Becoming urban is widely recognized as one of the great turning points of human societies across history. Urbanism afforded economies of scale, cultural entanglements, and environmental exchanges, leading to social and material complexity, which are at the core of today’s civilization. This paper argues that a new approach to urban archaeology may establish a more coherent view of urbanism as a defining expression of complex societies. Emerging applications of isotopic, biomolecular, and geoarchaeological methods are transforming archaeology’s ability to read the scale and pace of events and processes in urban stratigraphies. These methods hold the potential to create a ‘high-definition’ view of the past, integrating scientific techniques with contextual archaeological and historical approaches. Redefining urbanism as a network dynamic, such an approach may unleash new forms of data that are able to significantly test, challenge, and revise narratives of particular urban sites as well as fundamental assumptions about trajectories, dynamics, and causal conditions of urbanism.