The Oldest Civilizations In Human History

After thousands of years of living as a nomadic, hunter-gatherer species, there came a time when humans learned to work the land and domesticate animals in order to stay in one place. This allowed the first civilizations to form, which consisted of groups of people working together to live in the first-ever societies. As time passed, these small civilizations grew and evolved to become incredibly advanced and thriving empires that there is still evidence of today. Take a look to see which of them are the oldest and what made them so impressive.

Mesopotamia Was Where Civilization Began

Relief of Mesopotamia
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Regarded as the first civilization to emerge from human history, the Mesopotamian civilization was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers around what is today modern Iraq, Kuwait, parts of Syria, and Turkey. The region is known for its fertile land, making it an excellent place to begin practicing early forms of agriculture and animal domestication dating back to 10,000 BC.

Mesopotamia is also known for “inspiring some of the most important developments in human history, including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops, and the development of a cursive script, mathematics, astronomy, and agriculture.”

The Indus Valley Civilization Had Highly Complex Cities

Remains of Indus Valley city
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, was a Bronze Age civilization that lasted from 3,300 BC to 13,000 BC. Alongside ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilizations in the regions of North Africa West Asia and South Asia.

Of the three, it was the most widespread, ranging from northeast Afghanistan through Pakistan, and even parts of India. The Indus Valley cities are regarded for its complex urban planning, with some of the larger cities being home to up to 60,000 people.

The Incan Empire Was Beyond Massive

Picture of Machu Picchu
Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Incan Empire was the largest pre-Columbian empire in South America. It was located in present-day Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, with its epicenter being in Cusco, which is in Peru. Although there were many forms of worship, the Incas encouraged the worship of the sun god Inti, and believed that their king, the Sapa Inca, was the “sun of the sun.”

However, the Incas are also known for lacking many features of older civilizations, such as the use of the wheel, a writing system, iron, and steel, yet still managed to build one of the greatest empires in human history. They left behind many architectural wonders such as Machu Picchu and the city of Cusco.

Jiahu Was A Small But Complex Settlement

Old flute
SASCHA SCHUERMANN/DDP/AFP via Getty Images
SASCHA SCHUERMANN/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

Jiahu was the location of a Neolithic settlement of ancient China near the Yellow River. Upon its discovery, archaeologists have claimed that the settlement is one of the earliest examples of the Peilgang culture. The settlement was founded around 7000 BC, although it was eventually flooded and abandoned around 5700 BC.

Regarded as a “complex, highly organized Chinese Neolithic society,” it is believed to have had anywhere between 250 and 800 inhabitants. At the site, archeologists have uncovered symbols that appear to be examples of proto-writing, and what is believed to be some of the oldest playable instruments and earliest types of wine.

Aboriginal Australians Might Be The Oldest Civilization On The Planet

Tattooing a chief
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Although many people claim that Mesopotamia is the oldest civilization in history, some researchers argue that Aboriginal Australians hold that title. Aboriginal Australians are the various indigenous people of the Australian mainland and its surrounding islands such as Tasmania, Fraser Island, Hinchinbrook Island, the Tiwi Island, and Groote Eylandt.

These indigenous people have populated Australia for over 50,000 years, and it’s believed that modern Aboriginal people are the direct descendant of migrants who left Africa 75,000 years ago. They have occupied the same territory longer than any other human population, establishing an impressive culture over thousands of years.

The Maya Were Masters Of Mathematics

Mayan fresco
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed in an area that is now southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and the western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The term “Maya” is used to refer to the people of the region, although it was not used by the Mayans themselves as there was no collective identity among the various populations of the area.

With the civilization lasting from 2000 BC until the Spanish conquest, the Mayan civilization is considered to be one of the most advanced of all time. They are held in regard for their strides in mathematics, astronomy, architecture, culture, and the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been deciphered.

Ancient Egypt Was Truly Spectacular

Egyptian tomb
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images
Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Ancient Egypt is arguably one of the most well-known and researched ancient civilizations in the world. From its unification around 3,100 BC until the conquest of Alexander the Great, Egypt was the most impressive civilization in the area around the Mediterranean. Relying heavily on the Nile River, ancient Egypt was an incredibly fertile area, allowing its population to flourish.

