Prof. Jess Beck
Tues. and Thurs. 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
In 2018, Oxfam reported that the 26 richest people on the planet had the same net worth as half of the global population. The rampant wealth disparities in the modern world lead us to ask whether inequality is an inescapable component of all societies. Through its unique access to the deep time of human prehistory, archaeology allows us to question myths and just-so stories about the origins and inevitability of inequality. In this course, we will examine how different ways of making a living, from food procurement to economic and political organization, have worked to either amplify or diminish inequalities in human communities. This course will cover topics that resonate in the past and present: How do elites justify their monopolization of power and resources? Are there alternatives to hierarchy in large-scale communities? What strategies have past people used to evade the inequitable demands of states and empires? This course will explore how archaeologists draw upon multiple lines of evidence—including material culture, architecture, and the remains of ancient plants, animals, and people—to develop a holistic understanding of inequality in past societies.