Birth of cities: visualising 6,000 years of urbanisation

18 Jun 2016

From ancient Cambodia to New York, an incredible visualisation of 6,000 years of cities from a Yale dataset is an incredible thing to behold

Whether it is Rome, Sparta, ancient Babylon or Troy, or maybe even vast ancient cities buried beneath the jungles of Cambodia, the human instinct to coalesce into villages, towns and cities is phenomenal, and a new map captures 6,000 years of this.

Much of what we know about human civilisation is informed by the last 2,000 or 3,000 years, but there is so much we don’t know. We marvel at the preserved ruins of Rome and Pompeii and are often struck by the realisation that, even without the modern gadgets, the people from then were little different to city dwellers today.

Recently, a massive city bigger than New York was discovered by LiDAR beneath the jungles of Cambodia, not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat, revealing sophisticated urban planning and sanitation.

Researchers at Yale University examined the various ways historians have measured the density of cities, including data never before digitised.

The result is a dataset that traces the development of cities for more than 6,000 years published last week in Nature.

That dataset has been visualised in an amazing map by Max Galka of Metrocosm, a site dedicated to analysing life through statistics.

The result is the impressive History of Urbanisation 3700 BC – 2000 AD:

history of cities

There is also a YouTube version to enjoy:

And, if you want to discover the ancient metropolis that existed below the temple city of Angkor Wat, this video on the use of LiDAR by the Smithsonian is worth watching:

Angkor Wat image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years