The ancient Egyptians are also known for their accomplishments in architecture, such as the Great Pyramids and other monuments, a system of writing and mathematics, the arts, and numerous other technical fields. After reaching its height during the New Kingdom period, it began to slowly decline until it fell to the Roman Empire in 30 BC.

The Norte Chico Civilization

Aerial shot of Norte Chico architecture
Pinterest/Ancient Origins
Pinterest/Ancient Origins

The Norte Chico civilization was a pre-Columbian society that had established more than 30 settlements in the now Norte Chico region of central coastal Peru. The civilization boomed from 4,000 BC to 2,000 BC, and it’s believed that its first city was established around 3,500 BC.

However, it’s agreed that from 3,100 onward, the civilization was in full swing, and since the early 21st century, it has been considered the oldest-known civilization in the Americas. Surprisingly, the Norte Chico civilization had no ceramics and almost no visual art. However, they were highly skilled in architecture, making large earthwork platform mounds and plazas.

The Romans Changed The World

Rome in the evening
Dani Salva / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Dani Salva / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ancient Rome is a civilization that began with the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. Rome grew to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world with an estimated 50 to 90 million subjects and covered more than three million miles.

Besides being one of the largest empires, Ancient Rome is revered for its countless contributions to politics, religion, language, the arts, mathematics, engineering, and more. Out of Rome also came some of the most well-known names in history such as Julius Caesar.

The Persians Built The Largest Ancient Empire

Cyrus entering a city
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Beginning in 550 BC, the Persian Empire was forged by a series of Persian kings beginning with Cyrus II, who began drastically expanding the kingdom. Between 550 and 331 BC, Cyrus II had built the largest empire ever recorded in ancient history. The empire covers what is now Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Northern India, and areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

The early Persian Empire was known for its tolerant belief system, as well as great advances in architecture, metalworks, and military tactics. They also left behind the Royal Road, which ran from the Aegean Sea to Iran, connecting several cities over 1,500 miles.

The Aztecs Were Masters Of Architecture

Aztec pyramid
Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although the Aztecs weren’t considered to be an ancient civilization by European standards, they are still one of the earliest and most organized civilizations in the Americas. It was a Mesoamerican culture in central Mexico that thrived from 1300 to 1521.

The Aztec culture was divided into city-states, with the Aztec Empire, which was established in 1427, was a grouping of three major city-states. The Aztecs were highly skilled in agriculture and trade and were renowned for their architecture, which is considered to be some of the finest ever constructed in the Americas.

The Ancient Greeks Paved The Way For Western Society

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Ancient Greece DEA/BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/Getty Images
Ancient Greece DEA/BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/Getty Images

Ancient Greece was a civilization that began with the Greek Dark Ages (12th-9th century BC) until the end of antiquity in 600 AD. Three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, cities began to form and populate areas around the Mediterranean Basin.

Classical Greek culture had a significant influence on ancient Rome, which then carried into other parts of the Mediterranean Basin as well as Europe. Because of this, Greece is considered to be the foundation for Western society in terms of religion, philosophy, government, education, art, and more.

The Danubian Culture Is Still A Great Mystery

Skeleton with gold
Pinterest/Snapshots of History
Pinterest/Snapshots of History

Before even the ancient Egyptians built their massive pyramids, there was a nameless civilization that dates back to 5500 BC, located near the Balkan foothills and the Lower Danube Valley. Now referred to as the Danubian culture, over 1,500 years, these people raised towns and were perhaps the most advanced civilization of their time.

The society was known for creating “goddess” figurines and burying their dead with costly treasures. Although not much is known about the civilization, it’s clear that it came to a screeching halt after mass graves were discovered around the time the culture began to disappear.

The Ancient Chinese Were Ahead Of Their Time

Chinese pottery
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although China has always been one of the more prominent and progressive societies throughout history, it had humble beginnings like many others. Although they started in small neolithic villages, it wasn’t long before civilization began to form along the Yellow River in 1600 BC.

Over time, the ancient Chinese were the first to weave silk, press paper, as well as invent the compass, printing press, discover gun powder, and more. Although the Chinese civilization has drastically changed over time, it remains one of the world’s longest-lasting civilizations.

