A new study by a researcher at the University of Colorado suggests that patterns in modern societies and ancient cities followed common rules of development.

The study utilized recently derived equations that describe development patterns in modern urban areas, which appear to work equally well to describe ancient cities settled thousands of years ago.

"This study suggests that there is a level at which every human society is actually very similar," Scott Ortman, assistant professor of anthropology at CU, stated in a news release. 

Ortman is the lead author of the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"This awareness helps break down the barriers between the past and present and allows us to view contemporary cities as lying on a continuum of all human settlements in time and place," Ortman said.

Ortman and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute, including professor Luis Bettencourt, a co-author of the study, developed mathematical models that describe how modern cities change as their populations grow.

Ortman saw that the variables used in these equations, such as cost of moving around or the size of the settled area, were not dependent on any particular modern technology.

"I realized that if these models are adequate for explaining what's going on in contemporary cities, they should apply to any settlements in any society," he said. "So if these models are on the right track, they should apply to ancient societies, too."

Ortman utilized data collected in the 1960s relating to 1,500 settlements in central Mexico that spanned from 1,150 years B.C. through the end of the Aztec period about 500 years ago.

Study co-authors also include Andrew Cabaniss of Santa Fe Institute and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Jennie Sturm of the University of New Mexico.