New Book: ‘First Cities’ and Planning Lessons for the 21st Century


The 22-month hiatus between our last post and this one is explained by many interruptions: required updating of the courses I teach in subject areas where knowledge accumulates at a very rapid rate, unusually heavy university committee work, and collaborative proposal development for a new interdisciplinary research and knowledge synthesis center at DU (see the Papers page of this blog). Mixed in was rehab and recovery from a full knee replacement (!), and completion of a new book that will be appearing in February, 2024.

The book is a contribution to the Cambridge University Press series ‘Elements in Anthropological Archaeology in the 21st Century‘. Elements are short, briskly written, media-rich books intended as research guides for students and scholars. According to the Cambridge University Press website, this Element:

offers anthropological and contemporary perspectives in the study of prehistoric and historic societies globally and cutting-edge research with balanced coverage of well-known sites and understudied times and places. We solicit contributions based on three themes:

  1. new methods and technologies producing fresh understandings of the past;
  2. theoretical approaches challenging basic concepts and offering new insights;
  3. archaeological responses for the 21st century providing informed choices for the present. 

Individual volumes focus on specific sites and regions that highlight the diversity of human experience around the world and across history which include scholars working throughout North America, Mesoamerica, Europe and the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East, and South and East Asia and readers with an avid interest in the latest frontiers in archaeological thought.

My contribution is entitled First Cities: Planning Lessons for the 21st Century. It describes and synthesizes archaeological knowledge of humankind’s first cities for the purpose of strengthening a comparative understanding of urbanism across space and time.  My case studies are drawn from ancient Mesopotamia, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The cases cover over 9000 years of city building. They exemplify the ‘deep history’ of urbanism in the classic heartlands of civilization, as well as lesser-known urban phenomena in other areas and time periods. The book discusses the relevance of this knowledge to a number of contemporary urban challenges around food security, service provision, housing, ethnic co-existence, governance, and sustainability. This study seeks to enrich scholarly debates about the urban condition and inspire new ideas for urban policy, planning, and placemaking in the twenty first century.

Table of Contents:

1 Introduction.

            1.1 Defining the City

            1.2 Organization

2 Philosophical and Theoretical Orientation.

            2.1 Archaeologies of Urbanism

            2.2 Paradigms of Archaeological Inquiry Today

                        2.2.1 Scientific Realism

                        2.2.2 Interpretivism

            2.3 Synthesis: An Engaged Pluralism

3 Development of First Cities in Mesopotamia, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

            3.1 Mesopotamia

            3.2 Europe: The Case of Trypillian Megasites

            3.3 Asia: The Indus Valley

            3.4 Sub-Saharan Africa

                        3.4.1 West Africa

                        3.4.2 East Africa

4 Expressions of Ancient Urbanism in Mesoamerica and North America.

            4.1 Urban Origins in Mesoamerica

            4.2 Valley of Mexico: Teotihuacan

            4.3 Valley of Oaxaca

            4.4 The Maya Lowlands

                        4.4.1 Caracol

                        4.4.2 Chunchucmil

            4.5 North America: Cahokia and Chaco Canyon

5 Planning Lessons for the 21st Century City.

            5.1 General Lessons for Comparative Scholarship

            5.2 Design Principles for Urban Planning and Placemaking

            5.3 Developing Urban and Peri-urban Agro-ecologies

            5.4 Urban Governance: Toward Equity and Inclusion

            5.5 Sacred Civics vs. Smart Cities

            5.6 Urban Trajectories: Is the Future City Low-Density?

            5.7 The End of Cities: Is Urban Collapse Inevitable?

6 Summary and Conclusion.


I’m grateful to the Cambridge Element editors, especially Rita Wright, for inviting this contribution to the study of comparative urbanism. I hope it persuades readers that there is much to learn from the ancients about planning and building cities that are equitable, prosperous, and sustainable.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *