Cultural collapse and system survival due to environmental modification

Graeme J. Ackland, Adrien Y.M. Henry, Alexander Williams, Morrel H. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We consider a simple mathematical approach to the rise and fall of societies based on population growth and its effects on the environment, both beneficial and detrimental. We find that in any simple model of population dynamics with environmental coupling, stable cultures are impossible. Populations inevitably grow or decline exponentially. Further, if the parameters defining a civilisation are allowed to evolve towards an evolutionarily stable state, the only possible solutions are those where each culture ultimately declines. However, computer simulation with multiple competing cultures show that while each eventually collapses, some are always extant and the system is robust. In this broad class of models, individual death is a requirement for system survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-101
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Applied Mathematics


  • Anthropology
  • Civilisations
  • Environment
  • Feedback
  • History
  • Prehistory


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