composition of the local water, as was the case with men. They had grown far from there and had come to get married. The opposite was true of the nobles locals, who do not lie with their relatives and are probably with other gentlemen from distant localities. The study has determined that these customs were followed for at least 700 years. "What struck me most was that at some point you had to give all your daughters," she says in an article published in the same issue of Science Philipp Stockhammer, an archaeologist at the University of Munich, Germany, and co-author of the study. The only local women were poor, buried without objects around, or girls from wealthy families who had died before adolescence,

In those societies, the exchange of women could serve to create alliances with distant groups and strengthened a kind of patriarchal organization. Men stayed in their birthplace, with their families, and inherited the status and wealth of the ancestors. "Women were losing, because they were going to the husband's village and they were at the expense of their family and their close people, although this does not mean that there were no women of high social status," says García Sanjuán.

Many millennia later, echoes of those seismic cultural transformations continue to influence our way of life. The accumulation of resources in few hands has remained unstoppable and has only stopped in cataclysmic periods such as the world wars or the great plague of the Middle Ages. Today, however, billions of people live better than the aristocrats of the Lech Valley. Humans continue to feel aversion to inequality like the propertyless gangs that traveled the world for sustenance for tens of thousands of years, but also experience a refusal to change hierarchies, as a paper published in 2017 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. Works such as the one published in Science, which combines the best of archaeology, genetics or dating technologies, will help us understand how we end up convinced that there have always been rich and poor,