Ritual and Social Evolution: Understanding Social Complexity Through Data

  • Harvey WhitehouseEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology book series (IFIPAICT, volume 482)


This paper introduces a new a new database of world history known as ‘Seshat’ [12, 13]. Seshat is the Egyptian deity of writing, knowledge and wisdom and her name literally translated means “she who scribes”. It could be said that Seshat was the first goddess of databases and so we have borrowed her name for our global history databank. The aim here is to show how Seshat can be used to test theories about the evolution of social complexity. First we will consider how such theories can be inspired by qualitative observation of patterns in the social world. For the purposes of illustration we will consider the theory of “modes of religiosity”. We will examine efforts to test this theory against data on real world groups, past and present. Finally we will consider how this theory can be tested in a more rigorous and systematic way using Seshat: Global History Databank.


Wild Boar Semantic Memory Mode Theory Emotional Intensity Social Complexity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by a John Templeton Foundation grant to the Evolution Institute, entitled “Axial-Age Religions and the Z-Curve of Human Egalitarianism,” a Tricoastal Foundation grant to the Evolution Institute, entitled “The Deep Roots of the Modern World: The Cultural Evolution of Economic Growth and Political Stability,” an ESRC Large Grant to the University of Oxford, entitled “Ritual, Community, and Conflict” (REF RES-060-25-0085), and a grant from the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 644055 [ALIGNED,]).


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© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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