Inequality from the Bottom Up: Measuring and Explaining Household Inequality in Antiquity

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Archaeologists have traditionally approached social evolutionary questions from the top of the mound (pyramid, Great House, ziggurat). But what was going on down below was at least as important for the political structure and long-term prospects of society. In this session we present new, unpublished data on degree of inequality in prehistory in a number of times and places, measured using Gini indices or closely related measures of concentration in a distribution. We are particularly interested in wealth disparities measured at the level of the household, based on attributes such as floor area, storage area, etc. We also grapple with methodological issues arising from such endeavors; for example, what is the association between measures of inequality in burial assemblages and those based on household-based data? how do we gain a complete picture of the structure of inequality in a complex society? The papers also review and summarize suites of such measures to make arguments for or against models for variability in inequality through time or across societies.

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  • Documents (9)

  • The agroecology of inequality: Novel bioarchaeological approaches to early urbanization in western Asia and Europe (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amy Bogaard. Valasia Isaakidou. Erika Nitsch. Amy Styring.

    In this talk we use case studies to compare the agroecology of relatively egalitarian Neolithic communities (low ginis) with that of early urban societies featuring high levels of inequality (high ginis). We use a combination of novel archaeobotanical and -zoological approaches to investigate arable land management. Neolithic sequences in western Asia, the Aegean and central Europe present contrasting settings in which early farmers developed labour-intensive cropping strategies that buffered...

  • Complex but Equal: Developing an Archaeological Inequality Index to Investigate Social Inequality at the Bronze Age III site of Numayra, Jordan (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicholas Ames. Meredith Chesson. Ian Kuijt. Rahul Oka.

    The origins, evolution, and variation of inequality comprise a central overarching theme within anthropological archaeology. Various ideas, including hierarchy and heterarchy and their material correlates, have been proffered to explain the origins and impact of inequality on past social, economic, and political organization. Within Economics and Development Studies, various indices and measures, e.g., Gini coefficient, Theil Index, HDI and GDP, and the Consumption Approach have been offered as...

  • Cooperation, Labor, Sharing, and Inequality in a Long-Lived Household, Bridge River Site, British Columbia (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anna Prentiss. Thomas Foor. Kristen Barnett. Matthew Walsh.

    Archaeological research at the Bridge River site, British Columbia, demonstrates that during the Bridge River 3 period (ca. 1300-1000 cal. B.P.) material wealth-based inequality developed on an inter-household basis during what appears to have been a Malthusian ceiling where populations were briefly very high and resource access weakened. While there is significant knowledge of village-wide socio-economic, demographic and political change at the site little work has been done to gain an...

  • Gini Coefficients and the Measurement of Inequality: An Introduction (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Tim Kohler. Katie Grundtisch.

    We briefly explore the history and current use of Gini coefficients, emphasizing the relatively few studies previously completed in archaeology. Then we explore the behavior of this measure against a variety of theoretical distributions, showing that it makes a useful though imperfect statistical summary of interesting phenomena. Finally we present Gini coefficients for a variety of contexts drawn from prehispanic Pueblo societies. Archaeological thought on emerging inequality has tended to...

  • Housing Inequality in Premodern Cities (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Timothy Dennehy. Jacqueline Fox. Michael E. Smith.

    We calculate Gini indices for house size in two samples of premodern cities. The first sample consists of several cities included in the transdisciplinary comparative project on spatial inequality called “Service Access in Premodern Cities.” That project examined the relationship between inequality and a set of systematically coded contextual variables – such as economic development and governance mode – in a sample of ancient and historical cities. The current study uses only those cities that...

  • Letting the Gini Out of the Bottle: Hazards of Measuring Inequality Archaeologically (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Christian Peterson. Robert Drennan.

    Since the 1980s, archaeologists have measured economic inequality by borrowing the Gini index from economics, and applying it to the archaeological record in various ways. Burial assemblages were the earliest targets, and more recent efforts have expanded to house sizes, areas of agricultural fields, and household possessions. Each of these sources provides potentially enlightening information about the distribution of wealth within an ancient community. Each source has its advantages and...

  • Measures of Inequality in the Mississippian Heartland (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alleen Betzenhauser.

    Cahokia, the earliest and largest Mississippian (A.D. 1050–1400) mound complex, is situated in the American Bottom of Illinois. It is widely considered to be the center of a regionally integrated polity complete with subsidiary centers, specialized settlements, and rural farmsteads. Investigations at Cahokia proper and in the surrounding countryside over the past 50 years have provided a wealth of data concerning settlement layout, structure size and shape, and the differential distribution of...

  • Spatial and Temporal Variability in Hohokam Inequality (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Pailes.

    This paper will investigate synchronic and diachronic inequality among the Hohokam of southern Arizona‬. The Hohokam were an irrigation dependent, middle range society that occupied the low Sonoran Desert from approximately AD 500 to 1500. Over this impressive temporal span there were substantial changes, gradual and punctuated, to organizational systems, demographic pressure, and subsistence bases. The analysis presented in this paper will draw upon available data sets from substantial CRM...

  • Wealth Inequality in the Late Classic Valley of Oaxaca: A Domestic Perspective (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ronald Faulseit. Gary Feinman. Linda Nicholas.

    The Late Classic period in the Valley of Oaxaca is marked by shared practices in residential organization, design, the layout of houses, and domestic artifact assemblages both within and between sites throughout the region. This degree of homogeneity allows for cross-site comparison of excavated residences to examine household wealth inequality on a systemic and regional scale. In this paper, we employ different indices to explore multiple lines of evidence (e.g., patio size and other...