The intellectual history of settlement scaling theory

Author(s): Luis Bettencourt

Year: 2017


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 archeology and sociology, as well as urban economics and geography. Specifically, I will show how ideas of socioeconomic "agglomeration", developed originally to explain modern cities and interpreted in light of social activity over built spaces, have a much larger scope and provide a general logic that can be tested in any settlement system throughout history. Archeological evidence in favor of such theoretical predictions allows important inferences about the structure of social networks of communication and exchange between people and their intensity and efficiency in specific places and times. These ideas also provide connections to mechanisms of cultural evolution and "economic growth" in ancient societies, such as the division of labor and knowledge in settlement systems, and lead to new uses and interpretations of archeological evidence.

Cite this Record

The intellectual history of settlement scaling theory. Luis Bettencourt. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429166)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14749