Chapter 3: The Neolithic

The Neolithic (circa 4000-2500 BC) has traditionally been seen as the period in which farming was introduced into Britain. In particular it was categorised as sedentary mixed farming, with heavy emphasis upon the agricultural side (e.g. Renfrew 1973). It was also in this period that monuments were first constructed. The Neolithic thus traditionally offered a stunning contrast with the preceding Mesolithic. The previous mobile, hunter-gatherer society was replaced almost over night by a sedentary group of farmers shooting leaf shaped arrowheads and chopping down trees with polished stone axes. After a few years establishing themselves, the demonstrable superiority of farming led to a surplus so people could be spared to build monuments (Case 1969; S. Harris 1986). These monuments were variously seen as territorial markers (Renfrew 1973), instruments of conversion (Sherratt 1990), or in an older argument the cultural signature of a new group of people (Daniel 1958).

Our conception of the Neolithic has now radically changed. Instead of mixed fields, houses and the occasional monument marking out a group’s territory, we have a mobile population, often relying on a diverse range of resources, that still includes wild animals and gathered plants (Thomas 1991; 1999). The similarities with the Mesolithic are now stressed. Continuity in population, economy, and with the discovery of polished axes in Mesolithic contexts, material culture are emphasised (but see Schulting 1998 for a revival of the colonist debate). Nonetheless the making of pottery and the construction of monuments, beginning with the chambered tombs and long-barrows and later the causewayed enclosures, are still seen as uniquely Neolithic. This is also true of the use of domestic plants and animals. Overall however continuity is now the watchword, whereas before revolution stood in its place. In this brief chapter I shall lay out in more detail the argument behind this view of the Neolithic, stressing the importance of variation in our understanding of both mobility and subsistence. I shall then turn to Neolithic monuments and the causewayed enclosures that will form the substance of our study.

The Neolithic today

The emergence of a view of the Neolithic as a mobile society relying on a range of resources began in earnest in the early 1990s (e.g. Thomas 1991). As this view here developed over the next decade archaeologists began to argue that little or no evidence would ever emerge for a sedentary Neolithic (e.g. Barrett 1994; Whittle 1996; Edmonds 1999). Unlike mainland Europe there was almost no evidence for houses, and very little for large-scale crop production (Thomas 1999, 24). This is not to deny that large-scale crop production took place, or that some people lived in houses, but just that this took place on a much smaller scale than had previously been envisaged. It must also be borne in mind that even the sedentary nature of continental Linearbandkeramik (LBK) settlements has now been doubted (Whittle 1996). The sedentary nature of people in Britain has also been questioned by isotopic evidence from skeletons (Montgomery et al. 2000). Whilst houses remain few and far between, the evidence surrounding crop production is still debated (cf. papers in Fairbairn 2000), but overall the evidence suggests production on a much smaller scale than once thought. Some crops were grown however, namely emmer wheat, einkorn and barley (Thomas 1999, 8). Despite the downgrading of domestic plants and the emphasis upon continued use of wild resources the importance of domestic animals remains high, both in economic and conceptual terms (Edmonds 1999, 27). The role of cattle in particular in shaping the everyday lives of a mobile population has been stressed (Barrett 1994; Edmonds 1999). Pigs were also important and to a lesser extent sheep (Thomas 1999). Moving through a still wooded landscape, herding cattle, the people of the Neolithic would have followed certain paths that led to certain places on a seasonal and cyclical basis (Barrett 1994; Tilley 1994). Throughout this variation should again be stressed. There is no reason to suggest that every person in the Neolithic of southern Britain lived a similar life. People would have moved around at different times. Within a single community some people may have been largely sedentary whilst others were entirely mobile. Some communities may have relied on domestic plants at certain times and on wild resources at others. Altogether there may well have been "a spectrum of movements" as Alasdair Whittle has argued (Whittle 1997, 21). Overall perhaps a concept of tethered mobility will serve us best, though a regional understanding is essential, as recent work in Ireland has shown (Cooney 2000; Whittle 1997).

The aspect of the Neolithic that has been privileged above all others however, are the monuments that were constructed and used from 4000 BC onwards. I now wish to briefly examine the monument record of the Early Neolithic in order to place causewayed enclosures in context.

