Atlas of World Cultures

Atlas of World Cultures

Atlas of World Cultures

Atlas of World Cultures

Excerpt

The first ten volumes of the journal Ethnology included instalments of a feature called the "Ethnographic Atlas" in which information was presented in coded form on various of the world's cultures. In 1967, after 862 cultures had been thus coded, they were assembled and published in book form (Murdock 1967) by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The instalments in Ethnology continued until 1971, when the total number of cultures coded had reached 1,264. The purpose of the present volume is to present a selected sample of this coded material in a form designed to be maximally useful to scholars in the behavioral sciences.

In all, a total of 563 societies were chosen for inclusion herewith. These presumably number the majority of those whose cultures are most fully described in the ethnographic literature. No useful purpose would be served by including societies that are inadequately or incompletely described, such as the now extinct Tasmanians, the Guanche of the Canary Islands, or the aboriginal inhabitants of New England. But a problem arises regarding those areas of the world where there are many well described but essentially similar cultures and where some principle of selection is required to avoid a disproportionate representation. Ultimately a satisfactory solution to this problem came to light.

More than a decade ago I discovered, largely by accident, that the peoples of the world can be conveniently divided into six large geographical regions which cover approximately equal areas and contain comparable numbers of distinct peoples and cultures, so that the selection of a roughly equal number of societies from each would produce an approximation to a representative world sample for the statistical testing of cross-cultural hypotheses. North America, South America, and Oceania (the continent of Australia plus many groups of islands from Indonesia to Polynesia) constitute readily distinguishable regions of compa-

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