Luís Bettencourt, Andrew Cabaniss, Scott Ortman, J. Sturm

Paper #: 14-11-041

A key property of modern cities is increasing returns to scale –the fact that many socio-economic outputs increase more rapidly than population. Recent theoretical work suggests this phenomenon is the result of general characteristics of human social networks embedded in space and, thus, is not necessarily limited to modern settlements. Here, we examine the extent to which increasing returns are expressed by archaeological settlement data from the Pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico. We find three quantitative patterns which suggest that increasing returns were present and that they derived from the same processes that generate these returns in modern cities. In all cases scaling parameter values are consistent with expectations derived from theory. Our results thus provide evidence that the processes that lead to increasing returns in contemporary cities have characterized human settlements throughout history and do not require modern forms of political or economic organization.