Monuments and monumentality

The first monuments to be built in Neolithic Britain were the long barrows and chambered tombs early in the 4th millennium BC. These monuments were often, though by now means exclusively, associated with the burial of the dead. Some examples such as West Kennet contain the bones of numerous people whilst others, such as Horslip, contain no bones whatsoever (Ashbee et al. 1979)). Each monument had its own history of construction and alteration, often, such as at Hazleton North, building over previous Mesolithic occupation (Saville 1990, 259). The places of the Mesolithic were still important in the Neolithic of southern Britain (Tilley 1994). The nature of construction resulted in specific experiences at each monument. For example the megalithic tombs could be accessed, bones removed, and passed around amongst the living, as evidenced by the dearth of skulls and longbones at Hazleton North (Saville 1990). These bones may well, as Julian Thomas has argued, played a role in "an economy of substances" (Thomas 1999, 226). In contrast once the mound was raised over the wooden mortuary structure, the bones of the dead were inaccessible.

Figure 2: Plans of Cotswold-Severn long cairns (after Thomas, 1999, 145).

However we should not put too much emphasis on the finished monument, as Lesley McFadyen has argued powerfully (personal communication; see also Barrett 1994). The experience of building the monuments would have been important, as people worked with wood, bone, stone and earth, the building blocks of both monuments and Neolithic life in general. The relationships formed, and the feel for a place engendered by such experiences, would have had ramifications throughout Neolithic life. Indeed the memory of such an experience would be a key factor. The notion of memory has in fact become a powerful force in archaeological interpretations of monuments in recent years, both through the idea that monuments create communal memories (cf. Connerton 1989) and that they hark back to the earlier longhouses of Central Europe and the Linearbandkeramik (Bradley 1998; 2002). This has been enhanced by the new suggestion that these monuments run through memory at a number of different levels (Cummings 2002). Vicki Cummings has argued that not only do they preserve the memory of construction, they also refer "to archetypal memories and experiences of more distant places" (2002, 39). The memory of these places would also have ramifications for the day-to-day lives of people in the Neolithic, for it was in these contexts that the monuments came to make sense, within the cycles of movement, herding, life and death (Edmonds 1999). These memories would not have been the same in all places; different people would remember stories and experiences differently. Some tombs may have harked back to a central European origin, other’s may have merely harked back to an older tomb up the road, or perhaps, down the path. Undoubtedly memory is an essential component to understanding these monuments and as we will see, is equally as important in relation to causewayed enclosures.

Other themes were also important, notions of ancestry and experience of place for example (Edmonds 1999; Thomas 1996). A lack of space prevents us from offering a discussion of those themes here, although we will touch on them later. Instead we will now turn to a crucial aspect of Neolithic life that was caught up not only at long barrows, but also at causewayed enclosures and under flint scatters: deposition.


It has become apparent in recent years that all sorts of items are deposited in particular ways in the Neolithic, and the term "structured deposition", has become increasingly popular (Richards and Thomas 1984). This reflects they way in which particular items have been deposited in particular contexts, in association with others (Thomas 1999, 63). The Early Neolithic saw such structured deposits in pits, often under flint scatters (Thomas 1999, 64). Flint scatters represent the majority of settlement evidence for the Neolithic and as such these pits were originally thought of as refuse dumps, and understood by analogy with their Iron Age counterparts. The evidence has been reinterpreted however, and Julian Thomas has argued convincingly that they represent pits opened for a short amount of time for the deliberate act of deposition (1999, 86). Often the pits contain finely crafted items that were unlikely to have been lost by chance, and often much burnt material was deposited (Thomas 1999, 86). This deposition, Thomas argues stresses the relationship people had with material possessions in the Neolithic, as they deposited things "redolent of their sociality" in an important, particular location (Thomas 1999, 87). Thus these pits were far from being mere rubbish tips; they allowed culturally specific meanings to be created through the performativity of deposition (Thomas 1999, 224; Butler 1993). The act of deposition was symbolically significant; in fact its signification only increased through the Neolithic (Thomas 1999, 224). Structured depositions have been recovered not only from pits under flint scatters but also from the ditches around long barrows and megalithic tombs. Crucially for our discussion deposition seems to have been most important at certain particular locations in the landscape, the ditches and interior pits of causewayed enclosures. It is to these monuments we now turn.

