We start with a chapter from Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, The Creation of Inequality. Both are well known in their respective fields, and have written a series of collaborative books. They aim to show that social anthropology and archaeology can be usefully read together. They argue here that inequality emerges from the actions of humans manipulating the "social logic" that obtains in the society in which they find themselves (e.g. expectations around gift giving and virtue). This is presented as an alternative to various kinds of determinism (genetic, environmental, population and resource based, and so on). Of course, we cannot evaluate the evidence that underpins this argument in a political theory class. But we can use it to expand our sense of "the limits that are imposed on us" and "the possibility of going beyond them" (Foucault 1984, p. 50).
The "state of nature" device is familiar from modern political theory. But in that context the point (generally) is to show how unsustainable a world without political authority, in which everyone is equal, would be. Here, by contrast, we see "clanless forager" societies who maintained such societies for tens of thousands of years: probably ten times longer than the entirety of 'recorded history,' if not longer. This disposes of no interesting questions about equality, except perhaps those that rely on the incompatibility of equality with human nature as such. But it suggests another dimension of human variation for Horatio to contemplate, as he ponders the heavens and the earth.
Flannery and Marcus, in any case, suggest equality is no more 'natural' to humans than inequality, nor generosity than selfishness. Equality itself needed to be managed among forager groups, through expectations and norms that privileged generosity as a source, or instance, of virtue. Claims to virtue, however, could be turned to other purposes. Those who claim superior virtue through expertise, military capacity, or some form of charismatic relation to the divine (and find "people simple enough to believe" them) can, under the right circumstances, translate this into superior social status, if only during their own lifetimes. And sometimes these claims to superiority can be made hereditary and form the basis of stratification.
The whole book is worth reading, and carefully sorts the evidence for the patterns and transitions argued for in a way I can't detail here. But we can use it to kick off some questions central to this course: what are the origins of political authority? how is it legitmated? must political communities be inegalitarian, and if not, what forms of inequality or equality are possible and desirable?