Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization

Peter Turchin, Thomas E. Currie, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, Kevin Feeney, Daniel Mullins, Daniel Hoyer, Christina Collins, Stephanie Grohmann, Patrick Savage, Gavin Mendel-Gleason, Edward Turner, Agathe Dupeyron, Enrico Cioni, Jenny Reddish, Jill Levine, Greine Jordan, Eva Brandl, Alice Williams, Rudolf CesarettiMarta Krueger, Alessandro Ceccarelli, Joe Figliulo-Rosswurm, Po Ju Tuan, Peter Peregrine, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Nikolay Kradin, Andrey Korotayev, Alessio Palmisano, David Baker, Julye Bidmead, Peter Bol, David Christian, Connie Cook, Alan Covey, Gary Feinman, Árni Daníel Júlíusson, Axel Kristinsson, John Miksic, Ruth Mostern, Cameron Petrie, Peter Rudiak-Gould, Barend ter Haar, Vesna Wallace, Victor Mair, Liye Xie, John Baines, Elizabeth Bridges, Joseph Manning, Bruce Lockhart, Amy Bogaard, Charles Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Do human societies from around the world exhibit similarities in the way that they are structured, and show commonalities in the ways that they have evolved? These are long-standing questions that have proven difficult to answer. To test between competing hypotheses, we constructed a massive repository of historical and archaeological information known as “Seshat: Global History Databank.” We systematically coded data on 414 societies from 30 regions around the world spanning the last 10,000 years. We were able to capture information on 51 variables reflecting nine characteristics of human societies, such as social scale, economy, features of governance, and information systems. Our analyses revealed that these different characteristics show strong relationships with each other and that a single principal component captures around three-quarters of the observed variation. Furthermore, we found that different characteristics of social complexity are highly predictable across different world regions. These results suggest that key aspects of social organization are functionally related and do indeed coevolve in predictable ways. Our findings highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E144-E151
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume115
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jan 9
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Comparative archaeology
  • Comparative history
  • Cultural evolution
  • Quantitative history
  • Sociopolitical complexity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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