Causewayed enclosures

Causewayed enclosures are as Julian Thomas has pointed out "among the more enigmatic monuments of the British Neolithic (1999, 38). They were the second form of monuments to be built during the Neolithic, and appear in the mid 4th millennium BC, some 500 years after the period began. The enclosures were made up of interrupted sequences of ditches. Some sites such as Etton only had a single ring of ditches, others such as Whitehawk may have had up to five circuits (Edmonds 1999, 113) (fig. 3). Originally named causewayed "camps", they were interpreted as settlements based on analogy with how Iron Age hill forts were understood at the time. This was influenced by two factors, the emphasis on the perceived need for defence, and the act of naming them camps by the Ordnance Survey (Evans 1988, 49-51). This second factor may well have unintentionally influenced interpretation for some time (Evans 1988, 49). The interpretation as fortified village sites was dismissed in the 1950s when Stuart Piggott rightly pointed out that they were, in fact, totally unsuitable for defence (1954, 26; Smith 1965, 17). Some sites such as Hambledon Hill do show evidence for conflict and inter-personal violence, but only at the end of an extended history (Edmonds 1999, 85). The conclusion therefore is that even where violence took place, defence was still not the main purpose of the enclosures. However they continued to be perceived as settlements for some time, based at least partially on interpretations of continental enclosures of the Lengyel culture and the LBK. The perceived sedentary nature of the Neolithic in Britain and on the continent also pointed interpretation in the direction of settlements.

Figure 3: Plans of causewayed enclosures (after Edmonds 1999, 100; Thomas 1999, 39).

This view has come to be severely criticised for two reasons. Firstly, the modern view of the Neolithic outlined earlier, with a mobile and non-sedentary population, did not fit with the interpretation of causewayed enclosures as settlements. Secondly, as more enclosures have been found, it has become increasingly obvious that far from being central places, that is settlements at the heart of the Neolithic world, they are physically marginal, set away from the main areas of Neolithic occupation (Thomas 1999, 38). Increasingly therefore they have re-emerged as ritual places, liminal, related to rites of passage, exchange, excarnation and ceremony (e.g. Edmonds 1999; Thomas 1999). Some older suggestions continue to have merit however, particularly that of Isobel Smith that enclosures acted "as the rallying point for the population of a fairly wide area" (1965, 19; see also Edmonds 1993, 132).

The eighty or so enclosures now identified in Southern Britain form the final part of a tripartite sequence of enclosure development that spread across Europe, starting with the enclosures that began at the end of the LBK, around 5000BC (Whittle 1988, 5). The second phase saw enclosures become increasingly formalised and common in the Lengyel and Stichbandkeramik cultures of Central Europe, whilst being less common to the west (Hodder 1990, 111; Andersen 1997, 180). The final phase of enclosure building saw the spread of enclosure into Western Europe, Southern Scandinavia and Britain itself (Whittle 1996, 269). It was there that causewayed enclosures emerged.

Memory and the past at causewayed enclosures

This spread of enclosures into Britain has led Richard Bradley to suggest that they represent an idealised past community, much in the same way that he has argued that long barrows represent an idealised version of the LBK longhouse (1998; 2002). Often LBK enclosures, such as at Darion in Belgium, enclosed the remains of an abandoned community, the houses inside belonging to an earlier phase (Bradley 2002) (fig. 4). Thus from the outset Bradley argues that enclosures were connected to themes of past inhabitation (1998). Causewayed enclosures continued this theme; although they did not enclose an actual abandoned settlement they referred back to earlier enclosures, and thus to earlier settlements. The architecture of causewayed enclosures, Bradley argues enhanced this, their segmented ditches echoing the borrow pits around the LBK longhouses (2002, 32). Bradley argues that the enclosures "might act as a testimony of people’s attachment to place and to their relationships with one another, even though in practice they might no longer have come into contact on a day-to-day basis" (Bradley 1998b, 81). Anthropological support can be found in the work of Peter Riviere on the Trio Indians of the Surinam/Brazilian border (2000). Although not related to an actual archaeological past, the oral history of the different groups tells of a time when they all lived together (Riviere 2000, 255). In fact, they believe that they would be happier if only they could live together again, but infighting, gossip and disputes with leaders inevitably results in-group fissioning (Riviere 2000, 256). Nonetheless the Trio feel that everyone living together would be an ideal, if unfeasible state. Here we can see that groups do make reference to collective past, and to a collective community, even if such a community does not exist in reality in the present.

