June 2019

Théorie de L’Effondrement: Notre civilisation peut-elle vraiment daiparaître? by Vincent Nouyrigat (Science et Vie)

Vers la fin de notre monde? Et si, apèes les Romains ou les Mayas, c’était à notre tour? Alors que climat, ressources et écosystèmes sont en surchauffe, les chercheurs tentent de repousser le point critique au-delà duquel notre société atte1ndra1t un point de non-retour.<\em>
Read the full article 

March 2019

Press Related to our Nature Paper on Moralizing Gods

What came first: all-seeing gods or large societies? by Laura Spinney (The Economist)

Seshat divides the globe arbitrarily into 30 regions. Twelve housed societies that offered data on their complexity before and after the emergence of Big Gods. In ten of these 12 regions, Big Gods appeared about 100 years after a society took a leap forward in complexity, with populations in the region of 1m. That suggests Big Gods are a consequence of big societies, not a cause of them. But interrogation of Seshat revealed another religious phenomenon that played a role in driving societies towards greater complexity: frequent, collective rituals such as daily food offerings to gods. These rituals predate Big Gods in nine of the 12 regions by long periods of time, around 1,100 years on average.

Read the full article 

The God threshold: why societies don’t need a moral deity until they hit one million by Sarah Knapton (The Telegraph)

Human societies hit a ‘God threshold’ at around one million people where they need a moralising, rule-making deity to keep order, a new study suggests. Previously it was thought that the expansion of complex societies went hand-in-hand with controlling religions, which installed principles of right and wrong and allowed large numbers to live together peacefully. But a new study by Oxford University and Keio University in Japan, found that only ‘megasocieties’ of more than one million require the kind of unyielding cohesive beliefs that gave rise to major religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism.

Read the full article

Which came first: society or a fear of god? by Nskian Akpan (PBS News Hour)

The team identified moralizing gods in 20 of the 30 regions they examined, from Celtic gods in France to Hittites in Turkey to ancestral spirits in Hawaii. Based on the researchers’ new analysis, moral gods did not arrive alongside the rise of social complexity, but rather were preceded by most social constructs. One of the only exceptions was Peru’s Inca empire, which believed in vindictive lords before social habits, like writing, flourished. Moreover, if the moralizing god hypothesis was right, then social complexity should increase more rapidly after “Big Religion” came to town — but the Seshat databank revealed the opposite for 12 diverse regions. From ancient Rome to Egyptian gods to Indian buddhism, moral faiths followed after social constructs and population growth.

Read the full article

Humans Built Complex Societies Before They Invented Moral Gods by George Dvorsky (Gizmodo)

Indeed, various religions over the past several millennia have witnessed the emergence of prosocial religions, including the moralizing Abrahamic God and the Buddhist belief in karma. While religions satisfy a number of needs, such as offering existential meaning and comfort, they also serve as social control mechanisms. In the case of prosocial religions, it has been argued that an intimate and essential connection exists between complex societies and belief in a moralizing god—a connection the new research now throws into question. The new research, led by Peter Turchin from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, was an effort to understand this apparent relationship more scientifically. To date, most studies on the matter have relied on psychological experiments or cross-cultural comparative analysis, rather than on historical data. The new study was an effort to overcome this shortcoming.

Read the full article

Did judgmental gods help societies grow? by Lizzie Wade (Science Magazine)

Seshat contains information about the sizes, governments, militaries, religions, economies, and more of hundreds of societies spanning the past 10,000 years, making it possible for researchers to quantitatively compare them. The scientists analyzed 414 societies from 30 regions around the world, from the deep past until the Industrial Revolution. They classified each society according to 51 measures of social complexity, such as how many people belonged to it and whether its government had hierarchical leadership. They also attempted to determine whether each society believed in a moralizing god (or gods) or a supernatural law that enforced values such as fairness and loyalty.

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Which Came First, Big Gods or Big Societies? (Archaeology) Link

When Ancient Societies Hit a Million People, Vengeful Gods Appeared (LiveScience) Link  (This article received over 20,000 upvotes and 800 comments on Reddit and was reposted in Fox News)

Big Religion May Have Gotten Too Much Credit for the Evolution of Modern Society (Scientific American) Link

Societies hit a ‘God threshold’ where they need an all-seeing moral deity, scientists say (Yahoo! News) Link

Führte ein “starker Gott” zu komplexen Gesellschaften? (Der Standaard) Link (in German)

Moralizing gods appear after, not before, the rise of social complexity, new research suggests (University of Oxford, News & Events) Link 

