Santa Fe Institute

Defining universal patterns in the emergence of complex societies

Jeremy Sabloff on Emergence of Complex Societies

Project Highlights: October 2013

The rise of the state is a key marker in the evolution of human society. States typically emerged when one chiefdom (amid a competing set of chiefdoms) achieved a greater and more effective level of organization.

Despite the presence of similar conditions, some states rose and flourished while some advanced chiefdoms never passed the threshold into statehood. Why states emerged in some places and not others, why they arose independently in six places around the world starting about 5,000 years ago, and why their rise was usually associated with the growth of cities, are fascinating questions for anthropologists. Answers to these questions could offer insights into today's urban systems.

In this project, scholars will build a database of all available quantitative archaeological information on early state formation and development. Drawing from cultural anthropology, archaeology, and history, as well as tools and approaches from biology and physics, researchers will compare sites around the globe to understand the common processes inherent in the state’s rise and persistence as a human system over millennia. More

The Santa Fe Institute thanks the John Templeton Foundation for its generous support of this work.