Urban Founding Date Time Lag or What do Founding Dates Mean?

Many cities have “official” founding dates like 1797 for Baltimore, 1237 for Berlin, 332 BC for Alexandria Egypt and 753 BC for Rome (some sources give April 21, 753 BC as the date). Yet archaeologists keep finding evidence of human settlements before these dates (sometimes well before these dates).

Today it was Berlin (see Berlin dig finds city older than thought), earlier it was Rome (see Tomb dating from 10th century B.C. found in Caesar’s Forum) and even Alexandria (Ancient Alexandria Older than We Thought?).

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to see a pattern. Clearly the founding dates aren’t initial settlement, but dates when it gets founded as a political entity (or gets rededicated as a capital). For instance, 1797 is the date when Baltimore incorporated itself as a city – there had actually been multiple settlements at the head of the Patapsco River almost a century before that (which is how Baltimore got to host the Continental Congress in the Revolutionary War even though it didn’t exist yet).

I’m glad that archaeologists are figuring out that founding dates don’t mean initial settlement, but I’m intrigued that we continue to be “shocked” by this. The older cities are merely following a pattern found even in North American cities. If you do live in the U.S. and Canada, look up the founding date of your local municipality some time – chances are there were European settlers in the area at least a few years before an actual incorporation date. Apparently the founding date time lag is a time-honored tradition.

In case you were wondering, the Pilgrims were not the first people from England to visit New England. The native tribes had been contact with English traders before 1620, which is how Squanto (or Tisquantum) was able to learn enough English to communicate with the settlers. He actually sailed with John Smith of Pocahontas legend  (OK I really didn’t know that before today).

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