Since their rise thousands of years ago, cities have transformed social life and societies. Here they are in map form:
A new paper published in Scientific Data takes a stab at mapping the information Chandler and Modelski gathered. Yale University researcher Meredith Reba and her colleagues digitized, transcribed, and geocoded over 6,000 years of urban data. She and her colleagues write in their paper about the significance of their effort:
Whether it is for timely response to catastrophes, the delivery of disaster relief, assessing human impacts on the environment, or estimating populations vulnerable to hazards, it is essential to know where people and cities are geographically distributed. Additionally, the ability to geolocate the size and location of human populations over time helps us understand the evolving characteristics of the human species, especially human interactions with the environment.
Their map, pictured below, plots the first recorded populations for all urban settlements between 3700 B.C. and 2000 A.D. The earliest records available are in the warmest colors, and are clustered around Ancient Mesopotamia. The latest ones on record are in blue. (To be clear, the map shows when the populations of cities started being documented, not when and where these cities were actually “born.”):
This has been oft-studied – the cradles of civilization and all – but it is still helpful to see the spread from these areas to other centers. It is remarkable how many newer cities there are on this map, particularly in the Americas and east Asia. In other words, some parts of the world have had cities for millennia longer than other areas. At the same time, the recent rise of megacities is a relatively recent phenomenon since the Industrial Revolution and many of these cities are in places where cities are relatively new.