The Minoans Were One Of The First Advanced Civilizations In Europe

Palace of Knossos
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Located on the island of Crete and other Aegean islands, the Minoan civilization flourished from 1200 BC to around 1450 BC before finally coming to an end in 1100 BC. It is considered to be one of the first advanced civilizations in Europe and left behind impressive buildings, artwork, writing systems, and more for us to analyze.

The civilization was rediscovered in the early 20th century and amazed archaeologists with its massive palaces complete with plumbing systems and intricate decorations. On top of their skill in architecture, the Minoans also had a vast trade network that went so far as the old Kingdom of Egypt

The “Ain Ghazal Culture Went From Hunter-Gatherers To A Society

Plaster Statue
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

‘Ain Ghazal, which translates to mean “the spring of the gazelle” in modern Arabic, was a neolithic society beginning in 7200 BC that is a perfect example of the transition from hunter-gatherer communities to staying in one place. The ‘Ain Ghazal civilization emerged from this shift in what is now modern-day Jordan.

It’s believed that the first major settlement had around 3,000 people and would survive for centuries. The area settled was decorated in figures made from plaster, and would even put the plaster on the faces of their dead. Today, this culture is studied by researchers to see how early civilizations were formed.

The Çatalhöyük Settlement Is A Sight To Behold

Woman investigating remains
Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Established around 7500 BC, the Çatalhöyük settlement is built on the Konya Plain in Turkey. The Çatalhöyük settlement is most notable for being an incredibly old example of an urban civilization that primarily relied on agriculture in order to survive, possibly the oldest in the world.

With no windows or doors except an entrance through the roof, the Çatalhöyük houses were grouped together like modern neighborhoods. The city also showed little distinction in social class, lacking monuments or bigger houses, leading researchers to assume that the community was based on equality.

The Phoenicians Took To The Sea

Phoenician ship
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Existing around 3200 BC, the Phoenicians were an ancient civilization that was known for its culture centering around sailing and trade. The society was split up among city-states that were located on the Mediterranean coastlines of Northern Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

On top of being some of the best shipbuilders at that point in history, they were also incredible navigators, able to reach ports as far away as Mesopotamia and even Britain. On top of bringing riches and goods on their ship, it’s also believed that the Phoenicians brought the alphabet to Greece.

The Hattians Lived In Modern-Day Turkey

Old Hattian ruins
Pinterest/Mango Purdy
Pinterest/Mango Purdy

The Hattians were an ancient people that lived in central Anatolia, which is modern-day Turkey. They were believed to date back as far as the empire of Sargon of Akkad (around 2300 BC), before being absorbed by the Indo-European Hittites.

The Hattians were organized into city-states and small kingdoms, which were ruled in a theocratic fashion. The Hattian religion has traces to the Stone Age and involved worshiping the Earth who takes the shape of a mother goddess, and it’s believed that the people survived up until the 14th century BC.

The Osirian Civilization Vanished

Osirian pillars
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Believed to have predated the ancient Egyptians, the Osirian civilization existed in the Mediterranean region, although not much is known about it. However, it is believed that they managed to build the first earthquake-resistant buildings in the area.

Much like the rumored city of Atlantis, it is believed that the city was washed away by the Mediterranean, and there is little left for historians to study. The Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are believed to have stemmed from the Osirians.

The Mongol Empire Essentially Ruled The World

Painting of Genghis Khan
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous land empire in human history. Forming in Mongolia in East Asia, the empire eventually expanded from Eastern Europe and other parts of Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, as far as to parts of the Arctic, as well as the Indian subcontinent, Mainland Southeast Asia, and the Iranian Plateau.

The empire was forged under the unification of several Mongol nomadic tribes under the leadership of Genghis Khan, and vastly grew under his successors who were known for their ruthlessness and skill in warfare.

The Aegean Civilization Is Associated With The Bronze Age

Bronze Age daggers
Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Aegean civilization is a blanket term for the Bronze Age civilizations of Greece located around the Aegean Sea. They are defined by the three interacting geographical regions that include Crete, the Cyclades and the Greek mainland.

Crete is associated with the Minoan civilization from the Early Bronze Age, the Cyclades are associated with the mainland during the Minyan period and with Crete in the Middle Minoan period. Impressively, the Aegean farming groups brought agriculture to Western Europe before 5,000 BC.

