The development and nature of inequality in early Egypt

Juan José Castillos

Uruguayan Institute of Egyptology, Montevideo, Uruguay

In contrast to most studies on state formation, this paper deals with the opposite end of the spectrum; that is, the very beginning of the transition from ranked societies with community-owned resources to hereditary chiefdoms in which drastic changes took place with regard to private ownership of means of production, craft specialization, and the emergence of an elite enjoying great privileges and power, among other significant changes. This transition took place, in the writer’s opinion, during Naqada I and early Naqada II.

In an attempt to test to what extent we can apply to early Egypt the interpretation that assigns to individuals (called aggrandizers in contemporary anthropological literature) the main role in the rise of social complexity in ancient communities, examples are mentioned from archaeological contexts in many parts of the world in which a transition towards privatization in the ownership of resources took place, as well as an increase in the size and number of occupants within individual dwelling places and indications of economic activities being carried out in them as community-owned resources and productive activities. These examples involve the results of archaeological work carried out in the United States of America, Peru, Ecuador, Spain, Mesopotamia, and Egypt itself, which provide criteria that would help detect the presence or absence of similar changes in future Predynastic settlement archaeological work in Egypt. This would enable us to decide whether these models can be applied to aid in the interpretation of the rise of social complexity and hereditary chiefdoms in Predynastic Upper Egypt.

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To reference this article we suggest:

Castillos, J. J. 2009. The development and nature of inequality in early Egypt. BMSAES 13: 73–81. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/online_journals/bmsaes/issue_13/castillos.aspx

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