Using ancient data from 4000-year old clay tablets, new mathematical and computation techniques allow researchers to pinpoint 11 "lost cities" of Bronze Age era Turkey, in a new paper from Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem Cosar & Ali Hortaçsu. The researchers describe the tablets as containing “business letters, shipment documents, accounting records, seals and contracts;” historians and archaeologists traditionally analyze such texts for qualitative information a determine locations of a site, such as landscape features, or indications of distance or direction from other, known cities. Barjamovic, Hortacsu, Chaney, and Cosar used a novel approach, using modern math to analyze the quantitative data instead.
According to the article, the authors report in “a majority of cases, our quantitative estimates are remarkably close to qualitative proposals made by historians,” however “In some cases where historians disagree on the likely site of lost cities, our quantitative method supports the suggestions of some historians and rejects that of others.”The authors say their approach can supplement more traditional methods, helping fill knowledge gaps in the archaeological record. The Washington Post calls the paper "a fascinating illustration of how modern knowledge can breathe new life into numbers inscribed on clay tablets 4,000 years ago."