The First Smart City

This is the second installment in a new series about smart city privacy. This post looks at two of the earliest cities, Çatalhöyük and Jericho, focusing specifically on how they help to define the intrinsic needs of privacy in the city.

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Image of Jericho ruins with the words
Illustration: © IoT For All

The first article in this series on smart city privacy and its origins was published on March 1st, 2019.

Agriculture began its popular uptake in three main areas, the Near East, North China, New Guinea, and Mesoamerica. The “Fertile Crescent,” an area that includes Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, is commonly thought to be the motherland of the agricultural revolution of around 12,000 years ago. City dwelling didn’t happen overnight, of course. Smaller units of “villages” would have sprung up around fertile grounds and areas where domesticated animals were housed. Bogucki, in his book “The Origins of Human Society,” defined a household as “[a] cooperating group that jointly makes production decisions,” as well as “[a] unit of reproduction and social interactions.”

These units are the integral parts of a larger village—a.k.a. the city—and act together in both harmony and disharmony.

Çatalhöyük

One of the first mega-settlements to come out of the Neolithic agricultural revolution was Çatalhöyük. The settlement dates back to around 9,000 years ago. It covers over 13 hectares, and at its peak, there were around 8,000 occupants.

The settlement displays certain key attributes of modern city living and culture. Notably, houses were separate dwellings for families and they were taken great care of.

There were no streets in Çatalhöyük. Instead, you could enter your home via a ladder that led from the upper floor to the roof. So although the settlement was heavily populated, each family had their own private dwelling distinct from neighbors; you can imagine entry via a ladder down from the roof was not conducive to open plan communal living.

The Çatalhöyükians used art to adorn their walls. Technology in the form of tools and pottery was part of their everyday lives. Religion and ritual defined their culture, and sexual equality seems to have been a prominent feature of being a Çatalhöyükian. Trade was common, and baskets and shells were sourced from the Red Sea traders. The Çatalhöyük city dwellers kept their houses immaculately clean, using middens outside of the houses to dump their waste. But this waste was recycled, for example, used as packing between walls, which is evidence of environmental control.

All in all, a Çatalhöyükian lived in a sophisticated city with technology, trade, art and a healthy respect for personal space and privacy.

Jericho

Jericho, was, along with Çatalhöyük, one of the first major settlements that came out of the agricultural revolution. The settlement was built about 8,000 BCE, a little after Çatalhöyük. It was originally built about 2 kilometers north of modern-day Jericho City. The city grew slowly to a 40 square meter site surrounded by a five-meter tall wall.

Like their Çatalhöyük counterparts, the people of Jericho had individual dwelling houses and traded with other peoples ; precious objects made of obsidian and turquoise have been found inside the homes of the Jericho dwellers. Tools used for making fabrics, storage vessels and agricultural tools were also evident inside the city walls.

City living in the Neolithic cities of Jericho and Çatalhöyük was not all that different from modern city living. The people inside the cities had their own private places to live. They used technology to make their lives easier. They traded with outsiders. They had means and methods to feed and clothe themselves, and to live, work and build families within a sustainable ecosystem.

Trading was also a feature of farming. As specialization became a theme, farmers who grew crops could trade with those who tended domestic animals. In turn, those who created goods, such as storage vessels, could trade for food. The system became commoditized into units of production, the people themselves becoming part of this system.

This culture of cooperation, having to work together for the greater good, not just for your own direct family members, but for the group too, is the foundation of the development of later cultural models of cooperation and ultimately, city living.

The existence of precious items and ritual is evidence of a life outside of the drudgery of work, it points to new ways of being. The stratification of society followed agriculture and gave us new layers in society such as merchants, artisans, shaman and chiefs.

These ancient cities had precursor layers that are reflected in modern life and modern digital transaction methods. As we decentralize technology and expand our tech stacks ever outwards using the Internet of Things and edge computing, we should ask ourselves: can we retain privacy?

Respect for individual privacy was inherent in our early cities. Can we make it so in our smart cities?

In my next post, I’ll look at “Neolithic Privacy.”