William and Mary Law School

Stone-Age Property in Domestic Animals: An Essay for Jim Krier

Robert C. Ellickson

As befits this Festschrift, I start my essay with a tribute to Jim Krier’s scholarly contributions. I then turn my focus to Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of Property Rights, an article in which Jim insightfully speculates about the property rights that prehistoric hunter-gatherers would have recognized. The Neolithic Period, the final and most dynamic era of the Stone Age, commenced around 11,000 BP (years before present). At around that time, some former hunter-gatherers began to settle down and shift to agricultural activities. I assert that in their narratives about this era, both Krier and illustrious predecessors such as William Blackstone have largely neglected an important ancient innovation—the emergence of property rights in domesticated animals. Through selective breeding, Neolithic peoples transformed various wild ungulates into sheep, cattle, and other herdable animals. By the outset of the Bronze Age, c. 5,000 BP, livestock had come to constitute a major fraction of human wealth.

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2 BRIGHAM-KANNER PROPERTY RIGHTS CONF. J. 1 (2013)