Luís Bettencourt, Andrew Cabaniss, Scott Ortman

Paper #: 13-01-001

Despite the fact that cities are increasingly the fundamental socioeconomic units of human societies worldwide, a unified quantitative framework concerning urban form and function has yet to be established. As a step in this direction, we analyze settlement data from the Prehispanic Basin of Mexico to show that this system displays spatial scaling properties analogous to those observed for modern cities. Our data derive from some 1400 settlements occupied over two millennia and spanning four major cultural periods characterized by different levels of political centralization and socioeconomic development. We show that, for each period, total settlement area increases with population size according to a scale invariant relation, with exponent α= 2/3-5/6, in agreement with expectations of emerging theory. These findings, from an urban system that evolved independently from old-world cities, suggest that principles of human settlement organization are very general and may apply to the entire range of human history.