The 4th Shanghai Archaeology Forum
14-17 December 2019
Shanghai, China
Archaeology of Urbanization and Globalization:
The Past for the Common Future of Humankind



Founded in 2013, the Shanghai Archaeology Forum (SAF) is a global initiative dedicated to promoting the investigation, protection, and utilization of the world’s archaeological resources and heritage. It serves as an international platform to illuminate the significance and relevance of archaeological research to the world today. The forum is fully committed to excellence through innovation and cooperation, and to the sustainable development of our human society.
The 4th Shanghai Archaeology Forum was held from the 14th to 17th of December 2019 in Shanghai, China.




The closely related processes of urbanization and globalization are two of the defining trends of the 21st century. The current scale and intensity of urbanization and globalization are unprecedented in human history. Not only are people flocking to cities but, at the same time, cities are becoming more integrated into increasingly globalized networks of exchange. This has brought about huge social and environmental transformations, most noticeable in the past few decades. As humanity continues along this path, these changes may come to affect many, if not all, communities worldwide. Urbanization and globalization in today’s world have profoundly impacted the environment, economic prosperity, culture, as well as human health. They have created some of the world’s greatest social and economic challenges.
Many of the processes conditioning contemporary urbanization and globalization, particularly their material and technological dimensions, are deeply rooted in the ancient world. The earliest cities developed in Mesopotamia, the Nile valley, the Mediterranean, the Indus valley, and China five to six thousand years ago, yet only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities by the beginning of the 19th century. This number, however, rose rapidly to 30% in 1950 and today, 55% of the global population lives in cities, spurred primarily by large-scale migration. Cities continue to grow globally and locally. The urban population worldwide is expected to increase to 70% by 2050 which will likely lead to the development of many more megalopolises.
Urbanization is often associated with globalization. Cities have always been essential to the long-distance movement of people, goods, and ideas in a cascading effect that has accelerated urban growth. Globalization results in the expansion of cultural, economic, and political activities internationally. As a process of interaction and integration among people, communities, cultures, and states, globalization is not a new phenomenon. It predates the 1980s, the so-called first era of globalization of the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution (which led to exponentially accelerated urbanization), and even Columbus’s voyage to the New World at the end of the 15th century. Globalization has a long history that stretches back thousands of years, as seen in the Silk Road across Eurasia during the Middle Ages, the late Bronze Age Mediterranean, the spread of Greek culture with the conquest by Alexander the Great, and many more instances.
Archaeology provides evidence not only of the material culture and social practices of urbanization and globalization in the past but also provides a substantial time depth from a range of cultural settings to enrich our understanding of both the temporal and geographical extent of globalization and urbanization. Unforeseen consequences of contemporary globalization and urbanization can emerge sometimes decades, and/or even centuries later. Studying the historical processes of globalization and urbanization from the long-term and comparative perspectives may elucidate how these trends evolved over time and how our human societies became systematically connected. Such a study can provide deep insights into the variations, interrelated processes, and long-term consequences of urbanization and globalization, and help engage us towards more sustainable development for our collective global future.




The 4th Shanghai Archaeology Forum had three primary objectives: (1) to celebrate the excellence of archaeological research by presenting the SAF Awards to those individuals and organizations that have achieved distinction through major discoveries and producing innovative, creative, and rigorous works within the past two years (2017-2019); (2) to promote interdisciplinary and comparative studies of globalization and urbanization in the past; and (3) to encourage active engagement with scholars across different continents and disciplines as well as the public in addressing the challenges of urbanization and globalization for our collective future.
About 400 scholars from 46 countries across the world from archaeology and other relevant disciplines participated in the 4th Shanghai Archaeology Forum to engage in discussion regarding challenges related to the study of globalization and urbanization from both long-term and comparative perspectives. The discussion placed emphasis on, but was not limited to, the following issues: urban identities and social practices of ancient cities, religion and urbanism, technologies and urbanism, the complexities of social-cultural connectivities across different geographic and temporal scales through material culture, the intersections of urban (or local) and global forces, comparative studies of ancient cities and past globalization, theorizing of past urbanization and globalization, and the significance and relevance of past globalization and urbanization in today’s society and the future.