Urban revolution

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In anthropology and archaeology, the Urban Revolution is the process by which small, kin-based, nonliterate agricultural villages were transformed into large, socially complex, urban societies. The term "urban revolution" was introduced in the 1930s by V. Gordon Childe, an Australian archaeologist. Childe also coined the term Neolithic Revolution to describe the earlier process by which Hunter-Gatherer Societies domesticated crops and animals and began a farming lifestyle. Childe was the first to synthesize and organize the large volume of new archaeological data in the early 20th century in social terms. Whereas previous archaeologists had concentrated on chronology and technology, Childe applied concepts and theories from the social sciences to interpret archaeological finds. Childe first discussed the Urban Revolution in his 1936 book, Man Makes Himself,[1] and then his 1950 article in the journal Town Planning Review[2] brought the concept to a much larger audience. In that paper, he presented a 10-point model for the changes that characterized the Urban Revolution:

  1. Large population and large settlements (cities)
  2. Full-time specialization and advanced division of labor
  3. Production of an agricultural surplus to fund government and a differentiated society
  4. Monumental public architecture
  5. A ruling class
  6. Writing
  7. Exact and predictive sciences (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, calendars)
  8. Sophisticated art styles
  9. Long-distance trade
  10. The state

Although sometimes interpreted as a model of the origins of cities and urbanism, Childe's concept in fact describes the transition from agricultural villages to state-level, urban societies. This change, which occurred independently in several parts of the world, is recognized as one of the most significant changes in human Sociocultural evolution. Although contemporary models for the origins of complex urban societies have progressed beyond Childe's original formulation,[3] there is general agreement that he correctly identified one of the most far-reaching social transformations prior to the Industrial Revolution, as well as the major processes involved in the change.[4]


  1. ^ Childe, V. Gordon (1936) Man Makes Himself. Watts and Co., London.
  2. ^ Childe, V. Gordon (1950) The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review 21:3-17.
  3. ^ Adams, Robert McC. (1966) The Evolution of Urban Society: Early Mesopotamia and Prehispanic Mexico. Aldine, Chicago.
    Johnson, Allen W. and Timothy K. Earle (2000) The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State. 2nd ed. Stanford University Press, Stanford.
  4. ^ Smith, Michael E., “V. Gordon Childe and the Urban Revolution: An Historical Perspective on a Revolution in Urban Studies,” Town Planning Review 80 (2009) 3-29.

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