In his excellent 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond talks a lot about the dominant trajectory of Asian and European civilisations through history, which he asserts to be a result of these continents consisting of narrower bands of latitude.
Specifically, Diamond’s model proposes that these “narrower” continents have less variation in climate resulting in the adaptation of similar plants and animals. This in turn leads to more efficient agricultural innovations, which is soon followed by culture and ideas.
It’s an intriguing implication that has been somewhat validated by the results of a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In it, the researchers used the persistence of language as an indicator of cultural diversity and according to Nature magazine, concluded that:
If a country had a greater east–west axis than a north–south one, the less likely it was for its indigenous languages to persist. [The results indicate] that east–west countries have more homogeneous cultures.
This paper is significant in two ways as it: (1) provides much-needed experimental reinforcement of Diamond’s model, and (2) as noted by the authors, suggests that societies of low economic growth are not a reflection of a particular culture’s capacity, but instead reflect the “historical patterns fostered by geographical constraints that discouraged the integration of cultures”.
Head over to Nature for more.