Ancient Cities Were Unsustainable Too

Over the last several decades, researchers have examined how our cities deplete natural resources and change the climate and ecosystems of their surrounding areas. But new evidence shows that such impacts aren't a purely modern phenomenon.

"Writing for Nature’s Scientific Reports, a team led by David Kaniewski showed that the development of Akko, a port city along what is now Israel’s northern shores, coincided with a collapse of the local ecosystem, with dense coastal forests transforming into a dry, shrubby grassland," writes Colin Schultz for

Researchers conclude that residents of Akko, one of the world’s oldest cities, taxed the local water supply and produced an urban heat island effect that helped transform the area's climate and ecosystem.

The results of their research helps to upend some common assumptions about the sustainability of ancient cities, say Kaniewski and his colleagues:

This questions the long-held belief of a ‘‘golden age’’ of sustainable early urban development. The same mechanisms that degrade or overexploit the ecosystems nowadays were already at work, even if technologies and agroinnovations were markedly different during the pre-industrial era. Accepting large urban concentrations might need to concede an intrinsic impossibility to produce locally sustainable development.

Full Story: Urbanization Has Been Destroying the Environment Since the Very First Cities


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