Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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Cambridge Archaeological Journal (2010), 20:229-253 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2010

Research Article

Sprawl, Squatters and Sustainable Cities: Can Archaeological Data Shed Light on Modern Urban Issues?

Michael E. Smitha1

a1 School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Box 872402, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA, Email:
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Ancient cities as documented by archaeologists and historians have considerable relevance for a broader understanding of modern cities and general processes of urbanization. This article reviews three themes that illustrate such relevance: sprawl, squatter settlements and urban sustainability. Archaeology's potential for illuminating these and other topics, however, remains largely unrealized because we have failed to develop the concepts and methods required to analyse such processes in the past. The following aspects are examined for each of the three themes: the modern situation, the potential insights that archaeology could contribute, and what archaeologists would need to do to produce those insights. The author then discusses some of the benefits that would accrue from increased communication between archaeologists and other scholars of urbanism.

(Received January 15 2009)

(Accepted July 23 2009)

(Revised July 22 2009)

Michael E. Smith is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. His fieldwork focuses on economics, imperialism and urbanism at Aztec provincial households in central Mexico. He has recently become involved in urban research that compares ancient and modern cities from a transdisciplinary perspective.