Top 7 Most Ancient Civilizations in the World


The history of human evolution dates back to around 2 million years ago, when the earliest hominids first appeared on Earth. Over the course of thousands of years, our ancestors evolved, and eventually, the first modern humans emerged in Africa about 20,000 years ago. These early humans were hunters and gatherers, but they also developed agriculture, weaponry, art, social structure, and politics, which laid the foundation for early forms of civilization.

While Mesopotamia is often credited as the first urban civilization, several other complex societies and cultures existed prior to them. These early civilizations were characterized by their advanced social, economic, and political structures, as well as their technological and artistic achievements, which continue to influence modern society in countless ways.

1. Akkadian Empire (2350 BCE–2150 BCE)

The Akkadian Empire, established in 2334 BC by Sargon of Akkad, is widely considered the world’s first empire and a significant milestone in human history. At its peak, the empire spanned modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, unifying Akkadians and Sumerians. The Akkadians were bilingual, speaking both Sumerian and Akkadian. This linguistic diversity also helped with their trade relations, particularly with the nearby Indus Valley Civilization. They were also skilled craftsmen renowned for their beautiful seals and cast metal statues. As all empires do, the Akkadian Empire eventually crumbled as well due to internal strife and external attacks. However, its legacy lived on for centuries, giving rise to Assyria and Babylon.

2. Indus Valley Civilization (3300 BCE–1300 BCE)

The Indus Valley Civilization, aka Harappan Civilization, is considered to be the first urban civilization in South Asia, encompassing modern-day Pakistan and northwest India. This civilization is well-known for building sprawling and well-planned cities with elaborate water supply and drainage systems. They also invented new techniques in metallurgy and produced different types of metals like copper, bronze, lead, and tin.

3. Norte Chico (3500 BCE–1700 BCE)

The Norte Chico civilization, also known as the Caral or Caral-Supe civilization, was known for its monumental architecture, which included large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. The city of Caral had six pyramids, for example, and these massive structures are the oldest pyramids outside of Egypt. What’s also interesting is that they were built at approximately the same time as the first Egyptian pyramids. The mounds and plazas were likely used for ceremonial purposes, and the pyramids likely served as religious or political centers. Even though the Norte Chico civilization is a pre-ceramic ancient culture, their monumental architecture is a testament to the advanced engineering skills and technical knowledge of the people who lived during this time.

4. Jiahu (7000 BCE–5700 BCE)

The ancient Chinese civilization of Jiahu is often associated with the Peiligang culture, but some experts think both cultures were two distinct civilizations that emerged around the same time. For instance, the Jiahu residents cultivated rice, while the Peiligang people had no idea what it was. Not to mention, the Jiahu civilization existed several hundred years before the first Peiligang settlements emerged.

The Jiahu people produced the oldest known wine, made music using instruments, and possibly invented the earliest example of Chinese writing. According to archaeological evidence, Jiahu was abandoned around 5700 BCE due to a catastrophic flood. However, few artifacts have been found in the residences, leading experts to believe that the settlement’s inhabitants may have evacuated with most of their belongings.

5. Çatalhöyük (7,500 BCE–5,700 BCE)

Çatalhöyük is an ancient settlement in Southern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) that stands as one of the most significant Neolithic sites in the world. The people of Çatalhöyük were among the earliest to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and practice agriculture, which was a significant shift from their previous nomadic way of life. The houses in the settlement were clustered together, and there were no streets or footpaths. Instead, the houses had roof access, and people would move from one house to another by walking on top of the roofs.

The people of Çatalhöyük had a rich cultural life, as evidenced by their burial practices, murals, and figurines. They buried their dead and painted murals on the walls of their homes. They also sculpted figurines and even plastered and painted skulls to recreate faces. While no temples have been found, researchers found large concentrations of certain symbols in some rooms.

6. Aboriginal Australians (50,000 BCE–Present)

Aboriginal Australians have been discovered to be one of the earliest civilizations on Earth, with a lineage that can be traced back to about 75,000 years ago. The Aborigines became a distinct genetic group approximately 50,000 years ago, and they are the direct ancestors of present-day Aboriginal tribes. Despite the passage of time, their culture has remained largely unchanged. In 1969, near Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Australia, human remains were found that show signs of being one of the oldest known cremations, dating back to around 20,000-25,000 years ago. Additionally, the Aboriginals created the Ngunnhu fish traps of Brewarrina, which are considered to be one of the world’s oldest known structures.

7. San People (140,000-100,000 BCE–present)

The San People of Southern Africa have a rich history that can be traced back to around 140,000 years ago, making them the oldest civilization in the world. They are the direct descendants of one of the original ancestral human groups, which is a testament to their resilience and longevity as a culture. In the past, the San were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, and they were able to sustain themselves, which required an intricate understanding of plants and animals, as well as the ability to track and hunt game. Today, however, many San people have moved away from their traditional way of life and work in a variety of jobs, including farm laborers, nature conservancy managers, and others, due to the woes of modern civilization as well as changes in the global economy.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the San culture is their ancient ritual ceremonies. The Tsodilo Hills are also home to the world’s largest concentration of rock paintings, which were created by ancient San people. These cave paintings depict animals, people, and abstract designs. In addition to their cultural heritage, the San are also known for their traditional knowledge of the Hoodia gordonii plant, which is currently being developed into a pharmaceutical drug for dieting. The San even received the world’s first royalty agreement for knowing their way around that plant, which is crazy if you think about how far back that knowledge reaches.