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Farewell to the 'childhood of man': ritual, seasonality, and the origins of inequality

Wengrow, D; Graeber, D; (2015) Farewell to the 'childhood of man': ritual, seasonality, and the origins of inequality. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute , 21 (3) pp. 597-619. 10.1111/1467-9655.12247. Green open access

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Abstract

Evidence of grand burials and monumental construction is a striking feature in the archaeological record of the Upper Palaeolithic period, between 40 and 10 kya (thousand years ago). Archaeologists often interpret such finds as indicators of rank and hierarchy among Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. Interpretations of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the view, still common in sociobiology, that pre-agricultural societies were typically egalitarian in orientation. Here we develop an alternative model of ‘Palaeolithic politics’, which emphasizes the ability of hunter-gatherers to alternate – consciously and deliberately – between contrasting modes of political organization, including a variety of hierarchical and egalitarian possibilities. We propose that alternations of this sort were an emergent property of human societies in the highly seasonal environments of the last Ice Age. We further consider some implications of the model for received concepts of social evolution, with particular attention to the distinction between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ hunter-gatherers.

Type: Article
Title: Farewell to the 'childhood of man': ritual, seasonality, and the origins of inequality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12247
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12247
Language: English
Additional information: © Royal Anthropological Institute 2015 ‘The definitive version is available at www.wileyonlinelibrary.com
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1468430
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