Articles | Volume 18, issue 5
Research article
14 May 2014
Research article |  | 14 May 2014

Endogenous change: on cooperation and water availability in two ancient societies

S. Pande and M. Ertsen

Abstract. We propose and test the theory of endogenous change in societal institutions based on historical reconstructions of two ancient civilizations, the Indus and Hohokam, in two water-scarce basins, the Indus Basin in the Indian subcontinent and the lower Colorado Basin in the southwestern United States. In our reconstructions, institutions are approximated by the scale of "cooperation", be it in the form of the extent of trade, sophisticated irrigation networks, a central state or a loosely held state with a common cultural identity. We study changes in institutions brought about by changes in factors like rainfall, population density, and land-use-induced water resource availability, in a proximate manner. These factors either change naturally or are changed by humans; in either case we contend that the changes affect the stability of cooperative structures over time. We relate the quantitative dimensions of water access by ancient populations to the co-evolution of water access and the socioeconomic and sociopolitical organizations. In doing so, we do not claim that water manipulation was the single most significant factor in stimulating social development and complexity – this would be highly reductionist. Nonetheless, we provide a discussion with the aim to enhance our understanding of the complexity of coupled human–hydrological systems. We find that scarcity triggered more complex cooperative arrangements in both Indus and Hohokam societies.