Geography is not destiny: A quantitative test of Diamond's axis of orientation hypothesis

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Chira, Angela M.; Gray, Russell D.; Botero, Carlos A.
Year of Publication: 2024
Journal: Evolutionary Human Sciences
Volume: 6
Pagination: e5
Date Published: 2024
Publication Language: eng
Keywords: Axis of orientation hypothesis, cultural biogeography, Cultural Evolution

Jared Diamond suggested that the unique East–West orientation of Eurasia facilitated the spread of cultural innovations and gave it substantial political, technological and military advantages over other continental regions. This controversial hypothesis assumes that innovations can spread more easily across similar habitats, and that environments tend to be more homogeneous at similar latitudes. The resulting prediction is that Eurasia is home to environmentally homogenous corridors that enable fast cultural transmission. Despite indirect evidence supporting Diamond's influential hypothesis, quantitative tests of its underlying assumptions are currently lacking. Here we address this critical gap by leveraging ecological, cultural and linguistic datasets at a global scale. Our analyses show that although societies that share similar ecologies are more likely to share cultural traits, the Eurasian continent is not significantly more ecologically homogeneous than other continental regions. Our findings highlight the perils of single factor explanations and remind us that even the most compelling ideas must be thoroughly tested to gain a solid understanding of the complex history of our species.