Before Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in 1521, he marveled at its impressive size and wealth. In a letter to his king, he wrote that the city was as big as Seville or Cordoba back home. Tenochtitlan had boulevards, bustling markets, canals, courthouses and temples. The Aztecs didn’t model their capital after a European city, but what Cortés saw was remarkably familiar.
Sure, each city has its own local quirks, architecture, language and cuisine. But recently, some theoretical scientists have started to find there are universal laws that shape all urban spaces. And a new study suggests the same mathematical rules might apply to ancient settlements, too.
Using archaeological data from the ruins of Tenochtitlan and thousands of other sites around it in Mexico, researchers found that private houses and public monuments were built in predictable ways.
“We build cities in ways that create what I like to call social reactors,” said Luis Bettencourt, who studies complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. ….