AMME seminar on 'Social Complexity in Ancient Societies' (19.1.2023)

Join us for the spring's first AMME seminar!

AMME Seminar 19.01.23: ‘Social Complexity in Ancient Societies’

It is our pleasure to announce that the first Ancient and Medieval Middle East (AMME) seminar of the new year will already be organised as a hybrid event on Thursday 19 January (16:15-18:00 EET/Helsinki).

The session will consist of two papers – by Christiana Köhler and Dries Daems – followed by a shared question round and discussion on the seminar specific theme of ‘social complexity in ancient societies’. The topics of the talks are:


‘Socio-cultural Complexity in the Egyptian Nile Valley during the 4th and 3rd Mill. BCE’ (Prof. Dr. Christiana Köhler)

Pharaonic Egypt is often described as a geographically and culturally isolated, monolithic civilization that emerged in the lower Nile Valley at the end of the 4th Mill. BCE. However, consideration of the archaeological evidence does not necessarily support this view. Instead, it appears as if there has always been continuous and intensive interregional contact with surrounding areas that had a deep impact on how Nile Valley culture developed over time. Also, there is growing evidence to suggest that Pharaonic civilization is indeed a highly dynamic, regionally diverse, multifaceted and complex socio-cultural system that has continuously evolved and changed over its trajectory of more than 3000 years. This presentation will focus on the 4th and 3rd Mill. BCE and contrast traditional epistemes with current thinking, and explore how Pharaonic culture can perhaps be better understood from the viewpoint of modern archaeological thinking.


‘Reconceptualising Social Complexity Trajectories: Feedback Loops, Causal Mechanisms and Sunk-costs in Complex Social Systems’ (Assoc. Prof. Dr. Dries Daems)

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of social complexity and the general notion that our current society is in many ways more complex than those in the past. Over the last 12,000 years or so, human groups and societies have changed in dramatic ways from small hunter-gatherer groups to highly urbanised communities and industrialised nation-states in a globally interconnected world. These changes are typically considered indicative of a massive increase in social complexity. But what is social complexity? And how does it develop?

In this talk, I will present a new framework to study the role of feedback loops, causal mechanisms and sunk-costs in shaping flows of energy, resources and information as an important driving factor of social complexity. I use the perspective of complex systems thinking to provide a bottom-up approach to social complexity as an emergent property in human societies. The framework is applied to a case study of social complexity trajectories in southwest Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), spanning almost three millennia from Bronze Age to Hellenistic times. This study will not only enhance our knowledge of social complexity formation in the past, but also elucidate how an improved understanding of long-term trajectories of social complexity can inform trade-offs in decision-making and pathways of development in the present.


All are welcome, so please join us in person or online!

Time: Thursday 19 January at 16:15-18:00 EET (UTC+2h).

Live venue: Faculty hall (Faculty of Theology, Fabianinkatu 24, 5th floor). Virtual venue: Zoom (Meeting ID: 678 8979 2118 /

Stay tuned for the spring program, which will be announced here in the ANEE news blog shortly.