Cultural Evolution – Ten Characteristics of Civilized Life

Early sociologists in the nineteenth century assumed cultural evolution occurred in primitive societies. See the writings of Englishman, Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917), and American, Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–1881). These researchers assumed three basic levels of human beings, noted in the list below. Commonly, indigenous peoples were referred to as “savages”. Northern Europe was assumed to be the apex of civilization.

An Australian archaeologist, V. Gordon Childe (1892–1957), argues that the process of cultural evolution was based upon food production.

  1. Savage – Hunters and fishers only
  2. Barbarian – Agriculturalists and/or animal breeders
  3. Civilized – Defined by ten characteristics of civilized life (Childe, “The Urban Revolution,”Town Planning Review, XXI (1950), 3–17)

What does Childe say are the ten characteristics of civilized life? Below I have listed the ten characteristics but rearranged their order. Childe says that these ten criteria are all deducible from archaeological data.

  • The size of the human settlement – If the number of people increases, then required amount of material equipment is raised.
  • Central accumulation of capital through taxation
  • Public works
  • Writing
  • Exact and predictive sciences
  • Economic institutions to facilitate exchange and trade
  • Specialization
  • Emergence of a ruling class
  • The “state” in a given locale replaces kinship as the organizing factor
  • Art

It is easy to see the necessary progression as one scans down the list of criteria. The notion of “primitive people” is no more. What are your thoughts about cultural evolution?