The Atlantic Cities: Uncovering the World's First Cities
... By analyzing satellite imagery, archaeologist Jason Ur and computer scientist Bjoern Menze have identified thousands of settlement sites in one section of the Fertile Crescent. They've mapped more than 14,000 settlement sites in a 23,000-square-kilometer region in northeastern Syria, and they suggest that their method can be used to map the entire region. Their work appears in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ur and Menze trained a computer program to analyze the satellite imagery's pixels to detect large concentrations of "anthropogenic sediments" – the remains of buildings and settlements now turned to dust, mounding up from the alluvial basin of this part of Syria, and detectable through radiation from the near infrared and infrared spectrum.
"One of the conclusions that we've drawn – and this won't be a terrible shocker – is settlements that were closer to perennial water sources or in areas of higher rainfall tended to have longer life histories, they tended to be larger in volume," says Ur. ...
... This new map also challenges previous ideas that the earliest cities were official constructs, created by kings or rulers. Ur says that places like Tell Brak show that early urbanization developed organically.
"We're talking about 6,000 years of urban development in one place. And cities change through time. This is one thing that’s really emerging from intensive research that’s been done in the last ten years: there's no one model for the city," says Ur. "There are any number of different approaches."