The Rules Of Modern Development Also Applied To Ancient Settlements
February 13, 2014

The Rules Of Modern Development Also Applied To Ancient Settlements

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

University of Colorado Boulder researchers, publishing a paper in the journal PLOS ONE, say ancient cities worked as well as modern urban areas.

The team developed mathematical models describing how modern cities change as their populations grow and compared results with Aztec settlements in central Mexico.

“This study suggests that there is a level at which every human society is actually very similar,” Scott Ortman, assistant professor of anthropology at CU-Boulder and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “This awareness helps break down the barriers between the past and present and allows us to view contemporary cities as lying on a continuum of all human settlements in time and place.”

Scientists have known that as population increases, settlement areas become denser, while infrastructure needs per capita decrease and economic production per capita rises. The team saw that the variables used in these equations did not depend on any particular modern technology.

“I realized that if these models are adequate for explaining what’s going on in contemporary cities, they should apply to any settlements in any society,” he said. “So if these models are on the right track, they should apply to ancient societies too.”

The researchers used data collected in the 1960s that included about 1,500 settlements in central Mexico that existed from 1,150 years BC to about 500 years ago. The data included the number of identifiable dwellings, the total settled area and the density of pottery fragments scattered on the surface. Data showed that these artifacts give an indication of the total population numbers and settlement density of the ancient sites.

“We started analyzing the data in the ways we were thinking about with modern cities, and it showed that the models worked,” Ortman said.

This discovery may have implications both for archaeologists and people studying today’s urban areas. The team suggests the new equations could offer a way for archaeologists to get a more accurate head count of the ancient populations by incorporating the idea that population density tends to grow as total area increases. Archaeologists may also be able to use the equations to get an idea of roads and pathways in the ancient settlements.

“There should be a relationship between the population of settlements and the productivity of labor. So, for example, we would expect larger social networks to be able to produce more public monuments per capita than smaller settlements,” Ortman explained.