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posted by janrinok on Friday September 15 2023, @07:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the betteridge-doesn't-think-so dept.

A new study out of the Complexity Science Hub concludes that social disintegration and violent conflict played a crucial role in shaping the population dynamics of early farming societies in Neolithic Europe:

Complexity scientist Peter Turchin and his team at CSH, working as part of an international and interdisciplinary collaboration, may have added a meaningful piece to a long-standing puzzle in archeology. Scholars have long tried to understand why Neolithic farmer populations go through boom-bust cycles, including "collapses" when whole regions are abandoned. According to one common explanation, climate fluctuations are the main driver, but empirical tests do not fully support this claim. In a new paper, published in the latest issue of Nature Scientific Reports, Turchin and his team seem to have come up with a new piece of information.

"Our study shows that periodic outbreaks of warfare — and not climate fluctuations – can account for the observed boom-bust patterns in the data," argues Turchin, who's a project leader at the Complexity Science Hub (CSH).

[...] Turchin has been applying mathematical models of social integration and disintegration to analyze the rise and fall of complex societies, such as agrarian empires in history or modern nation-states. He admits he wasn't convinced that such ideas would also apply to prehistory, such as the European Neolithic, where most of the time people lived in small-scale farming communities with no deep social inequalities and limited political organization beyond local settlements.

"I confess that until recently I thought that such societies were quite resilient and not susceptible to social disintegration and collapse," says Turchin. "There is no state or nobles to rebel against and, in any case, what's there to 'collapse'?," adds the complexity scientist.

Turchin, however, now holds a different view. Increasing evidence suggested that "simple" Neolithic farmers' societies also collapsed. "In fact, such cases are much more profound than the social and political breakdown of more recent societies, because archaeology indicates that substantial regions were depopulated."

[...] "Since we don't see consistent large-scale political organization during this time, it would be easy to imagine that things were static, such that people settled in a village and lived there for three or four thousand years without much happening in between. That doesn't seem to be the case. Sadly, this also means that this period was more violent than previously thought."

[...] "Additionally, the study indicates that humans and their interactions, whether friendly or violent, form a complex system, regardless of their political or economic organization. It doesn't matter if you don't want to organize into a state, you are still affected by your neighbors and their neighbors as well," adds Kondor.

Journal Reference:
Dániel Kondor, James S. Bennett, Detlef Gronenborn, et al., Explaining population booms and busts in Mid-Holocene Europe, Sci. Rep., 13, 9310 (2023) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-35920-z


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by inertnet on Friday September 15 2023, @08:27AM

    by inertnet (4071) on Friday September 15 2023, @08:27AM (#1324760) Journal

    The Irish potato famine, and also the 10 plagues of Egypt, teach us that plant diseases and insect or rodent infestations can severely impact a society. As our ancestors didn't have the knowledge to cope with these, they probably blamed some god and the remaining population likely just abandoned the 'cursed' land.

    So, while robbery by jealous parties may have caused many breakdowns, I'm sure that the above must have caused a significant count as well. It would be interesting to see if research could support that.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @08:33AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @08:33AM (#1324761)
    My hypotheses is persistence running was more for war (escaping or chasing) than for hunting for food.

    Very few tribes do persistence running to hunt - most use their brains and skills.

    But plenty have experienced war. And with war, the predator and prey are the same species, so if one evolves to run faster the other will too soon enough.

    Whereas running about the same speed as your predator till nightfall or till you escape can help your genes survive.

    And war can have a higher selection pressure. If you fail to hunt an animal one day, you often don't die. But if you are defeated and fail to escape, you often get killed.
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by istartedi on Friday September 15 2023, @09:00AM

      by istartedi (123) on Friday September 15 2023, @09:00AM (#1324765) Journal

      There are so many environments and ways that wars are fought I don't know if you can draw a clear line. Marching for days might happen on the savanna, but in forests that support a higher population density the warring tribes were closer. The ability to *throw* things is a unique human ability. Baseball, Ray. It's always been there; but it used to be to the death.

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    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Friday September 15 2023, @11:36AM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday September 15 2023, @11:36AM (#1324783)

      Then we have situations like "The Hundred Years War" where two tribes essentially peck at each other on most encounters, but basically don't encounter each other all that often.

