Jared Diamond proposes that Eurasia’s unique geographical axis fueled the rapid spread of important innovations in its societies, leading to cultural and military dominance over other regions. A team of ecologists and cultural evolutionists from the US, Germany and New Zealand used extensive cultural, ecological and linguistic databases to test these claims. They found that environmental barriers influenced cultural diffusion but did not consistently favor Eurasia.

Guns, germs and steel (1997) is Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning attempt to explain the conflicting histories of Native Americans, Africans, and Australians versus Europeans and Asians. One of his interesting propositions was that Eurasian political and military dominance could be partially explained by its unique continental orientation. Eurasia’s unique dominant east-west axis could have enabled the rapid spread of domestication methods, the writing system, the wheel, and other key cultural innovations, and thus set Eurasia on a path to faster development than Africa or the Americas. was In Diamond’s words, “geography has ‘changed the fortunes of history’.” The premise of the familiarity hypothesis has been met with both great enthusiasm and severe criticism, but quantitative tests of this important claim are few and far between.

In a new study, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig took advantage of a comprehensive data set on global differences in culture, languages, and ecology to test Diamond’s hypothesis. picked up.

The study’s first author, Angela Chiara, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, explained, “Our first challenge was to translate what Diamond envisioned into numbers. We used a low-cost path algorithm. done to find routes that minimize differences in temperature and aridity. Systems between societies. The length and cost of these routes gives us the magnitude of environmental barriers to cultural transmission between two societies, just as Diamond had envisioned them.” The team examined 54 attributes of diverse aspects of cultural and social life (subsistence, housing, environment, property rules, marriage and kinship, community organization, politics, labor, and rituals) to influence ease of transmission. Quantified the potential of environmental parameters associated with the region. ). Consistent with Diamond’s thinking, the team found that environmental factors and topographic and travel costs impeded the spread of a wide array of cultural traits, some of which were directly related to social development (eg, dominant survival methods). , types of domestic animals, political complexity. Traits). However, their findings show that, contrary to Diamond’s expectations, Eurasia is as ecologically heterogeneous as other regions of our world.

Environmental barriers to cultural transmission are not weak in Eurasia..

The team then calculated environmental barriers to cultural transmission from 16 key areas: the centers where agriculture originated; They found that the magnitude of environmental constraints can vary considerably within the same continent. As Diamond understood, geographical mechanisms were important in some areas, but the dominant axis of the continent did not uniformly dictate the potential for cultural diffusion. Ecological heterogeneity along the major corridors of Eurasian cultural transmission was not significantly less than that observed on other continents. One of the authors, Russell Gray from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, summarizes the findings by saying, “Our results suggest that geography, like genetics and ecology, matters, but not destiny. Is.” The study’s senior author, Carlos Botero of the University of Texas at Austin, concluded with a word of caution: “We do not, by any means, claim to have a definitive answer as to whether the wheels of history are different. spin at different speeds. Instead, our goal is to provide a new perspective based on quantitative data and thorough analyses, and to outline how the tools and data we already have. can be exploited to examine powerful ideas that have strongly shaped public understanding. our own past.”