This then help us think through Bradley’s arguments in terms of memory and emotion. The Trio truly believe that they would be happier if only they lived together (Riviere 2000, 252). Links with the continent are also shown in the jadeite axes found at the Hambledon Hill and High Peak enclosures (Edmonds 1999, 124). The enclosures of the British Neolithic might thus have drawn on memories and origin myths of a distant past where communities lived in an idealised, united form.

Figure 4: Plan of long houses and enclosure at Darion in Belgium (after Bradley 1998, 75).

There are a number of difficulties with Bradley’s account however. As he himself points out, it is unwise to draw conclusions from one site and apply them universally across space and time (Bradley 1998, 70). He also points out that it is difficult to draw continuities between the three phases of enclosure (Bradley 1998, 69). This is however what he inevitably does when applying a single metaphor, however malleable, to the construction of enclosures in Neolithic Europe. Different notions may have been played out at different points, not just between the three phases but also within them. Rather than referring to an idealised past community, the enclosures may have been far more about the development and creation of people in the present, both in their construction and in their subsequent use. This theme, to which we shall return later, may have been played out at certain times and certain places in reference to past communities, but it may also have been worked through in reference to the future or to a mythical past that had no archaeological precedent. That the enclosure phenomena began in the LBK, and that themes that were important then may have continued to be echoed in following periods, is not in doubt. These may have been seen and interpreted in many different ways that Bradley does not consider however, and some may have been involved in the direct rejection of beliefs surrounding origin that were essential for others. But perhaps the continental connection that has lain behind so much archaeological interpretation of enclosures has something to it, and perhaps it is caught up in memory and emotion like the desire of the Trio to live together despite the actualities on the ground (Riviere 2000).

Regardless of the veracity of such arguments, memory certainly played an important role at causewayed enclosures. This was memory that exceeded the lifetime of particular individuals, held collectively and created through the rituals, ceremonies and performances at these sites. Examples of this can be taken from the ditches of Hambledon Hill and Etton, where deposits higher in the stratigraphy and thus later in time, mimicked those underneath in form (Edmonds 1999, 117). This, as Edmonds points out, is connected to the maintenance of tradition over time (1999, 117). At Briar Hill and Staines, original, older features were respected, showing memory of their location and character (Edmonds 1999, 102). Another example can be taken from Etton. There are numerable small filled pits within the enclosure ditch at Etton, none of them however intercut in anyway (Pryor 1998). This shows a continued memory for the location of the pits, as many are close together. It is possible that some of the locations were marked, but it is likely that over time such markings would have faded away, leaving the locations of the pits known only by those who could remember. We will return both to these small filled pits at Etton and to memory and knowledge when we turn to the creation of identity in the next chapter.

Activity and performance at causewayed enclosures

Causewayed enclosures saw a huge variety of activity, both between sites and at individual locations, so much so that they often seem to encapsulate every area of Neolithic life (Whittle et al. 1999). The variety between sites also makes it extremely dangerous to generalise about them as a class of monument. Despite this there are a number of themes associated with the enclosures that appear to have been important at many of the sites.

The evidence for feasting at several sites appears to be overwhelming. At Windmill Hill for example huge quantities of animal bone was deposited in the ditches, and although some of it may have been deposited with the meat still on, much would have been defleshed and presumably consumed (Whittle et al.1999). This feasting may have been tied in with a number of other areas; rites of passage and exchange for example. Much of the material left over from these feasts was deposited in the ditches, not in a random fashion but in deliberate patterns making particular statements. Other items have been found in the ditches of enclosures: pots, axes and human bone amongst other things (Whittle et al. 1999). Often these have been related rather vaguely to rites of passage, fertility rituals and other ceremonies. Whilst not disputing this I wish to demonstrate later how more specific, contingent and contextualised readings can connect these deposits to the creation of identity. Perhaps unsurprisingly human bone in particular has provoked much discussion. Particular deposits such as the line of skulls along the bottom of the ditch at Hambledon Hill have provoked extended debate (Edmonds 1999, 119). The association between causewayed enclosures and human bone has also been enhanced by the suggestion that the enclosures were used as location for excarnation (Edmonds 1999, 120). Bodies, it has been suggested were left out in the open in the enclosures to allow the flesh to fall away and reveal the bones underneath. This process has associations with symmetry, as the body rots, moving from symmetrical to unsymmetrical and back to symmetrical again (Cummings et al. 2002). The bones might then be deposited in the enclosure ditch or transferred, as we saw earlier, around society as part of Thomas’ "economy of substances" (1999, 226). Some may have been taken and deposited in megalithic tombs, which often have a complimentary inventory with nearby enclosures (Edmonds 1999, 120).