Die Geburt der Götter (MSN) Link in German (Reposted in Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Brachten moralische Götter die Kulturen voran? (Wissenschaft) Link (in German)

придумали строгих богов, когда общество стало слишком большим и сложным (BBC News) Link (in Russian)

Rituale und moralisierende Götter halten Gesellschaften zusammen (APA) Link in German

A New Study Suggests Complex Civilizations Created Big Gods Rather Than The Reverse (Inquisitr) Link

Building megasocieties didn’t require divine intervention, study says (Ars Technica) Link

Moralisierende Götter waren der Kitt der großen Imperien (Die Presse) Link (in German)

Belief In Moralizing Gods Came Centuries After Complex Civilizations Evolved, Not Before (IFL Science!) Link

Which Came First, God or Society? Scientists Think They Have an Answer (Inverse) Link

Divine punishment didn’t goad us into building civilization — it was the other way around (ZME Science) Link

Complex Society Gave Birth to “Big Gods” (TechnologyNetworks) Link

Societies Sprang Up Before Beliefs in Big Gods, Study Says (Laboratory Equipment) Link

Complex societies existed before a belief in moralising gods: Ideas about ‘sin’ and ‘evil’ evolved to stop large cultures descending into chaos (Daily Mail) Link

Усложнение социальной структуры сообществ привело к появлению богов-морализаторов (N+1) Link (in Russian)

Un estudio científico nos descubre cómo apareció Dios en nuestras sociedades (Los Replicantes) Link (in Spanish)

Cómo los hombres llegaron a dios (El Pais) Link (in Spanish)

La civilización creó a los dioses moralizantes (Vozpopuli) Link (in Spanish)

¿En qué momento los humanos comenzaron a creer en Dios? Científicos logran responder esta pregunta (El Comercio) Link (in Spanish)

Erst komplexe Gesellschaften erfanden Götter (Science.ORF) Link (in German)

Las civilizaciones humanas son más antiguas que sus dioses (El Mundo) Link (in Spanish)

Descubren cómo llegó Dios a nuestras vidas (ABCdesevilla) Link (in Spanish)

Les Dieux du jugement ont-ils aidé les sociétés à se développer? (La Minute) Link (in French)

¿Qué fueron antes, los dioses castigadores o las civilizaciones? El ‘big data’ responde (NCYT) Link (in Spanish)  (Reposted in Sinc)

Deuses castigadores? Só as sociedades mais complexas os criaram (Diario de Noticias) Link (in Spanish)

Soziale Evolution als Auslöser für Götterglaube (Deutchslandfunk) Link (in German)

Erst komplexe Gesellschaften schufen mächtige Götter – nicht umgekehrt ( Link (in German)

Starke Götter als Kitt der Hochkulturen (Scienxx) Link (in German)

Brachten moralische Götter die Kulturen voran? ( Link (in German)

Moralisierende Götter halten Staaten zusammen (Wiener Zeitung) Link (in German)

Descubrieron cuándo los humanos empezaron a creer en la existencia de un Dios (Clarín) Link (in Spanish)

‘Nature’: Los científicos descubren cómo llegó Dios a nuestras vidas (Periodista Digital) Link (in Spanish)

Descubren cómo llegó Dios a nuestras vidas (Zócalo) Link (in Spanish)

Cezalandırıcı tanrılar mı yoksa karmaşık toplumlar mı önceydi tartışması (Arkeolojik Haber) Link (in Turkish)

Što je bilo prije, bog ili društvo? Znanstvenici napokon imaju odgovor (Index HR) Link (in Croatian)

Боги с моралью появляются с ростом населения (НАУКА И ЖИЗНЬ) Link (in Russian)

Descubrieron cuándo los humanos comenzaron a creer en Dios (Infobae) Link (in Spanish)

A Ciência descobriu quando nasceu Deus (Zap.aeiou) Link (in Portuguese) (Reposted in Ultimas Curiosidades)

Iidsed tsivilisatsioonid said hakkama ka suure kaikaga jumalata ( Link (in Estonian)

Descubren cómo llegó Dios a nuestras vidas (La Voz de Cádiz) Link (in Spanish)

Geloof in morele goden geen vereiste voor het ontstaan van complex samenleving (Scientias) Link (in Dutch)

Po co nam moralizatorski Bóg? Badania potwierdzają jedną z hipotez ( Link (in Polish)

Eerst groeit de maatschappij, dan komt er een god bij (NRC) Link (in Dutch)

Ученые уточнили роль религий в зарождении цивилизации (РИА Новости) Link (in Russian)

La humanidad no necesitó de dioses moralizantes para crear sociedades complejas (La Vanguardia) Link (in Spanish)

