How did the world’s super-rich first come about over 10,000 years ago? Scientists think they’ve come up with the answer and it isn’t what you’d expect.
Thousands of years ago it was large farm animals like horses and oxen that determined who were the have and the have-nots.
Owning cattle that could pull ploughs, which would allow farmers to extend their fields to get more land, was what set people apart in terms of wealth.
New research published in Nature indicates how wealth inequality first came about among our ancestors.
Thousands of years ago it was large farm animals like horses and oxen that determined who were the have and the have-nots. File image used
Professor Kim Kohler, of Washington State University told the publication: ‘It became possible to extend fields far from a farmhouse by using plough animals, especially oxen, to break up the soil and so plant more crops.
‘Some farmers were able to raise productivity significantly and became very rich.’
The team of archaeologists behind the research studied 62 societies across Europe, North America and Asia – some 10,000 years old.
But they found that farm animals like the horse and ox did not originally exist in the West, meaning wealth disparities in society were less obvious.
In New World countries all those years ago, all our ancestors had were dogs and turkeys, says Professor Michael Smith of Arizona State University.
He said: ‘The only large animals in the New World were dogs and turkeys and you cannot do a lot of ploughing with them.
Owning cattle that could pull ploughs, which would allow farmers to extend their fields to get more land, was what set people apart in terms of wealth, new research by US scientists found
‘In the end, that had a significant impact on societies. They had less inequality.’
In the Middle East and Eurasia though, it was a different story.
When researchers also looked at differences in house size as a measure of inequality, they found Eurasia to be far more divided than anywhere else.
Using a system similar to the Gini coefficient, which measures a nation’s income and wealth distribution, ancient farming societies had a coefficient of 0.35, while in Eurasia it began to climb to 0.6.
Both figures are relatively lower than today’s US one of 0.8.