Institute of Archaeology


Economics Meets Archaeology: The Origins of Inequality

21 February 2019, 6:00 pm

UCL Institute of Archaeology

Event Information

Open to



Room 410, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Gregory K. Dow and Clyde G. Reed (Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University) will give the second of three talks at the UCL Institute of Archaeology on 21 February.


Hereditary economic inequality is unknown among mobile foragers, but class distinctions between elites and commoners do exist in some sedentary foraging societies. With the spread of agriculture, such stratification became more frequent and pronounced. We develop an economic model of the relationships connecting productivity, population density, and inequality. Regional productivity growth leads to enclosure of the best sites first, creating inequality between insiders and outsiders. This is followed by emergence of elites and commoners at the best sites. As this stratification process unfolds, elites and commoners have increasingly unequal food consumption, where elite food income takes the form of land rent, and commoner food income takes the form of a region-wide 'wage' equivalent to the standard of living at the remaining open-access sites. We suggest that our theory is consistent with evidence from southern California, the northwest coast of North America, southwest Asia, and Polynesia.

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All welcome. Any enquiries about these events may be directed to Stephen Shennan.