In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can range from a small number of dwellings grouped together to the largest of cities with surrounding urbanized areas. Settlements may include hamlets, villages, towns and cities. A settlement may have known historical properties such as the date or era in which it was first settled, or first settled by particular people.
A settlement conventionally includes its constructed facilities such as roads, enclosures, field systems, boundary banks and ditches, ponds, parks and woods, wind and water mills, manor houses, moats and churches.
The oldest remains that have been found of constructed dwellings are remains of huts that were made of mud and branches around 17,000 BC at the Ohalo site (now underwater) near the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The Natufians built houses, also in the Levant, around 10,000 BC. Remains of settlements such as villages become much more common after the invention of agriculture.
Landscape history studies the form (morphology) of settlements - for example whether they are dispersed or nucleated. Urban morphology can thus be considered a special type of cultural-historical landscape studies. Settlements can be ordered by size, centrality or other factors to define a settlement hierarchy. A settlement hierarchy can be used for classifying settlement all over the world, although a settlement called a 'town' in one country might be a 'village' in other countries; or a 'large town' in some countries might be a 'city' in others.
The Agency for Statistics in Bosnia and Herzegovina uses the term "populated place" for rural, and "municipality" and "town" for urban areas.
The Bulgarian Government publishes a National Register of Populated places (NRPP).
There are various types of inhabited localities in Russia.
The UK Department for Communities and Local Government uses the term "urban settlement" to denote an urban area when analysing census information. The Registrar General for Scotland defines settlements as groups of one or more contiguous localities, which are determined according to population density and postcode areas. The Scottish settlements are used as one of several factors defining urban areas.
Populated places may be specifically defined in the context of censuses and be different from general-purpose administrative entities, such as "place" as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau or census-designated places.
The Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) framework produces global spatial information about the human presence on the planet over time. This in the form of built up maps, population density maps and settlement maps. This information is generated with evidence-based analytics and knowledge using new spatial data mining technologies. The framework uses heterogeneous data including global archives of fine-scale satellite imagery, census data, and volunteered geographic information. The data is processed fully automatically and generates analytics and knowledge reporting objectively and systematically about the presence of population and built-up infrastructures. The GHSL operates in an open and free data and methods access policy (open input, open method, open output).
Populated places can be abandoned. Sometimes the structures are still easily accessible, such as in a ghost town, and these may become tourist attractions. Some places that have the appearance of a ghost town, however, may still be defined as populated places by government entities.
A town may become a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, because of a government action, such as the building of a dam that floods the town, or because of natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, uncontrolled lawlessness, or war. The term is sometimes used to refer to cities, towns, and neighborhoods that are still populated, but significantly less so than in years past.