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.

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