Study Examines Social Class and Inequality in Hunter-Gatherer Societies

A new study, published in a coming issue of Current Anthropology, found that climate and the amount of readily available resources is related to the development (or lack of development) of inequality in the social class systems of early hunter-gatherer societies.

The study compares hunter-gatherer socities in North America and Australia. "The conditions for the development of marked inequality included reliable and prolific resources such as salmon, relatively high population densities, and the defense of territories and their resources," Australian National University's Ian Keen said. The inequalities in North American hunter-gatherer groups included the development of social classes based within chiefdoms and sometimes slavery.

Australia, on the other hand, did not see the same development of inequalities. "The major constraint...was the unpredictability of climates and resources," Keen said. However, in tropical northern Australia, some groups did develop temporary inequalities as a result of some men having many more wives that others. This "was only possible where resources were relatively plentiful and population densities were high," Keen said.


If you think about it, the conclusions of this study really make sense. Afterall, climate has a direct influence on resources. The more favorable and consistent a climate is, the more likely a society will have an abundance of game to hunt and wild foodstuffs to gather. Likewise, with more resources available, it makes sense that individuals or sub-groups within the society might be more likely to dominate the collection of these resources, thereby making them more "wealthy."

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