The algorithm that discovers lost Assyrian cities

A group of academics based at U.S. universities have come up with an algorithm to identify the location of lost Assyrian towns and cities in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

The four working-paper authors, two of whom have Turkish heritage, said their method combined all the references to the settlements in written texts with factors including the geography of the region and a structural economic model.

“This allows us to infer not only the location of lost cities,” they said, “but also the distance elasticity of trade, the size of cities (a theory-guided counterfactual measure), formal estimates of standard errors, and confidence intervals.”

Map of Assyrian trade routes in Anatolia (Kulakoğlu and Öztürk, 2017)
Map of Assyrian trade routes in Anatolia (Kulakoğlu and Öztürk, 2017)

In the Old Assyrian period (c. 2025–1378 B.C.), which is the focus of the paper, the Assyrians traded goods throughout a wide area of the Middle East from their capital Assur, around 100 km south of modern-day Mosul in Iraq.

In Anatolia, their land-based trading colonies were largely concentrated in Central Anatolia in the region of Kayseri, Yozgat and Çorum in today’s Turkey.