First: Complex Societies. Then: Moralizing Gods (Archaeology Review) Link

Ученые объяснили, зачем люди придумали себе строгих богов (Komsomolskaya Pravda) Link (in Russian)

Усложнение общества предшествует появлению веры в богов-морализаторов (Elementy) Link (in Russian)

Other Press Coverage in March

How belief in punitive gods may have helped large societies cooperate by Chelsea Whyte (New Scientist)

This may mean that belief in a punitive god could make people more willing to share resources across a large society. “Religion created a sense of us versus them and as societies grew into empires that must have been a very important factor in keeping them cohesive,” says Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut. While the experiments show that punitive gods may influence human cooperation, it may also work the other way around. Turchin says his research into historical societies shows that belief in punitive gods tends to arise after the appearance of large-scale societies. Today, punitive gods play no role in some highly cooperative societies, he says. “This is because other social technologies play the same role, such as very persuasive bureaucratic control or social control by neighbours.”

Read the full article 

February 2019

Cómo lograr la paz en el mundo con ayuda del big data (La Razón)

Aprender de la Historia gracias al análisis de datos para conseguir la paz mundial. Este es el objetivo de la Universidad de Oxford y el Instituto para la Economía y la Paz, que quieren establecer los mecanismos necesarios para lograr la paz, de la mano de la tecnología big data de la startup irlandesa DataChemist, especializada en retail y finanzas.

Esta startup analizará datos históricos recopilados a través de la Seshat: Global History Databank para que los investigadores rastreen las combinaciones de factores para vivir en armonía. En definitiva, se busca la forma más objetiva de aprender del pasado para planificar mejor para el futuro.

Read the full article (in Spanish)

January 2019

Dublin start-up chosen to work on global peace initiative by Colin Gleeson (The Irish Times)

A Dublin-based start-up has been selected to provide technology for a project that is seeking to map global peace and provide evidence-based insight into how it might be cultivated in the future.

DataChemist was chosen by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and the University of Oxford to work on the Historical Peace Index, which uses historical data gathered through the Seshat: Global History Databank.

Read the full article

DataChemist Supports Global Initiative to Promote and Understand Peace Through Data Analysis (Irish Tech News)

DataChemist, the leader in deriving insight from data, has been selected by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) and the University of Oxford as the technology powering an ambitious project to “learn from history” and help promote the conditions for a peaceful planet in the future.

This Historical Peace Index uses cutting-edge statistical methods and robust historical data gathered through the Seshat: Global History Databank, a world leader in gathering, organizing, and learning the lessons of our shared past. The chief goal of the project is to map Global Peace over thousands of years, and provide evidence-based insight into how to improve Global Peace in the future. The project gathers and analyzes a huge range of historical data relating to social structures, politics, and economics over the past 5,000 years. It provides a comprehensive view of history that brings the power of ‘big data’ to understanding peace and the conditions that encourage peace.

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November 2018

Our Unfinished Agenda (What I Have Learned) by Timothy A. Kohler (The SAA Archaeological Record)

My second example comes from a recent analysis of a large historical and archaeological dataset called “Seshat: Global History Databank” ( amassed and analyzed for 30 regions of the world spanning the last 10,000 years by Peter Turchin and numerous colleagues (2018). These researchers coded data on 51 variables for each of these regions (selected to be relatively independent of each other) by 100-year time slices. They consider these variables to fall within nine large clusters that they call “complexity characteristics.”

Read the full article

April 2018

L’histoire déchiffrée grâce à la science des données by Alexis Riopel (Quebec Science)

Notre but est de comprendre, avec des techniques mathématiques, comment les sociétés humaines évoluent », explique Thomas Currie, anthropologue à l’université d’Exeter, au Royaume-Uni, qui est l’un des coordonnateurs de Seshat. En décembre 2017, Seshat publiait sa première grande étude dans Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. « Cet article est fondateur, déclare Peter Turchin, professeur à l’université du Connecticut et codirecteur de Seshat. On y définit la variable qui correspond à la complexité d’une société.  

Read the full article (in French)

February 2018

Did Human Sacrifice Help People Form Complex Societies? by Laura Spinney (The Atlantic)

The results coming out of Seshat—which have yet to be published—suggest that social control may not be the whole story, however. No society in Pulotu comprises more than a million people, while Seshat includes “mega-empires” whose subjects numbered in the tens of millions. Seshat’s founders therefore argue that it tracks social complexity closer to modern levels, and they find that, beyond around 100,000 people, human sacrifice becomes a destabilizing force. “Our suggestion is that this particularly pernicious form of inequality isn’t sustainable as societies get more complex,” says Whitehouse. “It disappears once they pass certain thresholds, because they cannot survive with that level of injustice.”

