How, Why & Where: Humans settled some harsh places

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


I'm still working on that short story where the protagonists are going to escape from the control of a corrupt priesthood to found a colony, so I did a little digging into foundation stories and quirky historic settlements for inspiration.

Fun Facts

  • Rafts are usually superior to canoes for crossing open water because they can be big enough to carry lots of supplies and enough people to found a viable settlement.
  • The Aztecs built Tenochtitlán on an island in the middle of the lake, apparently because of a directive from the god of war.
  • By contrast, the Venetians fled into the lagoon, building villages on the islands, due to fear of marauders.
  • The development of herd-driving methods allowed for the Botai peoples to specialize in horse-hunting and develop larger settlements.
  • There were many more people living in the single Mesopotamian city of as Uruk, in 4th millennium B.C.E., than in the entire Cyclades islands in the Aegean during the Hellenistic period.

Blind Inbreeding

A small group of British colonists founded Tristan da Cunh in 1814. As late as 1961, the majority of the genes in the gene pool on Tristan were still derived from 15 original ancestors. As a result of this inbreeding, retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative vision disease) is significantly more common there. [Read More]

Towns > Cities

Tripolyte settlements on the South Bug River, near the steppe border, mushroomed to enormous sizes (more than 400 hectares), twice the size of the biggest cities in Mesopotamia, the biggest human settlements in the world. But instead of evolving into cities, they were abandoned. [Read More]

Commodified Animals

As animals became more like commodities in Çatalhöyük, social hierarchies started evolving. Household independence grew as communal and shared practices (like multiple households tending to herds of sheep and goats together) fell off. [Read More]

Priority Cows

Winter marshlands for cattle were a critical resource for Sintashta, so their settlements were built overlooking the floodplain of a marshy meandering stream. They were fortified with walls and towers, but built in marshy, low places, not the defensible hills nearby. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about worldbuilding harsh conditions.


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