The evolution of social and economic inequality in human societies has not been a simple U-turn over the millennia, from the dominance hierarchies of our ape-like ancestors to egalitarianism and back to hierarchy. Instead, there was a ‘zig’ (a move to large-scale hierarchical and unequal societies), followed by a ‘zag’ (a move towards greater egalitarianism associated with the Axial Age, c.800–200 BCE). What led to the emergence of hierarchical organization in modern humans—and then, why did egalitarianism re-emerge? Axial Age religions may have played an extremely important, yet little-appreciated role in these processes. Our framework for addressing these issues is modern evolutionary theory, in particular, cultural evolution.
KDEG's role within this project focuses on developing data collection infrastructure for the project.