What role did violence play in the global transition from small-scale egalitarian societies to large, centralized, inegalitarian societies? In particular, how did the dynamic relationship between violence and wealth inequality impact this process? Violence has the capacity to inhibit the emergence of exaggerated wealth inequality, but from a deep-time perspective this relationship is poorly understood. We especially don’t understand how the emergence of the first large-scale, institutionally inegalitarian societies—‘states’—was or was not dependent upon dynamic intersections between wealth inequality and violence.
My project involves comparative analysis of the role of violence in the transition from egalitarian to inegalitarian lifeways. Drawing on archaeological, anthropological, and biological datasets, I am undertaking quantitative assessment of patterning in bioarchaeological evidence for interpersonal violence in Holocene Afro-Eurasia, assessing the relationship between the structure and distribution of trauma in funerary populations over time and changing metrics of wealth distribution. The outcome—establishing whether there is a meaningful correspondence between fluctuating patterns of intra-group violence and the formalization of inegalitarian social organization—has potentially broad implications for how we theorize the emergence of the state.
Tom is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. He earned his PhD at Brown University, and previously held the inaugural Renfrew Fellowship in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Tom is broadly interested in the global transition from small-scale and non-urban to large-scale, hierarchical societies, and his research on this and other topics has been published in journals including Current Anthropology, Human Ecology, Environmental Conservation, and Antiquity.
Interpersonal Violence and Early State Formation
Area of research:
1 September 2020 - 31 August 2021