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In the fourth and third millennium BC, complex civilizations flourished in the river valleys of Mesopotamia, India, China, and Egypt. Excavations in these areas have found the ruins of cities geared variously towards trade, politics, or religion. Some had large, dense populations, but others carried out urban activities in the realms of politics or religion without having large associated populations. Among the early Old World cities, Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistan, existing from about 2600 BC, was one of the largest, with a population of 50,000 or more and a sophisticated sanitation system. China's planned cities were constructed according to sacred principles to act as celestial microcosms. The Ancient Egyptian cities known physically by archaeologists are not extensive. They include (known by their Arab names) El Lahun, a workers' town associated with the pyramid of Senusret II, and the religious city Amarna built by Akhenaten and abandoned. These sites appear planned in a highly regimented and stratified fashion, with a minimalistic grid of rooms for the workers and increasingly more elaborate housing available for higher classes.

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