      War is dramatic, great tales are told of the exploits in battle, but all in all it's not as stressful as disease, famine, plagues, drought... but who wants to tell the tale of how their sister died of unexplained causes, their grandparents starved to death, and they pulled up stakes and moved closer to the lake when the streams went dry? Much more entertaining to tell of how they vanquished the heathens who were hogging up all the water.

      --
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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by VLM on Friday September 15 2023, @11:44AM (6 children)

    by VLM (445) on Friday September 15 2023, @11:44AM (#1324786)

    Maybe trade networks? Not toxic worldwide globalists like we have now, but simple trade stuff like salt for food preservation.

    Imagine a static stable situation. Suddenly, "for whatever rando reason" the coasties stop sending as much salt inland. The inlanders die because they can't salt preserve their excess meat for the winter or lean times in general. The inlanders, being dead, can't grow grain and trade it to the coasties to keep them alive in the lean times, so more coasties die resulting in even less salt being traded inland, and the cycle repeats until they're all pretty much wiped or at best dropped back to hunter-gatherer levels, which in that climate might be essentially zero people per sq mile.

    Repeat for whatever other rando reasons.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Friday September 15 2023, @12:51PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday September 15 2023, @12:51PM (#1324798)

      And, when stressed by lack of food, people will stop behaving politely and try to come and steal the salt, and grain, and revenge kill for atrocities committed by the other on their last raid, etc. Does war cause stress, or does stress cause war? Yes.

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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by gznork26 on Friday September 15 2023, @01:57PM (1 child)

      by gznork26 (1159) on Friday September 15 2023, @01:57PM (#1324806) Homepage Journal

      What you've described also sounds like some of the dynamics in The Game of Life, where some of the active patterns persist for a period of time, either in place or by moving, before encountering a random situation that freezes the action. Shifting the context, bits of social ecosystems arise between or among communities which persist until some random event kneecaps the dynamic which had kept the ecosystem alive. At that point, the groups that composed the system are isolated and do not survive as they were. It's evolution on a different scale,

      --
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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @05:25PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @05:25PM (#1324824)

        Whites alone have been doing the right thing by the planet and mankind in general, reproducing below replacement. Globally, they are the endangered minority.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by krishnoid on Friday September 15 2023, @04:32PM (1 child)

      by krishnoid (1156) on Friday September 15 2023, @04:32PM (#1324819)

      When you're on the coast, you can "harvest" fish year-round to survive. I think cities and towns were founded next to running/bodies of water for this reason.

      • (Score: 2) by VLM on Friday September 15 2023, @05:05PM

        by VLM (445) on Friday September 15 2023, @05:05PM (#1324822)

        That's kind of optimistic. Even domesticated livestock isn't really continuous except under unusual circumstances or with the help of modern logistics.

        Many fish have weird lifecycles. Infinite salmon in the late summer, not so much salmon the other three seasons.

        Also maybe the boat breaks so they are landlocked until they fix the boat, or the weather is awful and they run out of dried cod, or whatever.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday September 16 2023, @11:41AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 16 2023, @11:41AM (#1324933) Journal

      Maybe trade networks? Not toxic worldwide globalists like we have now, but simple trade stuff like salt for food preservation.

      "Toxic worldwide globalists" who are helping [soylentnews.org] almost all of humanity to achieve a variety of things we take for granted in the developed world: developed world standard of living, peace, low pollution, etc. Sorry, if that's inconvenient for your narrative.

      Otherwise, you present a good scenario for how widespread collapses can propagate then and now.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VLM on Friday September 15 2023, @11:48AM (6 children)

    by VLM (445) on Friday September 15 2023, @11:48AM (#1324788)

    small-scale farming communities with no deep social inequalities and limited political organization beyond local settlements.

    My understanding of the situation is this is based mostly on the noble savage stereotype with a side dish of minimal evidence from a small amount of skeletal remains.

    It's possible that assumption is wrong, or at least the new evidence weakens the old assumption.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Friday September 15 2023, @12:56PM (3 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday September 15 2023, @12:56PM (#1324799)

      I still believe that 99+% of what is written about these ancient civilizations is fantasy fiction with the flimsiest basis in actual evidence.

