Human social organization during the Late Pleistocene: Beyond the nomadic-egalitarian model

Manvir Singh et Luke Glowacki


Many researchers assume that until 10–12,000 years ago, humans lived in small, mobile, relatively egalitarian bands. This “nomadic-egalitarian model” suffuses the social sciences. It informs evolutionary explanations of behavior and our understanding of how contemporary societies differ from those of our evolutionary past. Here, we synthesize research challenging this model and articulate an alternative, the diverse histories model, to replace it. We review the limitations of using recent foragers as models of Late Pleistocene societies and the considerable social variation among foragers commonly considered small-scale, mobile, and egalitarian. We review ethnographic and archaeological findings covering 34 world regions showing that non-agricultural peoples often live in groups that are more sedentary, unequal, large, politically stratified, and capable of large-scale cooperation and resource management than is normally assumed. These characteristics are not restricted to extant Holocene hunter-gatherers but, as suggested by archaeological findings from 27 Middle Stone Age sites, likely characterized societies throughout the Late Pleistocene (until c. 130 ka), if not earlier. These findings have implications for how we understand human psychological adaptations and the broad trajectory of human history.

Publié dans

Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 43, septembre 2022, p. 418–431