According to a recent study, ancient cities were built on the same universal laws as modern cities. Even though, each settlement, influenced by its region, has its own architecture, language and cuisine, it seems that all cities are shaped in correspondence to a few basic rules. The study was published in the Science Advances journal.
The team led by Scott Ortman, professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Luis Bettencourt, who studies complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico had already published a paper in the Plos One journal in 2014 where they showed how ancient cities, just like the modern ones, became larger and denser.
They discovered that when those settlements doubled in population, the occupied space didn’t grow proportionately. Instead, it grew slower, by about 83 percent. This result was explained by the fact that a compromise was created between “the need for personal living space and the need to maintain social networks”. Otherwise, if the city grew larger in surface every time its population increased, transport would have become too expensive.
Another phenomenon they descried is how when the city’s population surpasses its urban infrastructure development and how the production of goods and services surpasses its population. Such events follow a sort of mathematical regularity known as “urban scaling”.
This time, the team wanted to analyze the socioeconomic productivity of such ancient cities, their focus being on public monuments such as temples and domestic houses. These were considered good items for assessing wealth in both public and private sectors while also examining population density. They analyzed ancient 2000-years-old cities and four areas in pre-contact Mesoamerica.
Their findings showed that the larger the ancient city, the more productive it was. This shows that these settlements functioned in a similar way to how modern cities do.
Scott Ortman explained how the study’s results shocked him a bit:
“We were raised on a steady diet telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.”