A study at a US university is the latest to use ancient cities to mine secrets for today's urban centers.
Funded by the US National Science Foundation, a team of scientists at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University (ASU) have embarked on a survey of ancient cities titled "Service Access in Pre-Modern Cities." (See the video below for more on the school.) The study aims to discern patterns of access to markets, worship sites, and other urban facilities that existed in ancient, non-Western urban areas.
By looking at archeological records and other data, the ASU team hopes to see how old cities planned access to these services by social class or other factors. In turn, this information could help modern cities set policies about access to similar services that affect the use of resources such as water and energy.
This project is not the first time the academic world has turned to ancient cities for keys to better present-day functioning. Scholars such as George Modelski, professor of political science emeritus at the University of Washington, have long studied ancient cities as a way to understand the fundamental ways in which human urbanization evolved.
Ancient cities offer insights, for instance, into how we as a species created efficient centers of commerce supporting resources for thousands of people. These old locales also offer a view into the forces that destroy cities, including environmental shifts, oppressive governments, and policies that erode the social fabric.
From sources such as Modelski's "Cities of the Ancient World: An Inventory," which lists the world's oldest known cities, complete with population figures, it's possible to glean this kind of valuable information. As long as 5,000 years ago, for instance, the city of Uruk, located in what is now Iraq, was home to 14,000 people, a figure that peaked at a population of 80,000 to over 100,000 by 2800 BCE. It featured unique districts of worship and scholarship known as the Eanna and Anu areas. Changes in government, as well as shifts in the position of the local Euphrates River, led to Uruk's decline.
Scrutinizing cities like Uruk can reveal much about how humans adapted urban areas to suit their needs. We can learn from getting "back to basics," before destructive methods of transportation, industry, and government eroded patterns that worked well.
Ancient cities are so interesting that we've gathered a few together in a slideshow that depicts, in no particular order, a (hardly exhaustive) sampling of leading ancient municipalities and how they influenced urban evolution. (Click on the image below to start the show -- and let us know what you think on the message board!)
Ur: Consolidation of Worship
The ancient city of Ur (aka the Biblical "Ur of the Chaldees") was a Sumerian city located in Mesopotamia in what is now southern Iraq. A site of religious heritage for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, Ur was founded circa 3800 BCE along a coast that later moved inland over time. Indeed, Ur's decline is attributed to flooding. The population topped out at roughly 34,000. Apparently Ur had widespread suburbs surrounding a walled central city.
(Source: M. Lubinski)
— Mary Jander, Managing Editor, UBM's Future Cities