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Scientists Map Out Humanity's Cultural History in Fascinating Study [VIDEOS]

Aug 01, 2014 11:58 AM EDT

Scientists from Northeastern University have mapped out in fascinating detail humanity's cultural history in North America and Europe using the sites where notable people were born and died.

The study, published in the journal Science, looks at the geographical movements of 150,000 "notable intellectuals" throughout their lifetime to create a map of mobility over the past 2,000 years.

Based on their findings, it turns out that all roads do lead to Rome. The popular city was identified as one of the major cultural hubs over two millennia until Paris took over after the late 18th century, which then gave way to New York and Los Angeles.

The results also show that most intellectuals died in these cultural centers than anywhere else - regardless of where they were born.

"By tracking the migration of notable individuals for over two millennia, we could for the first time explore the boom and bust of the cultural centers of the world," co-author Albert László Barabási, director of Northeastern's Center for Complex Network Research, explained in a university release.

"The observed rapid changes offer a fascinating view of the transience of intellectual supremacy."

Using the Google-owned knowledge base called Freebase, researchers compiled a list of 150,000 intellectuals they were going to use for this study. It includes people ranging from Solon, the Greek lawmaker and poet, who was born in 637 BC in Athens, and died in 557 BC in Cyprus, to Jett Travolta - son of actor John Travolta - who was born in 1992 in Los Angeles, California, and died in 2009 in the Bahamas, the Huffington Post reported.

Lead author Maximilian Schich and his colleagues also viewed their data in the context of data from the Google Ngram Viewer, which shows how often certain common words or phrases were used at any given time, as well as identified events that may have led to the expanding and diminishing importance of some of these hubs.

The research team used that data to create a five-minute video that starts in 600 BC and ends in 2012. Each person's birthplace appears on a map of the world as a blue dot and their death as a red dot, providing people with a way to visualize humanity's cultural history.

[ Maximilian Schich and Mauro Martino, 2014 ]

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