Map Monday: Population growth – and shrinkage – over the millenia

We all know – well, most of us know – that the human species has roamed the Earth for a very long time. A fascinating interactive population map at Our World in Data provides us with lots of data to show us where centers of population have flourished, and then sometimes decreased, over thousands of years. These maps are another way of looking at mankind’s history on our planet.

I’ve taken screen shots at various points in time to give you a flavour of the ebbs and flows of population growth throughout history. The online interactive map actually starts way back in 10,000 BCE, but there’s not much action prior to 6,000 BCE, except, interestingly, not only what is now Israel and Lebanon but also what are now parts of Nepal, Bangladesh, and Mexico. If you go to the interactive map you can also scan the map with your mouse to see detailed information about each country at any point in time, as I’ve captured in this screen shot. Fascinating stuff. [Click on any of the maps below for a more detailed view.]

MM-Popln-zoomin

Now let’s take a look at world population growth through time, using these sample points in time.

MM-Popln-6000BC

MM-Popln-4000BC

MM-Popln-2000BC

MM-Popln-1000BC

MM-Popln-0AD

MM-Popln-1500

Notice in the map above the population density in Central and South America in 1500, and then look at what had happened within 100 years, after European ‘explorers’ had arrived with their diseases and guns.

MM-Popln-1600

The American War of Independence from Britain may have happened in 1776, but it wasn’t because of a significant growth in population!

MM-Popln-1770

At the time of the American Civil War their population density had increased, and Central and South America were starting to regain their extraordinary losses due to the invaders/conquerors.

MM-Popln-1861

World population at the end of World War II.

MM-Popln-1947

And, our recent population numbers.

MM-Popln-2018

Food for thought? Where do we go from here?!!

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25 Responses to Map Monday: Population growth – and shrinkage – over the millenia

  1. Jean says:

    The biggest difference is not population density /growth at all. But man’s self-inflated importance with technology, bad habits (too much car dependency), etc. to destroy the environment, ripping up good farmland/putting pressure on farmers, etc. People are simply preferring to live in certain areas of the world, CAnada which looks like more people. I get fed up with people complaining immigrants causing pressure on resources/budget….oh yea, who are the health care workers, grocery/restaurant workers…. and then we see more people preferring to live in cities/towns not in rural areas. Just ask any young person/graduate. (Though remote work options can change that.) If one can imagine IF CAnada nor US were not full of immigrants and their multiple generations, then other countries would be even more congested/under pressure. Now we have war going on…weapons of our own destruction.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for your several important observations, Jean. I agree completely with your points about what the planet’s big issues are (to which we can add 100% unjustifiable war). But those population maps are value-neutral. They’re just showing the density of people living in different parts of the world over many thousands of years. A denser population on its own isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is a less dense population. I venture to say that advances in (medical) technology have had a positive impact on the number of people alive, but, as you say, man-made climate change is likely to have an increasingly negative impact of numbers. Climate change (and war) will also have a significant impact on immigration numbers.

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Mexico puzzles me. They certainly had ancient settlements but I hadn’t realised they had such a density of population.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I agree. That level of density surprised me, as did the level of density in Nepal and Bangladesh, especially Nepal. It’s astounding what we’re never taught, especially if it’s not Eurocentric.

  3. Fascinating, Jane. I didn’t realize how densely populated Mexico and Central America were so long ago. It will indeed be interesting to see where we go from here!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know. I love continuing to learn the real, full story of human history as posed to how we were taught it. And you’re right, it’ll be “interesting” to see where we go from here.

  4. kegarland says:

    These are always so fascinating!

  5. Wynne Leon says:

    Fascinating! What an eye-opening look at history, growth and spread. Thanks for a great post, Jane!

  6. heimdalco says:

    I keep wondering how the huge number of deaths from COVID world wide have effected the global population. Have you seen any estimates on that? Surely the number of reported deaths globally have to have had some effect. I’ve wondered about this for quite a while, especially since fatality numbers have continued to rise. Thanks for this interesting post. It certainly makes us think …

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, good point about the impact of COVID on populations. Blogger Country Girl wondered the same thing. Between pandemics, man-made climate change, and wars, continual increases aren’t a given!

  7. Down, I hope! Not sure what our ideal population would be, but it’s way too high now. What do you think? Three billion? Fewer?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Well, I certainly agree with you that we’re already past the sustainable level, especially thanks to man-made climate change. Climate change is destroying the ability of those in the most need to grow food, live with the heat, or have enough water to sustain life. I have no idea what a sustainable level of population is, but unless climate change can be halted immediately the number will keep decreasing. And it’s the parts of the world that contributed the least to climate change, and that uses the fewest resources, that will suffer the most.

  8. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    An interesting look at populations over the centuries, thanks Jane.

  9. I have always enjoyed your maps but in this case I actually think some of these may be incorrect. From a couple of History courses I have taken there is consideration being given to revising some of these. Some Historians now have reason to believe that the US in particular may have had a larger population than Europe when we first stumbled here and there is increasing evidence of large populations in the Amazon area of South America.
    It is quite interesting though to note the larger increases in moderate and warn climates versus the colder ones. And now of course in our highly mobile society population densities change rather dramatically in the cold climes when winter sets in and the warm South calls.
    I have also read some amazing stats about falling birth rates and it will be interesting in centuries to come to see those impacts.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Well, perhaps there are errors – more facts continue to be found, of course – but this is data provided by the UN and the World Bank, so I doubt it. I believe that the large population in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans was concentrated far more densely south of what’s now the U.S. and don’t forget, it’s a map of population density within the geographical borders, not pure population. There’s far more space in what’s now the U.S. than in Europe, so the population density will be lower regardless.

  10. A very good lesson and I’m anxious to see the map for the United States today after the immigration to the U.S. after Covid and all of the turmoil across the seas.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Boy, that’s a good point, Rita. COVID deaths and strict immigration limits will have had an impact on populations in several countries. Not sure how many people have stopped to think about that. Everything has consequences!

  11. Thank you for this. That’s a well researched article from your side. No matter what, world population is still on the rise as if nothing can stop it.

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