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Human Sacrifice Was the Key to Social Evolution, New Study Says by Andrew Lasane (Outer Places)

University of Oxford anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse and his team have developed a separate database (Seshat) that approaches the subject from a different angle.

Whitehouse says that it is better to cast a wider net and test theories against the data, instead of focusing on data that may already support a theory. Seshat includes data from 400 different historical societies and goes back 10,000 years.

Read the full article

January 2018

How societies become complex (CSH Vienna Newsletter)

This constantly growing open access database – it can be downloaded for statistical analyses by anybody interested in this field – unites archaeological, historical and anthropological data from more than 30 regions and all kinds of societies worldwide and through periods, beginning with small hunter-gatherer groups and kinships, up to large empires.

Download PDF

L’evoluzione predicibile delle società umane (Pikaia)

Le diverse società umane in tutto il mondo, intese come raggruppamenti di esseri umani dotati di gerarchia dei compiti, infrastrutture e un sistema di diffusione delle informazioni, mostrerebbero modalità simili di sviluppo indipendentemente dalla loro collocazione geografica e dal periodo di sviluppo temporale. A dichiararlo, uno studio pubblicato su PNAS da un team internazionale di ricercatori guidato da Peter Turchin dell’Università del Connecticut.

Read the full article (in Italian)

December 2017

Trinity data behind new research which suggests common path governed evolution of societies (Irish Examiner)

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.

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.

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China To Rome: Human Societies Have Evolved Along Similar Paths (ScienceBlog)

Societies ranging from ancient Rome and the Inca empire to modern Britain and China have evolved along similar paths, a huge new study shows.

Despite their many differences, societies tend to become more complex in “highly predictable” ways, researchers said.

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L’évolution des sociétés humaines suivrait des lois générales by Roman Ikonicoff (Science & Vie)

Les chercheurs, plus d’une cinquantaine, ont d’abord constitué une base de données archéologique et historique regroupant toute les informations connues sur 414 sociétés, actuelles et passées, couvrant la période de 10 000 ans et l’ensemble de Globe (découpé en 30 régions).

L’étendue et la nature de cette base de données, nommée “Seshat: Global History Databank“, est déjà en-soi un exploit scientifique : elle est la plus complète et large du genre, mêlant informations venant d’une multitude de domaines des sciences dures et sociales.

Read the full article (in French)

More stories:

Οι ανθρώπινες κοινωνίες σύμφωνα με μελέτη φαίνεται να εξελίσσονται ακολουθώντας παρόμοιες διαδρομές (Alfa Vita) Link (in Greek)

Der Entwicklung komplexer Gesellschaften auf der Spur (der Standard) Link (in German)

Politisch geeint agieren hilft der Gesellschaft (Die Presse) Link (in German)

Human societies evolve along similar paths ( Link
This article was republished in Science Daily and EurekAlert!

Societies Evolve Along Similar Paths (New Historian) Link

September 2017

Internationaal Seshat-project wil geschiedenis uit hokjesdenken halen by Dirk Draulans (Knack)

De Vlaamse historicus Pieter François, verbonden aan Oxford University, is een van de initiatiefnemers achter Seshat, een multidisciplinair platform dat antwoord wil bieden op de grote vragen van de menselijke evolutie. ‘Wij willen geschiedenis weer relevanter maken.’

Read the full article (in Dutch)

Access a PDF of the article

June 2017

Inequality Through the Ages by Ignatius Barnardt (The Barcelona GSE Voice)

With a view to distinguishing between such rival hypotheses, Prof. Turchin is involved in building a global historical database of cultural evolution, Seshat, with the aim of collating data from diverse sources on the sociopolitical organisation of human societies from the earliest times up to the present.

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February 2017

Passato e futuro sono el cervellone (Focus, February, 292, pp. 128-133)

Read the full article (in Italian)

January 2017

Lo Sapevate Che: La storia è maestra? Con l’aiuto dei big data lo sarà di più (Ricette culinarie e vita quotidiana)

Interrogare la storia in modo nuovo, sfruttando il potere e gli algoritmi dei Big Data per cercare analogie e schemi ricorrenti tra eventi anche lontanissimi nel tempo, può aiutarci a trarre lezioni inedite e utili per il futuro. È questo l’assunto del progetto Seshat, dal nome della dea egizia della conoscenza, che si propone di catalogare su computer i più rilevanti dati relativi alle società umane dal Neolitico a oggi in un formato che renda possibili confronti di ogni tipo, anche i più inconsueti, per esempio tra l’impero britannico della regina Vittoria e l’Atene di Pericle.

