Modern cities with large populations and dense areas tend to be productive. Remarkably, these characteristics also appear to have been exhibited by ancient settlements. Findings of a new study revealed that ancient cities with bigger and denser settlements allowed their inhabitants to become more efficient.

For the study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Feb. 20, a group of researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder sought to find out whether or not ancient settlements and the cities of today function in similar ways.

Scott Ortman from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder and colleagues looked at the surveyed data of ancient settlements, houses and temples in the pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico analyzing the dimensions of the structures to estimate household productivity, rates of the monuments' construction, and also the ancient settlements' populations and densities.

The results showed that ancient settlements that were more populous tended to be more productive. The researchers likewise found that the rate at which this productivity increased was the same as in present-day cities.

"It was amazing and unbelievable," Ortman said. "We've been 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."

The researchers found that as population in ancient cities grew, the rate at which they could produce monuments also increases. The same pattern was observed in private wealth. The surface areas of houses tend to become larger as the size of the settlement grew. Interestingly the distribution of house areas was comparable to the distribution of income currently observed in modern cities.

Ortman and colleagues said that the findings show that some of the most robust patterns observed in modern urban system were derived from processes that have long been part of human societies. They have found that the set of rules known as urban scaling that cities abide with as they grow do not just apply to modern cities but also to ancient ones.

"Our results suggest the fundamental processes behind the emergence of scaling in modern cities have structured human settlement organization throughout human history, and that contemporary urban systems are best-conceived as lying on a continuum with the smaller-scale settlement systems known from historical and archaeological research," the researchers wrote.

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