The Archaeological Evidence for Social Evolution

Posted: 6 Jun 2008

See all articles by Joyce Marcus

Joyce Marcus

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Museum of Anthropology


Social evolution is the appearance of new forms of social or sociopolitical organization, without necessarily implying changes in overall culture or ethnicity. Evolution is most successfully studied when ethnologists or ethnohistorians collaborate with archaeologists. While ethnologists can provide unequaled detail on agents and institutions, many evolutionary transitions took longer than any ethnologist's lifetime. The archaeological record therefore provides an important proving ground for evolutionary theory. In this paper, I synthesize some of the supporting evidence for social evolution from both Old World and New World archaeology. I also argue that for the study of social evolution to advance, the field of anthropology must outlast postmodernism, political correctness, antipathy to generalization, and denial of comparisons and contrasts.

Suggested Citation

Marcus, Joyce, The Archaeological Evidence for Social Evolution. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 37, October 2008, Available at SSRN:

Joyce Marcus (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Museum of Anthropology ( email )

1109 Geddes Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079
United States

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