J Agrar Chang. 2022 Oct;22(4):831-854. doi: 10.1111/joac.12497. Epub 2022 May 31.
Agricultural extensification refers to an expansive, low-input production strategy that is land rather than labour limited. Here, we present a robust method, using the archaeological proxies of cereal grain nitrogen isotope values and settlement size, to investigate the relationship between agricultural intensity and population size at Neolithic to Bronze/Iron Age settlement sites in northern Mesopotamia, the Aegean and south-west Germany. We conclude that urban form-in particular, density of occupation-as well as scale shaped the agroecological trajectories of early cities. Whereas high-density urbanism in northern Mesopotamia and the Aegean entailed radical agricultural extensification, lower density urbanism in south-west Germany afforded more intensive management of arable land. We relate these differing agricultural trajectories to long-term urban growth/collapse cycles in northern Mesopotamia and the Aegean, on the one hand, and to the volatility of early Iron Age elite power structures and urban centralization in south-west Germany, on the other.