Oldest Civilizations in the World

7 Oldest Civilizations in the World

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While the earliest hominid or human like species first appeared around 2 million years ago, early homo sapiens, or modern humans, are relatively young – they first appeared in Africa around 200,00 years ago. For thousands of years after homo sapiens first appeared, early man laid the foundations for what would eventually become human civilization by developing agriculture, weaponry, art, social structure, and politics. Although the Mesopotamians are typically considered the very first urban civilization in the world, several earlier peoples developed complex societies and cultures that can also be classified as civilizations and they have been included on this list.  

7. Ancient Egyptians (c. 3,150 BCE – 332 BCE)

Location: Nile River Valley of Egypt
Notable Achievements: The Great Pyramids

Ancient Egyptiansphoto source:< Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Egyptian civilization is traditionally stated to have started around 3,150 BCE when King Menes unified Upper and Lower Egypt and established a capital city at White Walls (later called Memphis). Egyptians are perhaps the most well known of the ancient civilizations and while they made several social, cultural, and political advancements, they are best known for creating The Great Pyramids, which have stood the test of time and remain one of the great wonders of the world.

The ancient Egyptians developed construction techniques that enabled them to build massive monuments such as pyramids, temples, and obelisks. Some of their other achievements include creating a system of mathematics, a practical and effective system of medicine, irrigation systems, the first known planked boats, glass technology, and new forms of literature. Egyptian culture left a lasting legacy on the world and many things we use today were first developed by the ancient Egyptians such as mints, paper, door locks, alarm clocks, concrete, and much more.  


6. Norte Chico (c. 4,000 BCE – c. 1,800 BCE)  

Location: Peru
Notable Achievements: Monumental architecture including sunken circular plazas and earthwork platform mounds  

Norte Chicophoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Norte Chico civilization (also called Caral or Caral-supe civilization) is considered to be the oldest known civilization that existed in the Americas. The formation of the civilization’s first city happened around 3,500 BCE and from this time until a period of decline around 1,800 BCE, the Norte Chico people flourished. The Norte Chico civilization is a pre-ceramic culture as archaeologists have found no ceramic remains and almost no visual art.

However, the Norte Chico people are known for their monumental architecture which includes large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas (such as the one pictured above). In Caral, the city for which the civilization gets its other name, a total of six pyramids have been discovered.  


5. Mesopotamians (c. 6,500 BCE – 539 BCE) 

Location: Ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq)
Notable Achievements: Invention of the wheel  

Mesopotamiansphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Around 10,000 BCE, some of the first fully developed Neolithic cultures began to settle in the fertile crescent, which includes Mesopotamia. Around 8,000 BCE, people in northern Mesopotamia began to cultivate barley and wheat, which they used to make beer, gruel, soup, and eventually bread.

During the time known as the Ubaid Period (c. 6,500 – 3,800 BCE), the earliest signs of civilization began as agriculture and animal husbandry were widely practiced in sedentary communities. This gave rise to the Sumerians, who are credited as the first urban civilization in the world. The Sumerians were the first to develop trade and establish industries such as weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.

One of greatest achievements of ancient Mesopotamia was the invention of the wheel sometime around 3,500 BCE – evidence suggests that they were first used for making pottery and not for transportation.  


4. Jiahu (c. 7,000 BCE – 5,700 BCE) 

Location: Henan, China
Notable Achievements: Jiahu symbols, one of the earliest examples of writing  

Jiahuphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Jiahu was a settlement located in the central plain of ancient China and the people who lived there developed some of the earliest aspects of Chinese culture. The Jiahu culture is often mentioned with the Peiligang culture, as archaeologists cannot agree whether or not the Jiahu people were a part of the larger group of Peiligang. However, there is evidence that they were two seperate cultures that developed around the same time. For example, the people of Jiahu cultivated rice while the Peiligang did not and the Jiahu settlement existed for several hundred years before the first Peiligang settlements popped up.

The Jiahu are also known for producing the world’s oldest wine, some of the earliest playable music (lots of flutes have been found at Jiahu), and perhaps the earliest example of Chinese writing. The Jiahu symbols are 16 distinct markings found on prehistoric artifacts and are believed to have been indicative of sign usage rather than systematic writing.  


3. ‘Ain Ghazal (c. 7,200 BCE – 5,000 BCE)

Location: Ayn Ghazal (modern-day Amman, Jordan)
Notable Achievements: ‘Ain Ghazal statues   

'Ain Ghazal photo source: Wikimedia Commons 

‘Ain Ghazal was an early farming community and its people are known for creating some of the earliest  statues of the human form. The figures are made out of plaster and consist of full statues and busts that depict men, women, and children. A total of 15 statues and 15 busts were found in two separate caches, separated by about 200 years. In addition to creating the statues, the people of ‘Ain Ghazal were farmers who domesticated wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. They also hunted wild animals such as gazelle, deer, pigs, foxes, and hares.


2. Çatalhöyük (c. 7,500 BCE – 5,700 BCE) 

Location: Southern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey)
Notable Achievements: One of the earliest urban settlements   

Çatalhöyükphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The settlement of Çatalhöyük is one of the oldest urban settlements and one of the most well-preserved Neolithic settlements. Excavations of the site have revealed evidence of prehistoric social organization and cultural practices. The people of Çatalhöyük were one of the earliest people to adapt to a sedentary life and practice agriculture. It is estimated that the average population of Çatalhöyük was between 5,000 – 7,000.

The settlement has no streets or footpaths, instead, the houses were clustered together with roof access. There is also evidence that the people of Çatalhöyük kept their living spaces clean and disposed of their sewage and food in an area outside of the ruins of the settlement. The people also buried their dead, painted murals, sculpted figurines, and even plastered and painted skulls to recreate faces.  


1. Aboriginal Australians (c. 50,000 years ago – Present)  

Location: Australia
Notable Achievements: Oldest known ritual cremation   

Aboriginal Australiansphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Although the people who settled in Mesopotamia are often credited as the first civilization, new research shows that Aboriginal Australians are the oldest known civilization on Earth. The Aborigines can trace their ancestries back to about 75,000 years ago, but became a distinct genetic group around 50,000 years ago. They are believed to have first settled in Australia between 40,000 – 31,000 years ago and are the direct ancestors of a large group of modern-day Australians.

The discovery of the human remains from Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Australia in 1969 show signs of being one of the oldest known cremations. The remains, which are known as the Mungo Woman, have been dated to about 24,700 – 19, 030 years ago.

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