Social evolution can be defined as the appearance of new forms of social or sociopolitical organization. In the case of the prehistoric record, such changes are perhaps most successfully studied when archaeologists collaborate with ethnologists or ethnohistorians. Although 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 review, I synthesize some of the evidence supporting 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 be willing to generalize; to compare and contrast cultures from different parts of the world; and to search for common patterns in the ways human societies responded to similar challenges.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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