Most people do not know how inequality began with Neolithic farming 10,000 years ago. In fact, they typically look at hierarchy as something that is inevitable within human societies because that is part of who we are. But this overall belief completely contradicts a lot of the Homo sapiens 200,000-year history.
Assessing the Ancestors of Man
The irony is that many of our ancestors have been largely intolerant of inequality at all. Even though the hunter-gatherer group recognized that their member possessed different skillsets and abilities, they have very aggressively rejected any effort to institutionalize them into any type of group hierarchy.
So what in the world has happened create this huge shift in the human viewpoint and psyche away from the concept of egalitarianism? From the majority of the genomic, archaeological, and anthropological data it is suggested that the answer lies within the agricultural revolution, which started about 10,000 years ago.
Development of Farming Techniques
The amazing productivity and efficiency of modern farming techniques indicates how risky life was for those farmers who survived the first days of that Neolithic revolution and straight though to this century – when you consider subsistence farmers from the poor countries of the world. The truth is that both early farmers and hunter-gatherers were vulnerable to abrupt food shortages and the occasional famine – but the typical farming community was much more prone to have catastrophic famines.
Hunting and gathering was actually a fairly low-risk way to make a living. Many of the hunter-gatherers from Namibia had utilized some 125 various edible plants and all of these had its own slightly different seasonal cycle, had a varied response to weather conditions, and even resided within a certain environmental niche. So if weather conditions were unsuitable for one species, then another would have benefited, thus reducing any serious famine risk.
Therefore, hunter-gatherers saw all environments as eternally provident, and always worked to meet the immediate needs of their tribe. So they never created or sought any surpluses nor would they over-exploit their key resources. They had the utmost confidence in their environment.
Conversely, Neolithic farmers took full responsibility for “making” their environment provident. They heavily relied on a few crops that were highly sensitive or even on a livestock species. This basically meant that any type seasonal anomaly like a drought, excessive rainfall or even a livestock disease would jeopardize their entire tribe and cause extreme chaos.
And this is evidenced by the expansions of agriculture all over the world which was quickly followed by several catastrophic societal collapses and implosions. Genomic data regarding the history of European populations have indicated an entire series of marked declines that are linked to the Neolithic expansion throughout central Europe about 7,500 years ago. These activities then were spread throughout north-western Europe around 6,000 years ago.
However, whenever everything went well and the weather was favorable, all the pests were held at bay, all soils contained ample nutrients – agriculture turned out to be much more productive than hunting and gathering. This allowed farming populations to explode and grow more rapidly than hunter-gatherers, and they learned to sustain these expanding populations over less and less land.
However, Neolithic farmers that was successful still had to deal with the fear of drought, pests, blight, frost as well as famine. And over time, this shift affected the way societies deal with scarcity. Hierarchy was a natural reaction to many of these fears and demands. And this is how inequality began with Neolithic farming 10,000 years ago.