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Cities on Pre-Columbian Roads

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Document pages: 36 pages

Abstract: To what extent features of pre-colonial societies determine the geographical distribution of economic activity in the Americas? This paper provides evidence that modern cities in southern Brazil concentrate around a pre-Columbian road. Historical accounts suggest that the Peabiru, as this road was called, was an important factor in explaining the location of the first European settlements, so this concentration is suggestive of path dependence. In order to separate the causal effects of the road from any geographical fundamentals that could be correlated with it, I use the XVIIth century abandonment of Spanish settlements after a slave raid as an event that could have interrupted persistence. I show that closeness to the Peabiru is associated with higher population density and urbanization only in the region that was never abandoned; there is no effect in the area where the Spanish settlement ocurred. The results are consistent with an interpretation that the long-run effects on urbanization are due to path dependence from the pre-colonial distribution of economic activity.

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