Nearly all humans in the modern world live in some kind of a permanent residence. But it hasn't always been like this. Our species started out as hunter gatherers and began to make permanent settlements mostly due to the rise of agriculture. Only 3% of the world's population lived in cities in 1800. Since then we have urbanized our existence more and more.
Archeological evidence indicates that domestication of various plants and animals began around 12,000 years ago, starting the Halocene epoch. However the Neolithic Revolution involved societies radically altering their natural environment by means of deforestation and irrigation for the propose of food crop cultivation. This required societies to spend nearly all of their time and resources in one location. The conventional view holds that cities first began to form after the Neolithic revolution, around 5,500 BC. The earliest know permanent human settlement is Sumer is present day Southern Iraq. It was settled between 5500 and 4000 BC.
Nailing down a date for the initial founding of a city can be somewhat tricky. As with the city of Munich, Germany, the first permanent settlement in its location was of Benedictine monks in the 8th century. By 1158, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, had built a new bridge over the river Isar near the existing monastery. This was part of the Old Salt Route, and a toll bridge. Henry granted Munich the right to mint its own currency and to hold markets, thus driving more traffic across his new bridge, and more income into his coffers. And so the foundation date of the city of Munich is assumed to be 1158.
And so it is that the founding of a city does not imply the beginning of human civilization in a particular area. It only implies the start of substantial sustained habitation.
It is interesting to note that individuals in different civilizations organize themselves in unique ways. Historians generally note how Western Civilization is much more rural than most other civilizations. This is partly due to geography and partly due to culture. The deciduous forest environment of Western Europe provided a much more uniform distribution of necessary resources such as wood, potential farm land, and water supplies, thus allowing much less centralized societies to form. In the Middle East, however, available water supplies exist in more centralized locations, requiring a much more centralized society.
The immortal Roman historian Tacitus routinely comments in his annals how the German tribes were well known not to live within cities. Cities in Europe were generally settled far later in history than those in other parts of the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa has traditionally not been home to large cities. In the modern world however, the continent is urbanizing faster than any other. In addition to the usual factors favoring urbanization, Africa currently has the highest birth rate in the world, greatly contributing to increased urbanization. The fertility rate in Sub-Saharan Africa stood at 5.11 children born/woman in 2012, compared to a world average of 2.43.
The very simple exercise of plotting the total world population vs the combined population of the world's cities gives us a better picture of the rate of urbanization. In this case we will start in the year 500 BC. The trend indicates that that at some point, nearly all humans will live in some kind of a town or city. To what extent this trend will play out remains to be seen. I for one will choose not to live in a city, simply as a matter of preference.
Future predictions for population growth range from a continuation of the current trend upwards, to a population in decline by 2060. Most expect our population to plateau at about 11 million people sometime around 2100. Either way, the trend towards the continued expansion of cities is expected to continue.
2008 marked the first time in human history that greater than 50% of people on Earth lived in towns or cities. This certainly has an impact on culture as a whole. And so to get a better grasp on just how our planet was settled I have created a list of major cities with their corresponding dates of settlement.
|Name||Location||Year of Settlement|
|Catal Huyuk||Turkey||7500 BC|
|Luxor (Thebes)||Egypt||c. 3200 BC|
|Jerusalem||West Bank||2800 BC|
|Luoyang||China||c. 2070 BC|
|Varanasi||India||c. 1200-1100 BC|
|Xi'an||China||c. 1100 BC|
|Beijing||China||c. 1045 BC|
|Zeila / Avalite||Somalia||c. 800 BC|
|Carthage||Asia Minor||814 BC|
|Rome||Italian Peninsula||753 BC|
|Cholula||Mexico||c. 100 BC|
|Seoul||South Korea||18 BC|
|Old Cairo||Egypt||c. 100|
|Easter Island (Rapa Nui)||300-400|
|Osaka||Japan||c. 400 AD|
|Upper Xingu||Brazil||c. 800|
|Taos Pueblo||New Mexico||c. 1075|
|St. John's||Newfoundland||c. 1540|
|New York City||New York||1624|
Welcome new readers!
In a hope to share any interesting historical stories I come across in the future I will be writing and posting articles whenever I can. Hopefully quite often.
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Looking for something in particular? Find it more quickly on the Search page.
And here is a complete list of all articles since the beginning.
Size of the Known Universe
Disappearance of Great Nomads
The Eclipse of 1919
James Cook - His First Voyage
A History of Personal Wealth
The Christmas Truce of 1914
Dona Nobis Pacem
The Battle of Tours - 732 AD
Western Civilization prior to WWI
The Bedrock of New York City
Roman Emperor Constantine
The Family Tree of J. S. Bach
Eratosthenes - Earth's Circumference
"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."
~ H.G. Wells
The Discovery of the Future