      --
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      • (Score: 2) by OrugTor on Friday September 15 2023, @04:22PM

        by OrugTor (5147) on Friday September 15 2023, @04:22PM (#1324817)

        Pretty much the definition of "pre-history".

      • (Score: 1) by Runaway1956 on Friday September 15 2023, @06:05PM (1 child)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 15 2023, @06:05PM (#1324826) Journal

        Bingo.

        A mathematician has to prove his work, whether something new and innovative, or centuries old math.

        Anthropoligists can lie beside a stream with some foot prints and some arrowheads nearby, and fantasize about what he thinks the foot prints and arrowheads mean. No proof required.

        Oh, for a time machine, so that we can go back and prove that more than 80% of what we "know" about the past, is utter bullshit.

        --
        Do political debates really matter? Ask Joe!
        • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:10PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:10PM (#1324847)

          Yes, that "80%" figure sounds very mathematical.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @05:21PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @05:21PM (#1324823)

      This line is particularly jarring:

      "There is no state or nobles to rebel against and, in any case, what's there to 'collapse'?," adds the complexity scientist.

      As if villages aren't totally based on family hierarchies and a village chief whose word is law and who passes it onto his son.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 16 2023, @04:00PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 16 2023, @04:00PM (#1324945)

        Bollocks. You're describing a monarchy. In village situations, the head is the one who actually knows how to get shite done.

        There's been shitloads of modern hesperian studies of extant 'primitive' societies. Heriditary rule authorized by kinship shows up in societies a bit larger than a village.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @01:34PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @01:34PM (#1324805)

    ...social disintegration and collapse...

    I think it happens when they start getting rid of philosophers.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by SingularityPhoenix on Friday September 15 2023, @05:34PM (2 children)

    by SingularityPhoenix (23544) on Friday September 15 2023, @05:34PM (#1324825)

    > small-scale farming communities with no deep social inequalities and limited political organization beyond local settlements.

    Feudalism wasn't even that long ago. People band together for protection, whether family groups or larger. The strongest guys fight to defend the group, but require the farmers pay them for their work). You get raided by the people to the north. Your king raids them back, or maybe conquers them and makes them pay tribute or be slaves. But war is brutal, and lots of people die, civilians and soldiers. Besides pillage and plunder, war also involves a lot of forced procreation.

    No deep social inequalities? No, kings have been around for a long time. Maybe their kingdom is small, and they're much closer to the people, but those are typically gobbled up but their bigger neighbors.

    Look at other animals that form groups, they have social hierarchy, from ants to lions. Monkeys can have large groups, and raid neighbors, and defend territory. You don't need a time machine. Kings have been around since our oldest written records (cuneiform).

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:16PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:16PM (#1324848)

      What seems to be the historical trend - and Trump is an example - is that we (as in We The People) are now holding Kings to account. The law - an abstract concept - is above mere people, including Kings. We are ruled not by people any more but by organizing principles that are bigger than any one person.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 16 2023, @01:04AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 16 2023, @01:04AM (#1324866)

        He who writes the laws is king.

  • (Score: 2) by SomeRandomGeek on Friday September 15 2023, @07:49PM (2 children)

    by SomeRandomGeek (856) on Friday September 15 2023, @07:49PM (#1324833)

    This could win a prize for the most marginal research project. It starts off as a soft science like anthropology rather than a hard science like physics. To that, add the fact that pre-history extrapolates from extremely incomplete data by definition. To that, add the fact that the researcher is just creating a model, and then making a statement about the way the real world must be in order for it to match the model.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:19PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15 2023, @09:19PM (#1324849)

      I'll take it over the perhaps 50% fraudulent hard science papers written for the sole purpose of supporting the Professor's grant/promotion/reputation. See e.g. Stanford President Professor Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

      • (Score: 2) by https on Saturday September 16 2023, @04:07PM

        by https (5248) on Saturday September 16 2023, @04:07PM (#1324947) Journal

        50%? Not likely. Try one quarter to one third. See Carlisle [nature.com] and Sabel [science.org].

        --
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