Document Type


Journal/Book Title

PL o S One

Publication Date



Public Library of Science





First Page


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Last Page



Comparative social science has a long history of attempts to classify societies and cultures in terms of shared characteristics. However, only recently has it become feasible to conduct quantitative analysis of large historical datasets to mathematically approach the study of social complexity and classify shared societal characteristics. Such methods have the potential to identify recurrent social formations in human societies and contribute to social evolutionary theory. However, in order to achieve this potential, repeated studies are needed to assess the robustness of results to changing methods and data sets. Using an improved derivative of the Seshat: Global History Databank, we perform a clustering analysis of 271 past societies from sampling points across the globe to study plausible categorizations inherent in the data. Analysis indicates that the best fit to Seshat data is five subclusters existing as part of two clearly delineated superclusters (that is, two broad “types” of society in terms of social-ecological configuration). Our results add weight to the idea that human societies form recurrent social formations by replicating previous studies with different methods and data. Our results also contribute nuance to previously established measures of social complexity, illustrate diverse trajectories of change, and shed further light on the finite bounds of human social diversity.