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The 8 Oldest Professions in World History

Oldest professions Depiction of Egyptian Farmers, wikimedia

The 8 Oldest Professions in World History

Key Points

  • Farming is one of the oldest professions in world history, serving a crucial role in modern society by growing food and materials for clothing and manufacturing.
  • Builders are another one of the oldest professions, marking the transition from nomadic groups to permanent settlements and creating great monuments and structures.
  • The artist remains one of the oldest professions in world history, with a long history of visual arts and a transition to modern fields like graphic design and 3D modeling.
  • The musician is one of the oldest professions and is still in active demand, creating bespoke music for commercials, film, and television, and playing a central role in pop culture.
  • The entertainer, serving as storytellers and scholars, is one of the oldest professions, with a rich history of oral traditions and a modern presence in various forms of media.

What are the oldest professions in world history? There are often jokes planted around pop history about the oldest jobs that humankind has held. However, when considering the basic needs of an individual, some jobs automatically spring to mind. As such, these jobs aren’t as exotic as something like a spy. That said, they are crucial to the human condition and are very much in demand today.

Today, we’ll be looking at eight of the oldest professions in world history. They might seem self-evident at first glance, but these are vital professions for the function of modern civilization. While they might not be as readily funny as some of the jokes you’ll see passed around, there is a real historical basis for the jobs selected.

Farmer

oldest professions
Farming is still one of the most important jobs you’ll find in the modern world.

Farming is one of the oldest professions in world history, and it is also one of the most important. Farmers serve an important role in modern society, growing much of our food and other materials for clothing and manufacturing. While much of mankind was nomadic for its early existence, the rise of agriculture made being a farmer a crucial job for the flow of society.

Every great civilization that has passed through the annals of time has been supported and propped by the humble farmer first and foremost. It is thought that farming began in the Fertile Crescent, an area comprised of modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Palestine, and Israel, among others.

The history of agriculture itself is a deeply fascinating topic, and one I implore you to look into on your own if you have an appreciation for the origins of things. Early farming was primarily intended for subsistence and would utilize methods like slash-and-burn harvesting. Since its beginnings, it has become a cornerstone of any society.

Builder

It is hard to imagine the many testaments to mankind’s ingenuity without the builder at the center of the conversation.

It is hard to think of any of the great ancient civilizations and not marvel at the architecture on display. The many great cathedrals, monuments, and even the Great Pyramids of Egypt all have a singular thing in common: builders. Builders are another one of the oldest professions in world history, and mark the transition from nomadic groups to permanent settlements.

Building has its start in the same manner as farming, starting back in the Neolithic period. However, most early structures were intended as merely a means of shelter for families and groups to provide safety and cover from the elements.

The rise of the city-state coincided with the need for builders as a dedicated profession. Much of history’s great monuments are the results of professional craftsmen, hired labor, and indentured servitude coalescing to create something special. Builders are still in demand today, as you can likely imagine.

While the methods have certainly changed, construction is going nowhere in the foreseeable future. There is still a demand for skilled tradesmen who can ably create and maintain structures.

Artist

oldest professions
The visual arts have always been central to the human experience.

Since mankind took its first steps into the wider world, there has been a propensity towards the visual arts. You can clearly see the early cave paintings found around the Stone Age, but the profession itself is still very much in vogue today. While there certainly isn’t a demand in the same manner as dedicated artists with patrons during the Renaissance, it is still a job.

The visual arts have transitioned from religious works and portraiture to a whole slew of dedicated fields like graphic design, UI/UX engineering, and 3D modeling. The earliest art examples produced by humans that we know of can be found in Spain, in the Maltravieso cave.

Humanity loves the means to express itself, and the artist remains one of the oldest professions in world history to enjoy continued success and patronage in the modern era.

Musician

oldest professions
The earliest instruments are thought to be flutes and drums, with the earliest varieties being carved from bone and wood.

If you’re ever in the mood for a deep dive, the history of music is deeply fascinating. It is wholly a human invention, and just about every civilization has its traditions and instruments unique to the area. The earliest musical instruments date back to the Stone Age and have been dated to around 42,000 to 43,000 years of age.

