Sunday, January 19, 2020

Population: Cities, Town and Villages in Sundaland

I've created a very basic model for calculating the number of cities and population numbers for the Sundaland subcontinent. I've calculated five sets of numbers which will be a useful starting point for a range of time periods or scenarios. My intention is only to arrive at figures that feel right to me. If you have any suggestions let me know.

From what I've read the first cities in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mexico* had populations numbering in the tens of thousands from around 30,000 to 80,000. So I'm picking 50,000 as the size of the biggest cities in a low population scenario or time. The biggest cities during a Classical Age type of development is 1,000,000 equivalent to ancient Rome and Alexandria at the height of the Roman Empire.

I'm imagining one city for each of the big river systems, South, East and West and one for the big inland sea, so four in total. The definition of a city in this model is loose because I take a lot of inspiration from the Maya and Khmer.

To calculate the number I've used the following rule. For each tier of settlement below the biggest city I double the number and halve the population, rounding up to whole numbers. I do this down to around 100 people which corresponds roughly to Dunbar's Number. So if there are 4 cities with an average population of 50,000 then there are 8 cities with 25,000 inhabitants, 16 with 12,500 inhabitants etc.

Depending on the characteristics of the culture and where it's located these numbers might be for a compact city or town, a spread out settlement or even a roaming band of hunter-gatherers.

*Recent research indicates that civilisations in rain forests were able to sustain larger populations than previously thought. See further below for some research about these fascinating urban environments.

Population Size Number Total
50,000 4 200,000
25,000 8 200,000
12,500 16 200,000
6,250 32 200,000
3,125 64 200,000
1,563 128 200,000
781 256 200,000
391 512 200,000
195 1024 200,000
98 2048 200,000
- - -
- - 2,000,000


Population Size Number Total
100,000 4 400,000
50,000 8 400,000
25,000 16 400,000
12,500 32 400,000
6,250 64 400,000
3,125 128 400,000
1,563 256 400,000
781 512 400,000
391 1,024 400,000
195 2,048 400,000
98 4,096 400,000
- - -
- - 4,400,000

Population Number Total
250,000 4 1,000,000
125,000 8 1,000,000
62,500 16 1,000,000
31,250 32 1,000,000
15,625 64 1,000,000
7,813 128 1,000,000
3,906 256 1,000,000
1,953 512 1,000,000
977 1024 1,000,000
488 2048 1,000,000
244 8192 1,000,000
244 4096 1,000,000
122 8,192 1,000,000
- - -
- - 12,000,000

Population  Number Total
500,000 4 2,000,000
250,000 8 2,000,000
125,000 16 2,000,000
62,500 32 2,000,000
31,250 64 2,000,000
15,625 128 2,000,000
7,813 256 2,000,000
3,906 512 2,000,000
1,953 1,024 2,000,000
977 2,048 2,000,000
488 4,096 2,000,000
244 8,192 2,000,000
122 16384 2,000,000
- - -
- - 26,000,000

Population Number Total
1,000,000 4 4,000,000
500,000 8 4,000,000
250,500 16 4,000,000
125,000 32 4,000,000
62,500 64 4,000,000
31,250 128 4,000,000
15,25 256 4,000,000
7,813 512 4,000,000
3,906 1024 4,000,000
1,953 2048 4,000,000
977 4,096 4,000,000
488 8,192 4,000,000
244 16,348 4,000,000
122 32,768 4,000,000
- - -
- - 56,000,000


Large urban communities in rainforest environments

Recent findings in Mexico and Cambodia indicate that the population that could be sustained in these jungle environments was higher than initially thought (at least for a while). It seems that there once existed sprawling urban communities within the forests. While I'm sure large areas were cleared it is nevertheless an evocative idea that contrasts with the common idea of what a city looks like. The articles linked are short but are great for stimulating the imagination. They also discuss the reasons these civilisations might have collapsed.
In what's being hailed as a 'major breakthrough' in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.
Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya "Megalopolis" Below Guatemalan Jungle

It also seems that there was more warfare happening amongst the Maya than was initially thought.
Archaeologists guided by laser images of a remote region of northern Guatemala have discovered 20-foot-high walls, watchtowers, and other evidence that ancient Maya societies waged large-scale warfare over many years. The finds have upended long-established impressions of a civilisation that tamed the jungle and built thriving cities, then declined and disappeared beneath the dense tropical forest.
Lasers reveal Maya war ruins

More Articles

Articles about the city around Angkor Watt in Cambodia which had a sophisticated water management system using canals and artificial ponds and lakes.

Angkor was a city ahead of its time
Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

An article about Maya ruins uncovered by LIDAR that contains some great images:
How Lasers Are Utterly Transforming Our Understanding of the Ancient Maya, Bringing Their Whole Civilization Back to Light

Mayan Mysteries: Discusses possible reasons for the collapse of the cities including deforestation and drought.

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