Global Perspectives on the Collapse of Complex Systems (2009)
Edited by Jim Railey
Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
I added this title to my Amazon Wish List in July 2009. It will run you 25 bucks on Amazon. It's not a book per se but rather a collection of papers/presentations made for a specific topic, Global Perspectives on the Collapse of Complex Systems. By "complex systems" they mean civilizations or sub-civilization "complex societies" or, in the most basic terms, "Hilltop chieftains." The most impressive single article deals with the role of "hilltop forts" as a hallmark of the development of complex human society.
Many, if not all, the writers start with an explanation of how "collapse" isn't really a good description of what actually happens, more accurate is a "loss of complexity and more sophisticated aspects of human society." Most of the evidence is archaeology and then some information based on historic climate change. There are three or four articles about different, non-Incan cultures in Peru. There, multiple collapses were triggered by a sever episode of the "el nino" weather phenomenon in the 1300s.
Several themes predominate: Smaller groups are more likely to collapse then bigger groups, Climate change often plays a role in the collapse of complex systems, but generally by triggering conflict among elites rather then eradicating the affected people wholesale. Many recent theorists have developed the idea that the collapse of human systems operates similarly to reasons that species may become extinct. This thesis relies heavily on the idea that complex human systems become "over specialized" and fall to more generally adept competitors.
Again, the idea of barbarians in the hills surrounding a peaceful kingdom seems particularly appropriate and as universal as any idea you'd care to bandy about. Barbarian in this sense means a group that is not part of a state, but has direct contact with that state.