The Ancestral Puebloans Were Skilled Housmakers

Puebloan Ruins
Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Dating back from 7000 – 1500 BCE, the Ancestral Puebloans were an ancient Native American culture that lived in an area spanning the present Four Corners region of the United States comprising of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. They are believed to have developed from the Oshara Tradition, and therefore the Picosa culture.

They are known for living in a series of structures from small family houses to grand pueblos, usually along cliffs for defense. They were also knowledgeable in celestial science which they demonstrated in their architecture.

The Chavín Culture Is Named After An Archeological Site

Relief of Chavin warrior
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

The Chavín culture is an extinct, pre-Columbian civilization named after Chavín de Huantar, the leading archaeological site where artifacts have been discovered. The culture was developed from 900 BC to 200 BC in the northern Andean highlands of Peru, extending their influence along the coast.

The Chavín de Huantar is believed to have been built around 900 BC and acted as the religious and political center of the Chavín people. Today, it has been established as a Unesco Wolrd Heritage Site.

Ancient Carthage Was A Maritime Power

Painting of the Carthaginians
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Ancient Carthage was an ancient city-state and civilization located in what is now modern-day Tunisia. The civilization was founded in 814 BC as a colony of Tyre, yet over the years, it grew to develop into what we now call the Carthaginian Empire.

They were known as a major maritime power that dominated much of the western Mediterranean until the mid-third century BC. Their power also led to conflict with several other cultures, including Rome, resulting in the Punic Wars (264-146 BC), which almost led to Rome’s destruction.

The Thule Developed Canada

Old Thule Settlement
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Thule, otherwise known as the proto-Inuit were the ancestors of all modern Inuit culture. By 1,000 AD, they had developed in coastal Alaska, eventually reaching Greenland by the 13th century.

During this period, they replaced the earlier Dorest culture with the name “Thule” originating from the location of Thule in northwest Greenland, facing Canada where archaeological remains of the people were first found at Comer’s Midden. The connection between the Thule and the Inuit are linguistic, biological, and cultural.

Yayoi Culture Is Part Of Ancient Japan

Thatch house
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Yayoi culture, ranging from 300 BC to 250 AD, is a prehistoric Japanese culture following the Jōmon culture. It is named after the district in Tokyo where the first artifacts were found in 1884. Originally, the culture came from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu before spreading northeast toward the Kantō Plain.

The culture is notable for their thatch houses and skill in the arts including pottery and bronze and iron casting. They also developed a wet paddy rice cultivation, although they also continued the hunting and shell gathering of the Jōomon culture.

The Badarian Culture Helped Establish Agriculture In Egypt

Badarian pottery
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images

The Badarian Culture flourished between 4400 and 4000 BC, although they may have existed as far back as 5000 BC. They are the earliest evidence of agriculture in Upper Egypt during the Predynastic Era with around 40 settlements and six hundred graves being located up to this point.

Their economy was based on living off of the land as well as domesticated animals and used tools such as axes, sickles, and even arrowheads. Many of those found buried were buried in the same manner, looking west towards the land of the dead and were buried with pottery.

The Dawenkou Culture Loved Their Precious Stones

Jade Axes
Museum of East Asian Art/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Museum of East Asian Art/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The Dawenkou culture is a name given by archaeologists to a group of Neolithic communities that mostly existed in Shandong, but have also proved to have lived in Anhui, Henan, and Jiangsu, China as well.

Existing between 4100 BC to 2600 BC, the culture is known for its vast amounts of turquoise, ivory, and jade artifacts found at many of these sites. The culture has been divided into three phases by archeologists known as the first phase, second phase, and the third phase, in which they were able to see the people’s evolution.

The Argaric Culture Were Masters Of Bronze

Bronze necklace
DEA / G. NIMATALLAH/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. NIMATALLAH/De Agostini via Getty Images

Named after the site El Argar near the town of Antas in southwestern Spain, El Argar was an Early Bronze Age culture that existed between 2200 BC and 1550 BC. They are regarded for their early adoption of bronze, which allowed them to dominate the less industrious Copper Age peoples.

They are also known for their skill with pottery and ceramic goods that they were known to trade with other Mediterranean tribes. The culture was also advanced in mining, bring up bronze, silver, and gold from the earth for tools, weapons, and jewelry.