Did Human Sacrifice Help People Form Complex Societies?

The question of the social function of human sacrifice is not new, but until recently efforts to answer it have drawn purely on anecdotal evidence. For Harvey Whitehouse, an anthropologist at the University of Oxford, that approach is deeply flawed, because it allows researchers to cherry-pick the evidence that supports their pet theories. A better method, he says, is to pool data about large numbers of historical societies in databases, and test theories against them. Joseph Watts and colleagues have built one such database, Pulotu, that stores information about more than 100 traditional Austronesian cultures. Whitehouse and others have developed Seshat — another database that covers more than 400 societies that existed across the globe over the last 10,000 years.

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