It continues to surprise me how many archaeologists, historians, and other ‘thinkers’ so uncritically project their modern fictions of equality onto past societies. For example, there is the widely spread belief that hunter-gatherer societies were egalitarian. Or that despite a division of labor all people were equal. Or that egalitarian societies are somehow better or more successful than hierarchical ones.
None of this is true. And the evidence is found easily. Just watch this clip about Alaskan Inuit who were still living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle by the 1970s. The pater familias — the family patriarch — is the one who brings home a seal almost every time he goes out for a hunt. Or as the narrator explains,
“My father would always bring home a seal. Often he was the only hunter in the village who did.”
The only hunter! What equality? It turns out hunting is a skill and not all hunters are equal. Only the best hunters, then, became fathers and leaders, for only the succesful men of the tribe could sustain a family. And when the succesful hunter brings home the meat, the villagers praise him and shower him with compliments. They worship his prowess the way believers worship a god.
There is no equality among hunters and gatherers, and never has been. Among such tribes, the women, the elderly, and the children are fully dependent on the hunters to provide them with their daily protein. Rest assured that men who consistently brought home the meat received the highest social rank. People love winners, not losers.
Hierarchy, it turns out, serves a purpose. If, at any point, a hunter-gatherer society may have appeared egalitarian, it was only because weaker men had already died out.