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Like many other sciences, archaeology is experiencing a data deluge. The recent accumulation of accessible data on early urban societies, coupled with the re-emergence of comparative studies, puts modern scholars in a position to make significant theoretical advances concerning the key episode of human social organization that provided the foundations of the contemporary world: the formation of the state.

A complex systems approach—pioneered at the Santa Fe Institute—involves fully interdisciplinary explorations of long-debated questions. Can basic quantitative analysis of human social evolution reveal macrocultural processes? Can we understand social cohesion by way of cultural genotypes? And does the emergence of social complexity involve the creation of new potential or the realization of latent human capabilities?

In this volume, many of the foremost experts in quantitative archaeology and anthropology leverage innovative methodologies—including agent-based modeling, network analysis, and theoretical applications of evolutionary biology—to push the field in new directions.

The paperback edition is now available


  • Lily Blair, Stanford University
  • R. Kyle Bocinsky, Washington State University
  • Stefani Crabtree, Pennsylvania State University
  • Skyler Cragg, formerly SFI
  • Laura Fortunato, University of Oxford and SFI External Professor 
  • Paul L. Hooper, Santa Fe Institute
  • Hilliard S. Kaplan, University of New Mexico
  • Tim Kohler, Washington State University and SFI External Professor
  • Scott Ortman, University of Colorado Boulder and SFI External Professor
  • Peter Peregrine, Lawrence University and SFI External Professor
  • Eric Alden Smith, University of Washington
  • Henry T. Wright, University of Michigan and SFI External Professor

Table of Contents

Part I:    Background 

Chapter 1: Extending Our Knowledge of Premodern States

Jeremy A. Sabloff

Chapter 2: The Problem of States:  The State of the Problem 

Henry T. Wright 

Chapter 3: Systematic Comparative Approaches to the Archaeological Record

Laura Fortunato

Part II:    New Research

Chapter 4: Status, Role, and Behavior in Premodern States:  A Comparative Analysis

Paula L.W. Sabloff and Skyler Cragg 

Chapter 5: Ecological and Social Dynamics of Territoriality and Hierarchy Formation 

Paul L. Hooper, Eric Alden Smith. Tim Kohler, Henry T. Wright, and Hilliard S. Kaplan

Chapter 6: Sociopolitical Evolution in Midrange Societies:  The Prehispanic Pueblo Case 

Tim Kohler, Stefani Crabtree, and R. Kyle Bocinsky 

Chapter 7: The Contours of Cultural Evolution

Scott Ortman, Lily Blair, and Peter Peregrine

Part III:    Syntheses

Chapter 8: Cultural Genotypes and Social Complexity

Scott Ortman

Chapter 9: Toward a Theory of Recurrent Social Formations

Peter Peregrine

Chapter 10: Concluding Remarks

Jeremy A. Sabloff and Paula L.W. Sabloff