A Historical Database of Sociocultural Evolution

Turchin, Peter;Whitehouse, Harvey;Francois, Pieter;Slingerland, Edward;Collard, Mark
Cliodynamics June 1, 2012 Journal Link


The origin of human ultrasociality—the ability to cooperate in huge groups of genetically unrelated individuals—has long interested evolutionary and social theorists, but there has been little systematic empirical research on the topic. The Historical Database of Sociocultural Evolution, which we introduce in this article, brings the available historical and archaeological data together in a way that will allow hypotheses concerning the origin of ultrasociality to be tested rigorously. In addition to describing the methodology informing the set-up of the database, our article introduces four hypotheses that we intend to test using the database. These hypotheses focus on the resource base, warfare, ritual, and religion, respectively. Ultimately the aim of our database is to offer a ‘rapid discovery science’ route to the study of the past. We believe our approach is not only highly complementary with existing traditions of enquiry in history and archaeology but will extend their intellectual scope and explanatory power.
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