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Anthropology/cultural development


Why do cultures develop at different speeds? For example, the Japanese were still divided into warring clans while the Chinese already had a centralized state. And there are still cultures that are in the stone age. What accounts for these differences?

Hi Sakura
This is a very complex question, one with no easy answers.
The distribution of natural resources and human population growth have much to do with this, as do historical factors.  For example, agriculture is much more ancient in China than in Japan, and thus population growth resulting from agriculture got going in China earlier than in Japan.  One important thing to keep in mind is that "development" into complex societies is not inevitable.  There are living humans who are hunter-gatherers who are no less fully evolved nor less intelligent than citizens of industrial states (e.g., the Ainu of Hokkaido).  People change their societies in response to problems.  Remaining a hunter-gatherer is, in a way, a sign of a long-term stable and successful adaptation.  An early rise of civilization, on the other hand, simply shows that the ancestors of those first "civilized" people destabilized hunter-gatherer adaptations earlier than their neighbors.
This question about different "rates" of developing social complexity is very well examined in a book by Jared Diamond, entitled "Guns, Germs and Steel".  It is a Pulitzer-winning work, and one that you should consult early on if you are interested in exploring this topic.
John Shea


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John Shea


Questions about Old World prehistoric archaeology (especially Stone Age) of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia, prehistoric human and hominid behavior, primitive technology, origin of modern humans, extinction of the Neandertals. IMPORTANT: Between February 14 and September 01, 2014, I will be on sabbatical leave. During this time I will have limited access to email. This means that there may be very long periods (i.e., weeks) between your posting a question and my having time to answer it.


>20 years as a professional anthropologist based at a research university.

Journal of Field Archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, Lithic Technology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Mitekufat HaEven (Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society), Paléorient, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, American Anthropologist, Geoarchaeology.

Ph.D (Anthropology) Harvard University, 1991.
BA (Archaeology) Boston University, 1982.

Awards and Honors
Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer 2012-2014

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