Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: The Emergence of Social Inequality

Project: Research project

Project Details


Researchers seek to understand the emergence of social inequality in prehistory and its effect on cultural organization and development. The European Bronze Age, roughly ca. 2500 to 800 B.C., was a time of swift cultural change that resulted in new social, political, and economic lifeways. Bronze tools and weapons began to be mass-produced in standardized forms. Social differentiation and ranking became more entrenched, and peoples and ideas became increasingly mobile in Europe. Archaeological methods are well suited for identifying both the material and organizational changes that happened during this time (e.g. changes in status, diet, belief systems, settlement), and their effect on local populations. This project examines changing burial practices, settlement patterns, and subsistence strategies as proxies for increasingly complex socio-economic systems in Bronze Age northern Croatia. Results will characterize trajectories of social complexity and inequality in prehistory, but can also be used to inform research on the emergence and maintenance of inequality in modern groups. Data collection will actively involve and train undergraduate and graduate students in quantitative methodology crucial for studying the human past.

The research team will analyze burial assemblages and grave contexts from museum collections to reconstruct basic levels of social structure, with an emphasis on changes over time at both household and community levels. Mortuary and osteological data will be complemented by archaeometric analyses on bone, including an AMS 14C radiocarbon dating program and stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Variation in stable isotope values can signal social differences within the population, and will be used to complement more traditional archaeological correlates of sociopolitical organization (e.g., settlements and architecture, burials, distribution of exotic or symbolic artifacts). Radiocarbon dating will be used to date the progression of these material markers, and link them to broader sociopolitical and economic changes. Research will be conducted on Late Bronze (1300-800 BC) and Early Iron (800-600 BC) Age collections of the Iapodian cultural group, currently held at the Archaeological Museum Zagreb (AMZ) in Croatia. This project represents an important first step in a long-term investigation of Iapodian sociopolitical development in the context of the European Bronze and Iron Ages. More generally, results will contribute to understanding of how and when social inequality materializes, the resulting consequences for individuals and groups, and how these power structures are maintained (or not) over time. Results will be published in international publications and presented in lectures and workshops to public audiences in the US and Croatia.

Effective start/end date2/1/151/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $30,080.00


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