If you enjoy movies like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and National Treasure, you’ll love this article. We’re about to discover more about the oldest civilizations in human history. Many ancient civilizations are nothing more than a memory, with ancient texts and pottery all that remain to tell us the stories of the people who lived then.
Others, however, are still around to this day, continuing to live the lifestyles of their ancient ancestors. So, whether you want to know which societies existed in ancient times or how they lived, you’ll find the answers you’re looking for below. Let’s get started learning all about the oldest civilizations in human history.
How Do You Classify the Oldest Civilization?
Before we can begin covering these ancient societies, we should cover what they are and the parameters for which we chose to include them. Indeed, you’ve heard of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. At one time, we believed those to be the oldest civilizations.
However, new discoveries lead us to believe people were living civilized lifestyles long before the Sumerians began writing history. You see, a civilization is a society where the people develop a culture and advanced practices of social and cultural organizations.
Although we have a much different civilization today, advanced societies have existed for thousands of years. These civilizations look much different in their scientific, cultural, and industrial advancements, but they were civilized nonetheless.
The Oldest Civilizations from Ancient History
Recent advancements in exploration have led archaeologists to discover civilizations much older than previously thought. It’s amazing to explore the similarities, differences, and advancements of ancient societies, and fortunately, the following list gives you insight into some of the oldest human civilizations. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
1. The San People of Southern Africa
The San People of South Africa are officially the oldest civilization known at this time. Moreover, some descendants from this ancient civilization are alive today! The San People and their culture date up to 140,000 years ago, as evidenced by artifacts such as rock paintings and evidence of ritual ceremonies.
Aside from artifacts, the San People of Southern Africa today are descendants of the haplogroup per DNA testing and, therefore, are primarily regarded as the oldest civilization. The ancient San people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, and today, the descendants are typically found in the Kalahari Desert, still using many ancient practices.
2. Aboriginal Australians
The Aboriginal Australians comprised many societies dating back 50,000 years. The Aboriginal Australians still exist, although in much smaller numbers, unfortunately. Before the Europeans discovered the continent, it was home to several ancient civilizations with thriving cultural, spiritual, and technological advancements.
Similar to the San People, the Aboriginal Australians were also hunter-gatherers. However, they also built the Ngunnhu fish traps, one of the oldest known structures on the planet. These ancient people also performed ritual cremations and left their history behind in rock paintings.
Mesopotamia is one of the more well-known ancient civilizations. However, it’s much younger than the two mentioned above. Still, it’s one of the oldest human civilizations, existing more than 6,000 years ago. The Mesopotamians were comprised of many cultures and societies between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq and Kuwait.
What’s interesting about the Mesopotamian civilization is the advancements in written language, culture, and ships! That’s right, the Sumerians (people of southern Mesopotamia) traveled on water and recorded information on clay tablets. This civilization worshipped many Gods, studied astronomy, and even established laws and empires.
3. Ancient Egypt
The Ancient Egyptians were an incredibly advanced civilization, and they’re also one of the oldest. The Early Dynastic era began circa 3000 BCE. and thrived in the fertile lands near the Nile River. This civilization designed calendars, developed innovative art styles, built massive pyramids, and created a gigantic empire that stood for more than 3,000 years.
Naturally, the Egyptian people still thrive today in the same area, but the accomplishments of their ancestors are quite impressive. Not only did the Egyptians build enormous structures, but they also developed medicinal and agricultural advancements. They also left written communications called hieroglyphs on papyrus, a type of paper, and on the walls of temples and tombs. They even developed mathematical algorithms we still use today.
4. Ancient India
The people of Ancient India, or the Indus River Valley Civilization, were sophisticated and spiritually enlightened with an economic system and advanced architecture. This civilization existed in 3300 B.C. in what we know today as India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Ancient India had a caste system tied to Hinduism that divided the people into rigid social hierarchies.
The people of Ancient India developed sewage and water systems, city grids, and homes made of brick. Although it’s one of the oldest civilizations in human history, many cultural and technological advancements of the time are still relevant today.
5. Ancient China
Ancient China was an advanced civilization ruled by a number of successful dynasties. The society appeared around 2100 BCE with the advent of the Xia Dynasty, once thought to be a myth. The Xia Dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BCE), and the stability of their rule saw many innovations, such as the invention of writing. The following Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE) gave rise to some of ancient China’s most influential philosophers, such as Confucius, as well as early writings on Taoism.
China has contributed four major inventions that have changed society, including printing, papermaking, gunpowder, and the compass. These innovations were spread to other civilizations primarily through the Silk Road. The Chinese dynasties continued well into the 20th century, ending with the Qing Dynasty in 1912 CE.
6. Ancient Mayans
Located in modern-day Southern Mexico and Northern South America, the Ancient Maya people were also an advanced society. The Classic Period from around 250 CE to 900 CE is considered the pinnacle of Mayan civilization. The Mayans placed great importance on scholars who developed complex mathematical equations, recorded astronomical observations, and handed down written texts. This brought about a thriving society with mathematical advancements, dated monuments such as pyramids and temples, and hieroglyphic writings.
After the Classic Period, the Mayans gradually abandoned their major city-states. Some historians have suggested this was due to drought, but others have indicated that the reasons were more complex. The Mayans did not disappear, however. Over 6 million Mayans are living in Mesoamerica today.
The oldest civilizations around the world were incredibly advanced for their time. From working sewage systems to government and even spirituality and science, many of these civilizations thrived and contributed to modern-day technology, as well.
Simple things like calendars and architecture thrived despite primitive tools and resources. While some of the descendants of these civilizations still exist today, others only exist in memory.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com.