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, 11 (7), e0158391

D-PLACE: A Global Database of Cultural, Linguistic and Environmental Diversity


D-PLACE: A Global Database of Cultural, Linguistic and Environmental Diversity

Kathryn R Kirby et al. PLoS One.


From the foods we eat and the houses we construct, to our religious practices and political organization, to who we can marry and the types of games we teach our children, the diversity of cultural practices in the world is astounding. Yet, our ability to visualize and understand this diversity is limited by the ways it has been documented and shared: on a culture-by-culture basis, in locally-told stories or difficult-to-access repositories. In this paper we introduce D-PLACE, the Database of Places, Language, Culture, and Environment. This expandable and open-access database (accessible at brings together a dispersed corpus of information on the geography, language, culture, and environment of over 1400 human societies. We aim to enable researchers to investigate the extent to which patterns in cultural diversity are shaped by different forces, including shared history, demographics, migration/diffusion, cultural innovations, and environmental and ecological conditions. We detail how D-PLACE helps to overcome four common barriers to understanding these forces: i) location of relevant cultural data, (ii) linking data from distinct sources using diverse ethnonyms, (iii) variable time and place foci for data, and (iv) spatial and historical dependencies among cultural groups that present challenges for analysis. D-PLACE facilitates the visualisation of relationships among cultural groups and between people and their environments, with results downloadable as tables, on a map, or on a linguistic tree. We also describe how D-PLACE can be used for exploratory, predictive, and evolutionary analyses of cultural diversity by a range of users, from members of the worldwide public interested in contrasting their own cultural practices with those of other societies, to researchers using large-scale computational phylogenetic analyses to study cultural evolution. In summary, we hope that D-PLACE will enable new lines of investigation into the major drivers of cultural change and global patterns of cultural diversity.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1
D-PLACE links cultural information to language classifications and phylogenies (a, c) and to geographic locations and environmental features (b, d). This allows users to consider the relative influence of cultural ancestry, spatial proximity, and environment on diverse cultural practices. For example, panels a and b illustrate variation among societies in their dependence on fishing relative to other subsistence activities, based on data from the Ethnographic Atlas (EA) [–15] and the Binford Hunter-Gatherer dataset [16,17]. Panels c and d highlight diversity in the most common economic transaction at marriage, based on data from the EA. In addition to providing global results, D-PLACE allows users to focus a search on a particular geographic region or linguistic family. Here, results for societies speaking Pama-Nyungan languages (a, b) or Sino-Tibetan languages (c, d) are magnified and outlined in black boxes on the global tree and map.
Fig 2
Fig 2. An overview of some of the types of studies that the Database of Places, Language, Culture, and Environment (D-PLACE) may facilitate.

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Grant support

D-PLACE was developed with generous support from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (, and the National Science Foundation (award numbers 1519987, BCS-1423711, and EF-0905606). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.