The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire: Joyce Marcus, Kent Flannery

Our early ancestors lived in small groups and worked actively to preserve social equality. As they created larger societies, however, inequality rose, and by 2500 bce truly egalitarian societies were on the wane. In The Creation of Inequality, Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus demonstrate that this development was not simply the result of population increase, food surplus, or the accumulation of valuables. Instead, inequality resulted from conscious manipulation of the unique social logic that lies at the core of every human group.

A few societies allowed talented and ambitious individuals to rise in prestige while still preventing them from becoming a hereditary elite. But many others made high rank hereditary, by manipulating debts, genealogies, and sacred lore. At certain moments in history, intense competition among leaders of high rank gave rise to despotic kingdoms and empires in the Near East, Egypt, Africa, Mexico, Peru, and the Pacific.

Drawing on their vast knowledge of both living and prehistoric social groups, Flannery and Marcus describe the changes in logic that create larger and more hierarchical societies, and they argue persuasively that many kinds of inequality can be overcome by reversing these changes, rather than by violence.


“Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus have done a remarkable job in synthesizing the two key disciplines of social anthropology and archaeology, and their book represents a significant advance in our understanding of the evolution of complex societies.”Peter Turchin, Times Literary Supplement

“This is a work of profound importance… [It] yields insights into a multitude of societies in the recent and prehistoric past… Flannery and Marcus’s magnum opus… [This] is a deeply impressive achievement.”Steven Mithen, London Review of Books

“Extraordinarily erudite… It would be an excellent addition to collections on the rise of civilization or on how to use the data gathered by cultural anthropologists and archaeologists to understand broad patterns of social change. Professionals in the field will also benefit from this tour de force by two of archaeology’s most provocative scholars.”L. L. Johnson, Choice

“This provocative work, likely to become an important contribution to the literature of social and political anthropology, will be of interest both to scholars in the field and to anthropology and archaeology enthusiasts seeking understanding of the development and perpetuation of inequality in human societies.”Elizabeth Salt, Library Journal

“The origin of inequality is one of the most basic questions about human societies. We all arose from egalitarian hunter/gatherer ancestors. Why, then, do almost all of us poor peasants now tolerate affluent leaders, whether they are democratically elected presidents or military dictators? In this clear, readable survey, the distinguished archaeologists Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus extract the answers by comparing the histories of societies over the whole world for the last 10,000 years. This book will become the standard account of long-term political evolution.”Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

“By carefully articulating and integrating archaeological and ethnographic data, Flannery and Marcus present a panoramic view of the development of particular cultures in various parts of the world. Moreover, in selecting case studies the authors have gone beyond the familiar examples so often cited in anthropology textbooks. The Creation of Inequality promises to be a landmark work.”Robert L. Carneiro, Ph.D., Curator Emeritus and Professor Emeritus, Anthropology, Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History

“Flannery and Marcus are two of the most distinguished anthropological archaeologists in the world. The Creation of Inequality distills two lifetimes of work on the origin and evolution of complex societies throughout the ancient world. This work brings much of this together in an eminently readable and fascinating way.”Charles S. Stanish, Ph.D., Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles

About the Author

Kent Flannery is James B. Griffin Distinguished University Professor of Anthropological Archaeology and Curator of Human Ecology and Archaeobiology at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, University of Michigan.

Joyce Marcus is Robert L. Carneiro Distinguished University Professor of Social Evolution and Curator of Latin American Archaeology at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, University of Michigan.

  • ASIN : 0674416775
  • Publisher : Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (October 6, 2014)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 648 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 9780674416772
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0674416772

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