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Rural settlements underlie today's cities and still hold over half the world's population. This text excavates the changing forms and functions of these settlements, exploring their origins, development and their future. Settlement is the physical reflection of the social organization of space. Starting with the human dwelling, settlement aggregates into farmsteads, hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Patterns of development can be traced, contours by which a history of a land and its people can be read. Illustrated with photographs, maps and figures, the book firstly presents detailed case studies of specific sites in both the developed and developing worlds in order to distill the underlying processes behind rural settlement systems, and then builds on this to analyze settlement patterns on the continental and global scales.