The origins of social inequality, a growing topic of concern in our interconnected yet increasingly fragmented world, are rooted in deep prehistory. The point at which these inequalities first begin to emerge, however, and, perhaps more importantly, the manner in which they manifest themselves is the subject of much debate among scholars, many of whom typically associate these sociocultural developments with the earliest settled communities of Southwest Asia (between c.14,500 and 9,000 years ago). As funerary practices are one of the key archaeological indicators through which social relations may be identified in the deep past, this project will investigate the emergence of inequality through the taphonomic analysis of human skeletal remains from a selection of Southwest Asian prehistoric sites using advanced archaeological-scientific techniques that have yet to be applied to this region and time period. Specifically, my research will address the following questions: (1) Can Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)/Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) and other analytical techniques accurately identify and differentiate between various post-mortem treatments? (2) By incorporating contextual data from the various study sites, can we identify demographic or other selection biases among these post-mortem treatments suggestive of emergent social distinctions? (3) Are there differences in the pattern of funerary treatments observed between the study sites, and do these differences reflect broader temporal trajectories? (4) What lessons can be drawn from the ways in which earlier societies chose to organize themselves?
Fields of science
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