Ancient Cities Were Strikingly Similar To Modern Ones In ‘Urban Scaling’

Ancient cities may not look like their modern counterparts, but they all follow the same urban scaling patterns

Every city has its own local architecture, cuisine, and language. But if you believed that ancient cities were dramatically different from their modern counterparts, you may have to alter that belief. Scientists at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Santa Fe Institute have found that all cities, modern and ancient, follow universal laws that shape urban spaces.

Ancient cities also exhibit urban scaling patterns

City planning suggests that as modern cities grow in population, their productivity and efficiencies improve. For instance, a city’s population outpaces its urban infrastructure development, and the production of goods and services outpaces population. These urban development patterns follow predictability and mathematical regularity, which is called “urban scaling.”

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Ancient cities may not look like their modern counterparts, but they all follow the same urban scaling patterns. Larger ancient settlements were far more productive than smaller ones, just like modern cities. Scott Ortman, the lead author of the study, said, “it was shocking and unbelievable.” To find out whether ancient settlements follow the same patterns as modern cities, researchers studied archaeological data from the Basin of Mexico (what is now Mexico City and nearby areas).

Before Mexico City’s population exploded in 1960s, surveyors studied all its ancient settlements, spanning four cultural eras and 2,000 years. Using this data, scientists examined dimensions of thousands of ancient houses and temples to estimate the intensity of site use, size of buildings, populations and densities. They found that monuments and private houses were built in predictable ways.

Researchers plan to study ancient cities in Peru, China and Europe

Findings of the study suggested that the bigger the ancient city, the more productive it was. The general ingredients of population density and productivity are about the challenges and opportunities of organizing human social networks. Ortman said we had been taught for decades that the modern world is different from ancient settlements, thanks to industrialization, democracy and capitalism. But the fundamental drivers of robust socio-economic patterns remain the same.

Scientists said the finding was just a small step in a long process. They will now examine ancient settlement patterns from sites in China, Europe and Peru. Findings of the study appeared in the journal Science Advances