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  1. Abstract

    Throughout the Holocene, societies developed additional layers of administration and more information-rich instruments for managing and recording transactions and events as they grew in population and territory. Yet, while such increases seem inevitable, they are not. Here we use the Seshat database to investigate the development of hundreds of polities, from multiple continents, over thousands of years. We find that sociopolitical development is dominated first by growth in polity scale, then by improvements in information processing and economic systems, and then by further increases in scale. We thus define a Scale Threshold for societies, beyond which growth in information processing becomes paramount, and an Information Threshold, which once crossed facilitates additional growth in scale. Polities diverge in socio-political features below the Information Threshold, but reconverge beyond it. We suggest an explanation for the evolutionary divergence between Old and New World polities based on phased growth in scale and information processing. We also suggest a mechanism to help explain social collapses with no evident external causes.

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  2. null (Ed.)
    Climate extremes are thought to have triggered large-scale transformations of various ancient societies, but they rarely seem to be the sole cause. It has been hypothesized that slow internal developments often made societies less resilient over time, setting them up for collapse. Here, we provide quantitative evidence for this idea. We use annual-resolution time series of building activity to demonstrate that repeated dramatic transformations of Pueblo cultures in the pre-Hispanic US Southwest were preceded by signals of critical slowing down, a dynamic hallmark of fragility. Declining stability of the status quo is consistent with archaeological evidence for increasing violence and in some cases, increasing wealth inequality toward the end of these periods. Our work thus supports the view that the cumulative impact of gradual processes may make societies more vulnerable through time, elevating the likelihood that a perturbation will trigger a large-scale transformation that includes radically rejecting the status quo and seeking alternative pathways. 
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  3. null (Ed.)
  4. El grado de igualitarismo o jerarquización social en el seno de las sociedades prehispánicas del norte de las tierras altas del suroeste de Estados Unidos y los cambios de dicho aspecto a través del tiempo continúan siendo objeto de debate. Este trabajo examina la plausibilidad del surgimiento de sistemas de gobierno a nivel de villas múltiples en la región del Suroeste a través de simulaciones sobre la coevolución de la jerarquía y del conflicto utilizando una extensión de la modelización basada en agentes del proyecto Village Ecodynamics. Además, recopilamos datos empíricos sobre la distribución de los tamaños poblacionales en los lugares de habitación y los espacios rituales (kivas), y sobre los grupos sociales que las utilizaron, para tres de las mayores regiones del Suroeste norteamericano, analizando estos datos a través del tiempo. Todas evidencias refutan el modelo de villas autónomas durante el periodo Pueblo II (890–1145 d.C.). Al contrario, las evidencias sugieren el surgimiento de sistemas de gobierno a nivel de villas múltiples durante el periodo Pueblo II y probablemente durante el Pueblo III (1145–1285 d.C.) en algunas áreas. Parece plausible que durante el periodo Pueblo II, uno o más sistemas de gobierno conectaron la zona norte del suroeste de Estados Unidos mediante un sistema de tributos que fluyó hacia un epicentro situado en Chaco Canyon. Probablemente durante el periodo Pueblo III y hasta la despoblación de la región del final del siglo XIII, las organizaciones locales ganaron en influencia. 
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