As one of the oldest professions in world history, the musician is still in active demand. You’ll find numerous professionals working in the field who are employed for the sake of creating bespoke music for the likes of commercials, film, and television.

In addition to that, pop culture centers around the professional musician in some regard. It is hard to imagine a world where someone like Taylor Swift or Madonna aren’t absolute titans in their industry. Music has never been more accessible than it is right now for any aspiring musician to start making and likely will continue to become easier for beginners to grasp as time goes on.

Entertainer

Homeros MFA Munich
Homer’s The Illiad is one of the most famous examples of an oral tradition, along with epic poems like Beowulf.

Mankind’s imagination is a vivid and vibrant place, and stories have always been a fixture in cultures around the world. The entertainer has gone by many names over the years, but make no mistake it is one of the oldest professions in world history.

It is hard to pinpoint when mankind’s first oral traditions began. Essentially the advent of language brought about the first stories. Entertainers served as prototypical scholars and academics in this capacity, telling stories that upheld mythology and histories.

Today, the entertainer takes many shapes like actors, radio presenters, and so much more. the professional entertainer is still a central fixture in modern society, with each culture having its own history and oral traditions combined with forms of media that are more typical to modern palates.

Hunter

Leaf from a Book of Hours: Ape Hunting Wild Boars
Hunting predates modern humans and was practiced by hominids millions of years ago.

There has always been a need to feed people. Early hominids were very much hunter-gatherers. It is far harder to nail down an estimated date as to when the profession began. This is one of the oldest professions in world history, however, predating even the concepts of currency and employment.

The hunter is no longer really a profession in itself. Modern society has allowed for it to become a form of sport. When you consider the scale and breadth of modern livestock farming, it is absolutely breathtaking that you can just go hunt for your own food as a hobby.

Hunting itself predates even the concept of language. Early hominids are thought to have engaged in the activity as far back as almost three million years ago. While the profession itself has died out, it persisted for eons until the modern era.

Butcher

Butcher's Furenary Relief
Modern butchery is an ancient tradition, but the practice dates back to early hominids.

While hunting has fallen out of practice as a profession, there is still a vital need for the butcher. Butchering animals is a grisly job but is one of the oldest professions in world history. Processing and selecting the best cuts of meat from animals has been refined thoroughly since its earliest days.

In ancient times, the butcher would remove the hide and inedible parts of the animal. This left the rest to be cooked and preserved as necessary. Today, it is far more refined, with choice cuts being readily available for purchase at your local grocery store.

The processing of animals is thought to have started nearly two million years ago. It was practiced by early hominids before the modern homo sapiens were on the world stage. As such, this was a tradition practiced by mankind’s long-forgotten ancestors, well before the start of recorded history.

Tool Maker

Neolithic stone tools from Ancient Greece
There has always been a need for tools, just about any craft or profession needs them.

Rounding out the oldest professions in world history is a crucial one. Part of what differentiates humanity from any other animal on the planet is the use and manipulation of tools. Mankind has a long history of creating tools for certain jobs. The earliest examples are simple chisels, knives, and axes knapped from flint.

That said, this is a practice like hunting and butchering that was practiced by many hominids. Homo sapiens are the true masters of the craft. You can flip through any history book and see terms like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Industrial Age.

Tool making is still very in demand. Modern machining, construction, and other crafts rely on the expertise honed over centuries to get us to this point. It is considered a skilled trade, meaning you can readily get your start through the right school with some dedication.

The 8 Oldest Professions in World History Summary

RankProfession
1Farmer
2Builder
3Artist
4Musician
5Entertainer
6Hunter
7Butcher
8Tool Maker

Frequently Asked Questions

Are any of these jobs still practiced?

With the exception of hunting, these are jobs you can still hold today in modern society.

How old are tools?

The earliest known stone and bone tools date back millions of years.

Was ancient butchering as refined as it is now?

Not really, but thousands upon thousands of years have turned it into the highly refined craft it is today.

Have there always been artists?

Yes, since the earliest days of humanity, there has been a desire to create.

Do any of these traditions predate written history?

With the exception of farming, every single profession predates recorded history.

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