The role in excarnation, combined with the physically marginal location of enclosures has been used to argue that they are liminal places (Thomas 1999). That is to say betwixt and between the normal run of the land. Both Julian Thomas and Mark Edmonds have linked this liminal status of enclosures to their role as centres for exchange of cattle, people, pots and axes (Edmonds 1999; Thomas 1999). Julian Thomas has described them as "socially neutral areas within which exchange could be concluded in isolation from their normal social meaning" (1999, 43). The exchange of items, some of them exotic, all of them associated with biographies and replete with meaning, is described as a polluting and dangerous activity (Thomas 1999, 43). Axes, which in particular have been seen as central to Neolithic exchange, may even have been finished at some sites before being exchanged (Edmonds 1999). At other sites though, such as Etton, they were deliberately broken before being deposited (Pryor 1998; Edmonds 1999). The architecture of the enclosure separated these already marginal locations further from everyday life, combined with the unusual activities within exchange could take place in a safe and secure way.

Ritual and ritualisation

This point about architecture is an important one. Architecture can have a profound effect upon the way in which action and ritual is perceived. It is worth considering the nature of ritual here for a moment. The notion of ritual first emerged as a counterpoint to the reason and logic that was seen to be the hallmark of western thought (Bell 1992, 6). Those actions in a society that could not be explained within this paradigm were taken to be ritual acts. This point of view often survives in archaeology today. More complex views of ritual also exist, indeed it is often seen as "a definitive component of the various processes that are deemed to constitute religion, or society, or culture" (Bell 1992, 16). Often this is expanded to present a view of ritual in terms of the coming together of opposing or contradictory social forces (Bell 1992, 16). These notions have dominated the classic anthropological accounts of Bateson, Levi-Strauss and Geertz (Bell 1992, 35).

Catherine Bell has recently argued that this logic is circular however, and based on the Cartesian dualities between thought and action that are central, but peculiar, to much of western philosophy (1992, 25,32). She identifies three key structures behind this view of ritual, the separation of thought and action, their reintegration, and the separation of the theorist and practitioner, between us and them, between our thought and their action (Bell 1992, 25). These dualities miss both how ritual forms part of the reality of social life and how it creates an unbridgeable gap between subject and object. The recognition that the very definition of ritual is based on such a dichotomy leads Bell to argue that in fact ritual acts are not clearly differentiated from other acts of social behaviour (1992, 29). Thus rather than try to define ritual, she argues that the study of ritualisation is essential (Bell 1992, 74). Ritualisation is the "way of acting designed and orchestrated to distinguish and privilege what is being done in comparison to other, usually more quotidian activities" (Bell 1992, 74).

The architecture of enclosures clearly helps distinguish the activities that take place there from more day-to-day activities. It is this that helps create the possibility for the ritualisation of action; the activities that take place, such as excarnation, exchange and deposition to have connotations and understandings different to that they might have elsewhere. It is this that might make exchange safe where elsewhere it might be dangerous. It is also this that allowed these activities to have particular ramifications in terms of the regulatory ideals that were cited, maintained and undermined through performance at these sites. It is important to think also about the physical effects the architecture of such a monument has upon the possibilities for action for a human body (Barrett 1994; Tilley 1994; Thomas 1996). The causeways entail that the enclosure can only be entered from certain directions. At certain sites, notably many of the European enclosures but also at Etton, particular entrance causeways were situated at the cardinal points (Bradley 1998; Pryor 1998). This would entail certain experiences at particular times of year, with regard to the rising or setting sun or moon. Narrow causeways or entrances require people to enter in certain orders and "provide another field in which distinctions between groups or individuals could be drawn" (Edmonds 1993, 111). Those enclosures with multiple circuits could create a hierarchy of value, with restricted access moving from inside to outside. This point of view, a phenomenological or dwelling perspective (Ingold 2000), can help us to think about the ways in which different performances might be accessible from certain points of view and not from others. Such a point of view also allows a consideration of the experiential nature of constructing such a monument and how notions of identity might be caught up and defined through the building and memory of building.

