Researchers rewrite origins of the urban sprawl

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A team of archaeologists, including scholars from the University of Cambridge, have unveiled new research that could rewrite the history of the world's earliest cities.

Surveys at the ancient settlement of Tell Brak, in north-east Syria, have produced fresh evidence that indicates the first urban settlements were the result of natural migration, and not the artificial creations of those in power.

Academics have traditionally believed that the growth of ancient cities resulted from the policies and demands of a centralized authority, such as a ruling monarch or religious institution.

But the new report, which appears in the August 31 edition of Science, suggests that in fact they came to exist of their own accord, as small groups of strangers clustered around a central point.

“The results cast doubt on the idea that early urbanism was a result of the actions of a single ruler or political body,” Dr Augusta McMahon, field director at Tell Brak, said. “In fact, it now seems that urbanism was the outcome of a series of choices made by relatively powerless individuals and small unrelated groups.”

The research team was led by the Harvard-based assistant professor of anthropology Jason Ur, and also comprised Dr Joan Oates from the University of Cambridge and Dr Philip Karsgaard, from the University of Edinburgh.

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