Machu Picchu

The rise of the state is a key marker in the evolution of human society. States typically emerged when one chiefdom achieved a greater and more effective level of organization than a competing set of chiefdoms in the region. 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 have built a database of available archaeological information on early state formation and development. Drawing from cultural anthropology, archaeology, and history, as well as tools and approaches from biology, physics, and computer science, researchers are comparing sites around the globe to understand the common processes inherent in the state’s rise and persistence over millennia as a human system.

The Santa Fe Institute thanks the John Templeton Foundation for initiating this work.

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