The development of complex societies is a subject that has been at the forefront of archaeological research since its conception, particularly in relation to the social structures and processes that allowed and stemmed from the emergence of ‘novel’ food producing strategies and the construction of monumental architecture, such as megalithic monuments. Understanding how and why social systems became increasing sophisticated provides us with insights into how societies have adapted or collapsed in response to socio-economic and climatic/environmental crises.

The goal of the ‘Development of complex societies’ research group at ICArEHB is to understand the processes that lead to societal complexity, how these varied over time and space, and the scale and tempo of transformation from simple to complex societies. Triggers for the development of complex societies have been argued to range from the arrival of new plant or animal species to technologies, such as the wheel and horse riding, while increasing complexity may manifest in funerary practices, the emergence of elites and increasing social inequality. Within our research group, a diverse spectrum of disciplines and analytical approaches are represented from genetics to paleo-environmental sciences, geochemistry to bio-anthropology together with traditional archaeological approaches. Multi-disciplinary perspectives within a robust socio-historical and evolutionary theoretical framework are crucial given the multiplicity of our datasets. These multi-perspective provide us data to develop models for the factors and processes involved in the development of social complexity.

Our research focuses on three main pillars:

  1. Theoretical approaches to and modelling of social complexity.

Past and present complex societies have been the subject of many theoretical perspectives and treaties. The group aims to bring a new fresh perspective to social complexity theory.  We are concerned with 1) The concept of “emergent phenomena”, such as architecture, resource control, as signals of social complexity; 2) The variation in observation of these phenomena; 3) Limitation in the process or failure for societies to become developed. We seek to test different theories of social complexity using models constructed using cross-linking disciplines to investigate human societies across different geographical and temporal contexts.

  1. Dynamics between emergence of social complexity and local environment and its resources.

Specialised economic productivity, control, and distribution of resources as well as modification of the landscape are potential markers for the emergence for complex state societies. To understand the underlying mechanism for the development of complex societies, we seek to understand: 1) The different strategies and structures developed for managing resources (plants, animals, raw materials); 2) How societies shape and modify landscapes; 3) How geology and environmental change can impede or accelerate societal development.

  1. Social dynamics, ritual and ideology evolution

The emergence of ideologies as well as the horizontal segmentation of social structures coupled with the growth and mobility of populations is closely related to societal complexity. It can also demote establishment of territorial interactions, nucleation into urban complexes, adoption of symbols and ceremonial architecture as evident from detailed investigations of ceremonial sites, such as Perdigões, and treatments of the dead via integrative bioanthropological, biochemical and biomolecular investigation. Therefore, we seek to uncover: 1) the evolution of ceremonial architecture and ritual and ideology activities; 2) relationship between social organisation and inequality; 3) changes in social dynamics and territorial interactions associated with the emergence of social complexity.


Recent papers and chapters from the group:

Duarte, C., Iriarte, E., Diniz, M. et al. The microstratigraphic record of human activities and formation processes at the Mesolithic shell midden of Poças de São Bento (Sado Valley, Portugal). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 483–509 (2019). The microstratigraphic record of human activities and formation processes at the Mesolithic shell midden of Poças de São Bento (Sado Valley, Portugal) | SpringerLink

Hughes N, Oliveira HR, Fradgley N, Corke F, Cockram J, Doonan JH, Nibau C. μCT trait analysis reveals morphometric differences between domesticated temperate small grain cereals and their wild relatives. The Plant Journal (2019) (https://doi.org/10.1111/tpj.14312).

Gebaer, A. B., Sørsen, L., Teather, A. and Valera, A. C. (Eds) Monumentalising Life in the Neolithic: Narratives of Continuity and Change. (2020) Oxford: Oxbow books. link

Gillis, R.E., Eckelmann, R., Filipović, D. et al. Stable isotopic insights into crop cultivation, animal husbandry, and land use at the Linearbandkeramik site of Vráble-Veľké Lehemby (Slovakia). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 256 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01210-2

Valera, A. C., Žalaitè, I., Maurer A.-F. et al. Addressing human mobility in Iberian Neolithic and Chalcolithic ditched enclosures: The case of Perdigões (South Portugal). Journal of Archaeological Sciences 30: 102264.