Settlement Scaling in Archaeology—Not Just Modern, Not Just Urban

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The fact that cities become more efficient, innovative and productive as they grow in population has been known for decades, but until very recently it was assumed that these properties were unique to modern capitalist economies. Three developments have cast significant doubt on this view. First, urban economists and economic geographers have had to make increasing use of insights from history and anthropology to account for features of contemporary cities. Second, a mathematical theory that predicts contemporary patterns has been developed, but it relies on very general properties of human networks embedded in space, not the specific properties of capitalism. Third, archaeological studies have discovered that many scaling properties of modern cities are also apparent in pre-modern and even non-urban settlement systems. These developments point toward a new way of framing human societies as complex networks, new avenues for the study of social evolution, and a new conception of the archaeological record as a repository of experiments in social and economic development. In this session we introduce settlement scaling theory to archaeologists, present a series of case studies from around the world, and critically assess its current strengths and weaknesses.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-10 of 10)

  • Documents (10)

  • Artifact-Based Measures for Scaling Research in the Rio Grande Pueblos (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kaitlyn E. Davis. Scott G. Ortman.

    Initial applications of settlement scaling theory focused on measures derived from the built environment, such as house density and settled area. Although this is appropriate, the theory actually focuses on the role of social networks in socioeconomic rates, and thus connects to a variety of artifact-based measures of such rates. In this paper, we develop these connections using data from the Rio Grande Pueblos of New Mexico. We first compare pueblo room areas to show that socioeconomic outputs...

  • The intellectual history of settlement scaling theory (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Luis Bettencourt.

    There is a long history of comparative empirical studies of settlement sizes in relation to evidence relating to nature and scope of built environments and human socioeconomic activities. However, only recently have consistent theories of settlements been developed that yield specific predictions that can be tested against archeological evidence. In this paper, I present a brief intellectual history of these ideas to show how they incorporate concepts from various disciplines with an emphasis on...

  • Population-area scaling in contacted and uncontacted Amazonian indigenous groups (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marcus Hamilton. Robert Walker.

    Sublinear population-area scaling relations have been documented across a range of human societies, from hunter-gatherers to both ancient and modern cities. As such, these scaling patterns seem to capture a common statistical feature of human spatial ecology. In this talk we examine the spatial ecology of both recently-contacted and uncontacted groups in the Amazon Basin. Using a combination of census data, government estimates and imagery we find sublinear scaling between the size of villages...

  • Settlement scaling and the emergence of the Greek polis (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Grace Erny.

    The collapse of the Mycenaean palatial centers at the end of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1190 BCE) and the nature of society in the ensuing "Dark Age" or Early Iron Age have long been important topics in the study of prehistoric Greece. The centuries after the collapse were characterized by a seeming decrease in population, changing patterns of settlement, less political centralization, a decline in trans-Mediterranean trade and the production of luxury goods, and the disappearance of the Linear...

  • Settlement scaling in Medieval Europe and Tudor England (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rudolf Cesaretti.

    From an archaeological perspective, the settlements of Late Medieval Europe lie far to one end of the social complexity spectrum. But from a modern perspective, they are decidedly ancient. Without the institutions and technologies of modern capitalism or the industrial revolution, Late Medieval settlements are commonly characterized as unproductive consumers within dynamic agrarian economies. Both economists and historians have assumed that the benefits of urban agglomeration economies – their...

  • Settlement scaling in the Northeastern Woodlands (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jennifer Birch.

    In the late pre-contact Northeastern Woodlands, processes of aggregation, migration, and geopolitical realignment led to the formation of settlements which give the impression of being too large to be called villages but possessed organizational structures associated with segmentary societies. This paper utilizes empirical data generated from Iroquoian community plans to present a study of scaling relationships in Northern Iroquois. The results are then considered in the context of the...

  • Settlement scaling theory, specialization, and the Greek and Roman world (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Hanson.

    In the last decade, there has been increasing interest in using urbanism as a means of investigating the economy of the Greek and Roman world. The most recent research on the relationship between urbanization and economic growth suggests that the correlation between them is not as straightforward as once thought. There is a growing corpus of theory, however, that suggests that modern settlements act as ‘social reactors’, which increase the number of opportunities for interactions between...

  • Settlement scaling: simple equation, familiar variables, rich story (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jose Lobo.

    The basic mathematical statement of settlement scaling involves a very simple equation (a "power law function") and variables long used in anthropology and archaeology to study the effects of demography on social processes. One could interpret the settlement scaling framework as another instance of the allometric relationship found very widely in the biological realm. But what may be more important is the fact that the framework actually incorporates a lot of accumulated insights from...

  • Thinking Exponentially: Settlement Scaling and Archaeological Data (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott G. Ortman.

    Archaeologists are used to thinking linearly, where sample measures can be well-characterized by a mean, a standard deviation or a proportion. Settlement scaling theory requires us to think exponentially, where all these summary measures change with the scale of the settlement from which they derive. This sounds like a big problem, but once one gets used to it many traditional concerns about the quality of archaeological data turn out to not be all that important, and the archaeological record...

  • Why settlement scaling research is a good fit for archaeology (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michael Smith.

    Although initially developed to understand contemporary urban systems, the method and theory of settlement scaling are particularly appropriate for archaeological data. The scaling framework can be seen as an outgrowth of existing archaeological research on demography and settlement patterns. Although developed independently, the "social reactor" model that explains observed patterning is in fact well-grounded in anthropological and archaeological theory. The key process that drives change is...