All roads lead from Rome, according to a visual history of human culture built entirely from the birth and death places of notable people. The 5-minute animation provides a fresh view of the movements of humanity over the last 2,600 years.
Maximilian Schich, an art historian at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues used the Google-owned knowledge base, Freebase, to find 120,000 individuals who were notable enough in their life-times that the dates and locations of their births and deaths were recorded.
The team used those data to create a movie that starts in 600 bc and ends in 2012. Each person’s birth place appears on a map of the world as a blue dot and their death as a red dot. The result is a way to visualize cultural history — as a city becomes more important, more notable people die there. The work that the animated map is based on was reported on 31 July in Science1.
The animation reflects some of what was known already. Rome gave way to Paris as a cultural centre, which was eventually overtaken by Los Angeles and New York. But it also puts figures and dates on these shifts — and allows for precise comparisons. For example, the data suggest that Paris overtook Rome as a cultural hub in 1789.