Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut thinks the new analysis misses a broader point, because the Austronesian cultures are all relatively small, lacking the complexities of larger societies around the world. “Human sacrifice is actually a maladaptive cultural trait,” he says.
Turchin is a member of a team analysing the global history of social and political organisation. Their preliminary results show that extreme inequality – characterised by traits including human sacrifice and slavery – is a stage that cultures quickly grow out of as they develop.
This is because extreme inequality leaves societies weaker and more likely to be destroyed in wars than societies with more egalitarian structures.
“Its all relative: these ‘egalitarian’ societies still have nobles and lords,” says Turchin. “But they have dispensed with the most extreme forms of inequality including human sacrifice.”