Why did some ancient cities last for centuries or even millennia, while others quickly disappeared or were forgotten over time? Scientists conducted research and shared the answer.
Thanks to a new study by a group of American scientists, where they studied ancient Mesoamerican cities, some common features of the cities that lasted the longest have been revealed. According to experts, these features, namely collective management, investment in infrastructure and cooperation, were important for ancient America, according to Ancient Origins.
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The results of the study showed that the Mesoamerican cities that lasted the longest shared common features: collective management practices, high levels of cooperation and coordination between families, and significant investment in infrastructure projects. These elements were important as numerous natural disasters and other catastrophes constantly threatened the survival of cities and their vulnerable populations.
A team of scientists explored Mesoamerican cities dating back to antiquity
In: Feinman, G. et. al / DC BY
Death and Life of Mesoamerican Cities
A group of scientists explored the cities of Mesoamerica, rooted in antiquity. As a result, the researchers determined that democratic structures played a significant role in the survival of these cities over the centuries.
Authoritarian regimes, at the same time, faced difficulties in sustaining political structures and settlements in the long run. Despite their power and prosperity, they could not hold out for a long time.
The researchers took a targeted approach, focusing on the analysis of 24 cities founded between 1000 and 300 BC. BC. All these cities were located in the western region of Mesoamerica, covering the north of Central America and the southern parts of Mexico. Before 1000 BC the inhabitants of Mesoamerica lived in small villages, only later cities began to appear.
The scientists focused on studying the characteristics of the ancient ruins, which provide important clues about the social, economic and political practices of ancient cultures.
“We looked at the architecture of society, the nature of the economy, and what made cities alive. We looked at the signs of government, whether they seem highly personalized or not,” explained Gary Fineman, research leader and curator of anthropology at the Field Museum, Chicago. .
The researchers took a targeted approach, focusing on the analysis of 24 cities founded between 1000 and 300 BC. BC.
Photo: Lon&Queta / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Democracy and autocracy
In an attempt to understand why some Mesoamerican cities lasted for centuries and others did not, researchers have studied the shapes, sizes, functions, and distribution of buildings, squares, monuments, infrastructure projects, and so on. They suggested that grandiose architectural projects honoring some rulers were signs of an autocratic and highly unequal society, while projects honoring groups of leaders or ordinary citizens indicated more democratically distributed arrangements for the separation of powers.
The archaeologists and anthropologists involved in the study, including Fineman and David Carballo of Boston University, Linda Nicholas of the Field Museum, and Steven Kovalevsky of the University of Georgia, confirmed their preliminary findings that collective forms of government contributed to the longevity of cities.
Among cities with democratic architecture and structure, some have survived much longer than others, indicating that additional factors need to be brought in.
“We were looking for evidence of path dependency, which basically means the actions or investments that people make and that subsequently limit or facilitate how they respond to further hazards or challenges,” Fineman explained.
The scientists focused on studying the characteristics of ancient ruins that provide important clues about the social, economic and political practices of ancient cultures.
Photo: Public Domain
What does the infrastructure mean?
This approach has prompted researchers to take a closer look at the infrastructure in Mesoamerican cities. They also explored collaboration mechanisms that could bring different families or households closer together. Scientists have found that Mesoamerican cities that built dense, interconnected residential areas and developed large central squares where people could gather in large numbers were more sustainable in the long run than cities that were divided along class or economic lines.
The authors of the study concluded that the Mesoamerican cities that brought people together in this way were better prepared to survive in the face of complex environmental challenges and natural disasters that plagued the region in antiquity. Mesoamerican societies in the first millennium BC dealt with droughts, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and crop failures, not to mention the constant threat of invasion from enemy settlements and populations.
Referring to the researchers’ discovery that governance systems play a vital role in sustainable development, study co-author Linda Nicholas, a freelance curator at the Field Museum, noted that “the response to crises and disasters is to some extent political.” The choice of infrastructure that such cities made reflected their egalitarian inclinations, and the cohesion and sense of common purpose they maintained endured even in the most severe and difficult times.
Surviving climate change: lessons from the past
In all likelihood, people experienced greater emotional involvement with their cities when they participated in decision-making processes in one way or another, as well as when they directly benefited from the prosperity of their settlements. This gave them an extra incentive to stay in the city after the crash, doing their best to contribute to the rebuilding process.
The results of this study reveal important facts about how and why some cities survived in the ancient world. But the researchers are confident that their findings are relevant to today. “You can’t evaluate the response to disasters like earthquakes or threats like climate change other than management,” Feinman said. “The past is an incredible resource for understanding how to solve today’s problems.”
Previously, Focus talked about the African civilization Nok: their judicial system was one of the first, and metalworking gave an advantage over their neighbors.
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