Civilizations without writing and money could not develop and were dying. This conclusion was made by archaeologists from the University of Washington. They published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
The ability to store and process information was just as necessary for the growth of early human societies as it is today. This means that not always military technology or an abundance of resources played a key role in the development of ancient civilizations.
“There is a fundamental connection between how societies process information and how big they can become,” said Tim Kohler, an archaeologist at the University of Washington. “Early innovations in information processing, such as writing or coin minting, seem as important to the socio-political development of our ancestors as the Internet is to us today”.
For their study, Kohler and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute studied the impact of information technology on the development of human society: from the Neolithic to the last millennium. They analyzed a collection of historical and archaeological artifacts and documents from the Seshat database. It covers more than 400 societies, six continents and almost 10 thousand years of human history.
The databank allowed researchers to quantitatively analyze such things as the size of civilizations when they developed writing, coin minting systems and other innovations in information processing, and how these achievements influenced the growth of the general condition.
Their results show that socio-political development historically went through three stages. Initially, population growth was the dominant force in the complexity of society.
Then, when civilization reached a certain size, it needed to develop more sophisticated ways to work with information and economic transactions using inventions such as writing and money. Once these innovations were created, society could again grow in size and scope.
“Our results show that ancient civilizations faced an information bottleneck when they reached a certain size, a point that we call the threshold of scale,” Kohler said. – Without innovations such as writing or the monetary system, further expansion was extremely rare. However, as soon as these achievements in the processing and storage of information were achieved, large empires of history appeared. ”
One of the most intriguing results of a study by Kohler and his colleagues is a possible explanation of the technological gap that existed between the societies of the Old and New Worlds. Very few civilizations in ancient America have ever crossed the threshold of scale. Consequently, there was less need to develop writing and other forms of information processing in America, which stimulated further technological development in Europe and Asia.
“One of the main reasons that the vast majority of Native American civilizations never reached a threshold of scale was the lack of horses, oxen and other large animals that could carry people or significant loads,” Kohler adds. “Such animals helped create surpluses in agriculture, facilitated trade, and generally contributed to the expansion of the empire in Europe and Asia”.