Evolution of Complex Hierarchical Societies

Peter Turchin, Sergey Gavrilets
Social Evolution & History September 1, 2009 Journal Link PDF


One of the greatest puzzles of human evolutionary history concerns the how and why of the transition from small-scale, ‘simple’ societies to large-scale, hierarchically complex ones. This paper reviews theoretical approaches to resolving this puzzle. Our discussion integrates ideas and concepts from evolutionary biology, anthropology, and political science. The evolutionary framework of multilevel selection suggests that complex hierarchies can arise in response to selection imposed by intergroup conflict (warfare). The logical coherency of this theory has been investigated with mathematical models, and its predictions were tested empirically by constructing a database of the largest territorial states in the world (with the focus on the preindustrial era).
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