Enclosures in the landscape

Taking a dwelling perspective allows us to begin to place enclosures within the landscape, and indeed the taskscape (Ingold 1993), within which they were constructed. The taskscape is the entire ensemble of tasks that take place in the landscape. The landscape is in effect the embodied form of the taskscape (Ingold 2000, 194-198). The crux of this is that it sets the bodily practice and habitus of Bourdieu (1977) within the wider landscape and within the affordances that landscape has to offer (Ingold 2000, 166). This allows us to see how the habitus is created, not just through relationships at certain locales and with certain people, but also through the wider experience of being-in-the-world across the whole landscape. Enclosures formed a place along a path. Sometimes set on ecotones (e.g. Hambledon Hill), or in marginal locations, they formed part of the landscape through which moved a still mobile population, herding cattle, growing crops, hunting and gathering. Within this landscape in which enclosures were set, an older tradition of monuments also existed, the long barrows and megalithic tombs. These complimented the causewayed enclosures and continued to be used alongside them, some bone moving perhaps from one type of monument to another. The enclosures would have been approached at certain times, at certain seasons. Cattle and axes might be exchanged, alliances made or renegotiated and rites of passage gone through, rites that may have involved the young, the old, the living and the dead. Tempo would have been crucial to this (Fowler 2002b). The change and transformation of bodies, sites and people all happened at particular tempos that would be remembered and recalled, and were essential to understanding Neolithic life (Fowler 2002b, 56). All of the enclosures were unique, but equally the themes outlined above can be traced from one to another, despite our increasing awareness of how numerous they may have been (Oswald et al. 2000).


One factor however that I feel is crucial to our understanding of causewayed enclosures is the creation of identity. Despite repeated reference to the variation in experience at each enclosure, the narratives in much of archaeology still fail to get to grips with how things might actually have been really different in the past. The discussion of exchange, excarnation, feasting and deposition at these sites misses much of how these events interacted with the identity and agency of the people of the Neolithic. What forms of personhood did these performances cite? How did certain rituals help form particular notions of identity? Can we detect particular depositions that might have formed part of particular rites-of-passage? What different notions of gender and identity can we suggest might have been possible within the material conditions of the Neolithic? We have seen how Joanna Brück has argued cogently that many descriptions of agency and experience at Neolithic monuments unthinkingly engender power relations, and privilege the male over the female (2001). In order to move away from this and from essentialist notions of identity and agency it is essential we examine how different ways of being human might have existed in the past. Yet within this we must maintain the possibility for change, subversion, challenge and conflict. In order to do this I will now turn to two particular causewayed enclosures, Etton and Windmill Hill (Pryor 1998; Whittle et al. 1999). Both sites have been recently excavated and extremely well recorded. Indeed much of the interpretation in both site reports is cogent and well argued. The interpretations I intend to offer should largely be complimentary to, rather than in place of, the conclusions of those reports.

What I intend to do is first place the sites in their regional context, describe their layout and mention something of the sequence and previous interpretations. I shall then offer a thematical account of identity and agency moving from area to area and drawing on examples from both sites. These themes will include the metaphor of inclusion and exclusion, age, people’s relationship with animals and gender. I do not suggest for one moment that any of these areas are truly separable from one another and their partition is purely for heuristic reasons (see Butler 1993). There will, needless to say, be areas that overlap between each theme, and certain examples may be used to illustrate different facets of identity. Each theme will draw on examples from both sites; my aim is not to offer a total understanding or interpretation of identity at either enclosure. One cannot possibly understand people’s identity from a single site; a total understanding would require regional studies, to take in both other monuments and settlement evidence. Unfortunately, there is insufficient space for such a project in this study. Instead I want to demonstrate how well excavated and recorded sites with multiple depositions can be used to suggest narratives around a range of identities and agencies. What I intend to do is explore how the material conditions excavated at these two sites might have allowed different forms of identity and agency to be created, maintained or undermined, and how different people at different times might have had different understandings of this process. I do this with an explicitly political goal; I wish to undermine narratives based around the Neolithic that offer essentialist accounts of identity, and thus legitimate modern political inequalities. Instead I will offer an account that subverts such an approach and shows the past might have been very different from today.