Introduction: Prehistoric Societies as Evolving Complex Systems
Evolving Complexity and Environmental Risk in the Prehistoric Southwest
This chapter discusses some topics of significance in understanding cultural complexity. Cultural complexity is different in some respects from complexity in other living systems, and is perhaps more enigmatic. The development of cultural complexity is an economic process: complexity levies costs and yields benefits. The fact that complexity is a benefit/cost equation influences cultural evolution in at least two major ways. The first is that the cost of becoming more complex must always have tended to inhibit the development of cultural complexity. The economic nature of cultural complexity influences human history in a second way: investment in increasing complexity can reach the point of diminishing returns. The cumulative total of cultural changes, many of which were reversible only under great hardship, comprises the evolution of Southwestern societies from small foraging bands to sedentary pueblo communities and regional networks. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.
Tainter, J. A. Introduction: Prehistoric Societies as Evolving Complex Systems. In Evolving Complexity and Environmental Risk in the Prehistoric Southwest, edited by Joseph A. Tainter and Bonnie Bagley Tainter, pp. 1-23. Santa Fe Institute, Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proceedings Volume XXIV. Addison-Wesley, Reading.