Read the full article (in Italian)

November 2016

Seshat, vers un « massacre des théories » historiques? by Rémi Sussan (Internet Actu)

“Selon le New Scientist, Seshat est une réponse possible à l’accumulation des data qui a transformé la profession des historiens, et pas forcément dans le sens de la facilité. Selon le magazine, cette brusque augmentation des informations a amené la plupart des spécialistes du domaine à travailler isolément : qui sur la démographie, qui sur les institutions, qui sur la religion, etc. Tant et si bien qu’il devient très difficile de percevoir les schémas globaux. De plus si certains patterns historiques sont assez évidents, d’autres sont bien plus masqués et ne peuvent se révéler que lorsqu’on associe plusieurs sources.

L’un des premiers buts de Seshat sera de vérifier des hypothèses, et éliminer les moins vraisemblables. Son objectif, pour employer l’expression de Turchin, sera de procéder à un « massacre des théories », autrement dit à une large série de réfutations d’hypothèses sur les différents aspects des civilisations.”

Read the full article (in French)

If you do the maths the history starts to add up by Oliver Moody (The Times)

Seshat, a vast historical data project that is about start turning out its first papers, aims to do the same with a few lines of code. It is, essentially, a giant machine for turning hundreds of thousands of “facts”- where the ancient Britons polythestic? Did the Mayans practise crop rotation?- into models in which researchers can compute how important different factors were in historical events. 

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The article was republished by The Australian under the headline Science proves bestsellers are made up of the sum of their parts.

Le numérique peut-il améliorer les démocraties?  by Olivier Ezratty (FrenchWeb)

On peut notamment citer la Seshat History Databank, un projet anglo-américain lancé en 2010, qui ambitionne de consolider dans une base de donnée l’histoire de l’humanité en s’appuyant sur une communauté d’experts. Une belle source d’information comprenant pour l’instant 147 000 données organisées suivant les standards du web sémantique, pouvant ensuite être exploitée à la fois manuellement et par des moteurs d’IA utilisant un mélange de système expert, de logique floue et de deep learning permettant de répondre à des questions telles que celles qui portent sur le développement économique des sociétés, sur le commerce international, sur l’impact du climat ou sur l’émergence et le déclin des démocraties. L’analyse de l’histoire reposant sur l’identification de «patterns» et de relations de causalités entre événements, l’IA est un outil parfaitement adapté pour la décrypter à grande échelle!

Read the full article (in French)

October 2016

The database that is rewriting history to predict the future by Laura Spinney (New Scientist)

Seshat is a vast and growing database of historical and archaeological knowledge that can be explored using scientific techniques. That makes it a powerful tool for testing and ultimately discarding hypotheses. “A cemetery for theories,” is how Seshat co-founder Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut in Storrs describes it. By making history more evidence-based, he and his colleagues hope it will become more relevant.

Read the full article

Through the Wormhole, Season 1, Episode 7

Morgan Freeman interviews Peter Turchin on the Seshat project and his related work. (Segment starts at 41:41) 

Watch the episode on YouTube

March 2015

Trinity big data researchers to lead €4m quality control effort by Dick Ahlstrom (The Irish Times)

 Another intriguing project that already involves Dr Feeney and colleagues at Leipzig University relates to the international Seshat Global History Databank project. It has the ambitious goal to bring together everything we know about every human society that ever existed from now back to prehistory.

The project began three years ago and has already assembled 30,000 data points and Dr Feeney serves as the technical editor for the Seshat project.

Read the full article

December 2015

Poznańscy archeolodzy kodują pradzieje (Nauka wPolsce)

“Seshat. Global History Databank” jest innowacyjną bazą danych historycznych i archeologicznych, która docelowo ma zebrać najważniejsze zagadnienia o charakterze kulturowym, gospodarczym, społecznym, rytualnym z całego świata, począwszy od okresu neolitu aż do XIX wieku. Przedsięwzięcie, które rozpoczęło się 3 lata temu, wpisuje się w coraz bardziej popularny nurt humanistyki cyfrowej.

Read the full article (in Polish)

November 2015

Pradzieje do cyfryzacji (Rzeczpospolita)

“Seshat. Global History Databank” to innowacyjna baza danych historycznych i archeologicznych jaką tworzą badacze i programiści z całego świata, między innymi z Uniwersytetu w Oksfordzie, Trinity College w Dublinie, Uniwersytetu w Yale.

Read the full article (in Polish)