Researchers Use Ancient Data and Modern Math to Find Lost Cities

Three historians and an economist may have changed the game.

November 17, 2017 10:00 am
Researchers May Be Able To Find Lost Cities Using Ancient Data But Modern Math
TURKEY - MARCH 24: Bas-relief from Kultepe (Kanesh), Cappadocia, Turkey. Hittite civilisation. Kayseri, Museo Archeologico (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

A historian and three economists have developed a new way to pinpoint the locations of lost cities of the ancient world using numbers found on 4,000 year-old-clay tablets, reports The Washington Post.

Modern archaeologists have found artifacts from the ancient city of Kanesh, which is located in the middle of modern-day Turkey. Four millennia ago, the city was a hub of trade. Archeologists have found more than 23,000 cuneiform texts, inscribed in clay by ancient Assyrian merchants, according to The Post.

Most of the texts are business letters or shipping documents, says the working paper by Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem A. Cosar and Ali Hortacsu.

The tablets also mention ancient cities and settlements, some which have never been located, like Durhumit, a city that is lost history, according to The Post.

Usually, historians and archaeologists analyze texts like this for information that could help them locate a site, like descriptions of land or distance from another city.

But Barjamovic and his co-authors instead decided to analyze the quantitative data contained in the tablets. For example, you can get a comprehensive picture of trade among the cities around Kanesh 4,000 years ago if you tally each record of a cargo shipment contained there.

What they discovered was a record of hundreds of trade interactions among a total of 26 ancient cities. Fifteen of those cities were already known, but 11 remain lost, reports The Post. They also learned that cities that were close together traded more, so if you have a known city and a lost city that trade a lot, they must be close together. This trade data allowed Barjamovic and his colleagues to estimate the locations of those 11 lost cities.

Though this may not directly lead to those cities, the authors say their approach can help fill in the gaps of traditional methods.

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