Was this the moment when human society became totally unfair? Roots of inequality revealed

Once upon a time, early human hunter-gatherers lived a life of freedom and equality.

So why have we ended up in a world where bosses, politicians and posh people have total power over the rest of us?

The answer may lie in a historical era called the Neolithic Revolution, when humans swapped liberty for the drudgery of a life spent farming and living in large, centralised communities in towns and cities.

This era started about 12,500 years ago and is believed to have been the moment where rigid hierarchies began to form in human society, allowing a small, powerful and probably violent elite to live a life of luxury by oppressing and controlling a worker class who spent their days slaving in the fields.

Fast forward to modern-day Britain and we now live in a society where 10 percent of households hold 45 percent of all wealth whilst the poorest 50 percent own just 8.7 percent, according to The Equality Trust.

We have also become used to believing that some people should have control over others, no matter whether these leaders truly deserve our obedience.

James Suzman, an anthropologist, has just published a book called ‘Affluence Without Abundance’ which explores the lives of Ju/’hoansi ‘bushmen’ hunter-gatherers in Namibia, whose lives are very similar to humans living before the advent of farming.

In an article for The Guardian, he wrote: ‘Most people regard hierarchy in human societies as inevitable, a natural part of who we are. Yet this belief contradicts much of the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens.

‘In fact, our ancestors have for the most part been ‘fiercely egalitarian’ and intolerant of any form of inequality. While hunter-gatherers accepted that people had different skills, abilities and attributes, they aggressively rejected efforts to institutionalise them into any form of hierarchy.’

Like our ancient ancestors, the bushmen eat about 125 different edible plants, giving them a varied diet and making them more resilient to natural disasters such as drought.

Prehistoric farmers, on the other hand, tended to grow just one crop, such as wheat, meaning that a whole community would starve if disease or bad weather wiped out their crops and livestock.

It’s believed that the shift from a balanced, varied diet had grave effects on early farmers, making them shorter and unhealthier than hunter-gathers. In fact, humans may only have become as tall as they were before the Neolithic Revolution in the 20th century, when life finally started to improve in some parts of the world.

But this societal change also made them less free.

Agriculture allowed for surpluses, which ‘became a path to power and influence’, according to Suzman.

Societies developed a ruling elite who made decisions on behalf of the working classes – while living a relatively comfortable life built on the hard work of farmers.

In Europe and Asia, this led to the creation of a ‘mounted warrior elite’ who dominated their enslaved citizens with an iron fist.

Armed rulers would have used violence to dominate their subjects and had the power to fight wars with other cities or states by forcing people who would have been farmers to take the even more miserable job of being soldiers.

It’s believed that this dramatic shift from hunting and gathering to farming laid the groundwork for our profoundly unequal society we live in today.

Yuval Noah Harari, a celebrated Israeli historian, described this ‘Faustian bargain between humans and grains’ as ‘history’s biggest fraud’ in his book Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind.

He wrote: ‘We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.’

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