Social inequality before farming? An interview with Luc Moreau on his website and upcoming conference

Portrait Luc Moreau_I met Luc Moreau 8 years ago on the Breitenbach excavation (in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) – an important open-air Aurignacian settlement. At the time he was one of the two coordinators of the excavation, and to this day this is probably the most enjoyable field research I’ve ever been to. Since then, Luc has been PI on a 3-year project funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), was part of the International Organizing Committee of the Eleventh Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS 11) held in Vienna in September 2015, and is currently holding a Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship at the University of Cambridge.

Our trajectories crossed paths again last year, both being in the same institution- one of the joys of academic life, re-connecting with friends and colleagues over years, countries and continents. It has also been a pleasure to discover that Luc is currently studying Romanian material for his postdoc, among others, hence we took the opportunity to chat a little about the upcoming conference that he is organising at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: Social inequality before farming? (January 21-23th, 2018), accompanied by an absolutely cool looking website .

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Luc, can you tell us what is your aim for this conference?

Lux Leaks, Panama papers, Paradise papers. Today, inequality threatens civil society. These are not my words; these are the words of Angus Deaton, Nobel prize-winning economist in 2015. But, why in the 21st century should we care about social inequality in human evolutionary history?

It is important because Humanity has spent 99 percent of its existence as hunter-gatherers; it was an enormously successful adaptation. Given the deeply felt widening gap between societies and nations today, and the disproportionately unequal world in which we are living, we want to know: Did social inequality exist in the deep past? Under which circumstances did it emerge, grow, and persist? Was inequality the better adaptive strategy in evolutionary terms? In other words, is social inequality the inevitable outcome of human evolution? Archaeology can provide answers to these questions.

The proposed conference differs from the classic approach of telling Prehistory from the point of view of a directional increase of inequality towards agriculture. Instead, it will be non-dogmatical and multidisciplinary in scope and it will explore both social inequality and egalitarianism from different angles by bringing together specialists from different disciplines: archaeology, cultural anthropology & computational modelling. The workshop aims to revisit the pre-agricultural record of Europe and further afield in the light of recent advances brought about by cross-cultural studies of extant hunter-gatherer societies, as well as by formal theory and quantitative modelling.

What does it mean for a postdoc to organise an international conference?

The stimulating intellectual environment I have so far experienced in Cambridge with its long tradition in teaching both social archaeology and evolutionary theory greatly contributed to the conference idea. Once the topic has been chosen after careful consideration, organising an international conference is like preparing a wedding: who to invite is key. Invited guests should be able to relate their expertise and research scope to the conference topic.

My primary tip for PostDocs organising a conference: be aware that not all invited speakers are equally responsive. Moreover, booking flights for oversea speakers, accommodation, catering and dinner can be a challenge. When I think of organising an international conference, I think of the three “P´s” required to make that happen: patience, persistence, perseverance.

Follow updates on the upcoming conference on the PALMOBI Website

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Image source: www.lucmoreau.org
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