Trinity data behind new research which suggests common path governed evolution of societies

Trinity data behind new research which suggests common path governed evolution of societies

Scientific historians, using data collected via a platform developed at Trinity College Dublin, have today published a report suggesting that a single dimension of ‘social complexity’ measures the development of around 400 past societies that existed over the last 10,000 years

Probing why today’s world is populated by large, sophisticated, densely populated, and technologically advanced nation-states and asking why so many different states share so many features of governance and structure, the research has just been published in leading international journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To answer these questions, researchers systematically gathered historical information on around 400 different past societies from the last 10,000 years, sampling from 30 regions spanning the entire globe.

The researchers took in every society from Egypt’s old kingdom pyramid builders to Viking kingdoms in medieval Iceland, and by way of the great kingdoms of Angkor Wat in South East Asia.

After analysing the data they pinpointed a single dimension of ’social complexity’ that can meaningfully measure the developmental trajectories of all societies explored in the sample. In other words, they found a set of general principles that apparently govern the evolution of human society.

This work is the result of years of research conducted by a large, international team of evolutionary scientists, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists led by Peter Turchin and Thomas Currie.

Senior Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, Dr Kevin Feeney, led the information technology effort by developing a platform for collecting and curating the massive, complex dataset. Dr Feeney’s team has made the entire dataset available.

Dr Feeney said: “Understanding how we got to our modern world is the critical first step in showing us where we are heading next. The single dimension of ‘social complexity’ that measures societal development is made up of nine highly correlated characteristics, incorporating 51 separate features, from the size of the society to its economic sophistication, administrative capacity, informational technology, and others.”

“The majority of previous studies in this area have focused on only one or two ’primary’ characteristics in an attempt to explain social development. Our approach has led to this exciting new understanding that social development requires an intricate co-evolution of numerous, seemingly disparate traits.”

“Our findings also highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.”

The data used in this project come from the Seshat: Global History Databank, directed by Peter Turchin, Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter Francois, Thomas Currie, and Kevin Feeney.

The Seshat project gathers information from past societies in order to rigorously test different hypotheses about the rise and fall of large-scale societies across the globe, and over the course of human history. Seshat seeks to bring together in one place the largest collection of data on our shared human past that has ever been assembled.

Check out the entire data set here

- Digital desk

More on this topic

The curse of the Kennedy family strikes againThe curse of the Kennedy family strikes again

Danny Dyer’s online lesson details how Henry VIII ‘got the hump’ with the PopeDanny Dyer’s online lesson details how Henry VIII ‘got the hump’ with the Pope

Dock where Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle spent final days given protected statusDock where Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle spent final days given protected status

The Irish Examiner View: Grave detailsThe Irish Examiner View: Grave details


More in this Section

Around 98% of Covid-19 tests showing negative, says HSEAround 98% of Covid-19 tests showing negative, says HSE

Four deaths and 57 new cases associated with Covid-19 confirmedFour deaths and 57 new cases associated with Covid-19 confirmed

North reports one new Covid-19 death and 25 extra casesNorth reports one new Covid-19 death and 25 extra cases

Testing times: The science of fighting Covid-19Testing times: The science of fighting Covid-19


Lifestyle

Esther N McCarthy finds funky fabric and Bantry baskets as well as exploring virtual galleries. Wish List: In pursuit of funky fabric and Bantry baskets

Pubs have been closed across this island for over two months. Can you imagine if they were closed for 14 years? To mark the centenary of the introduction of Prohibition in the US, Robert O'Shea selects examples of its cultural legacyWhat did Prohibition ever do for us?

Des O'Driscoll looks at some of the top picks on the TV today.TV highlights: A new 'make-under' dating show and Kevin McGahern paints celeb protraits

More From The Irish Examiner