The archaeology of urbanism has developed with reference to particular emblematic
examples: cities of the Bronze-age Near East, the Mediterranean of the classical
period, Mesoamerican highland cities, or the Northern Europe high-medieval cities are key points of reference. Urbanism, in this light, has been regarded as nearly
synonymous with social complexity and with civilisation.
In recent years, a more globally oriented historical and archaeological research has
exposed urbanity as a phenomenon that varies widely across time and space,
sometimes in surprising ways. Like the palaeontological record abounds in creatures, which defy evolutionary hindsight – such as the famous Cambrian arthropod Anomalocaris, the past is full of extraordinary and surprising urban societies – ‘anomalocivitas’.
Examples of atypical urban-like developments, which have been intensely discussed
in recent research, include the “mega-sites” of Neolithic Eastern Europe, low density
agrarian urbanism in the Tropics, Late Antique urban encroachment in the
Mediterranean East, classical and medieval trading ports, seasonal assemblies and
nomadic camps, as well as palace societies, such as the Bronze Age agglomerations.