Societies come together slowly, but can fall apart quickly, say researchers who applied the tools of evolutionary biologists to an anthropological debate.
The study, published October 13 in Nature, was intended to illuminate an issue of contention among archaeologists, anthropologists and historians: whether societies become more complex in incremental steps or sudden bursts, and whether they dissolve in similar fashion.
“Political evolution, like biological evolution, tends to proceed through small steps rather than through major jumps in ‘design space”.
However, purely forward-marching models didn’t fit the data. There was evidence of societies marching backwards as well, and this didn’t follow the same step-by-step path. Societies could collapse.
Analyzing political evolution in Europe and central Asia, where most languages have gone extinct and cultures have long intermingled, is “the grand challenge” .
Text: Wired – Brandon Keim, October 13, 2010