These Are The 10 Oldest Civilizations In The World (& Where You Can Learn Their History) (2024)

Summary

  • Sumeria, Mesopotamia, is considered the world's oldest civilization, existing between 4500 and 2100 BCE. Today, travelers can visit ancient cities like Ur and Babylon in modern-day Iraq to experience this ancient civilization.
  • Ancient Egypt thrived along the Nile River from around 3100 BCE to 30 BCE. It is known for its monumental pyramids and hieroglyphic writing. Visitors can explore the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World.
  • The Norte Chico or Caral-Supe civilization thrived in Peru and Chile between 3000 and 1800 BCE. It had complex societies, advanced architecture, and agricultural practices. The civilization influenced the Incans and its symbolism is still prevalent in South American culture today.

From the dawn of time, humans have sought out other humans. From Gobekli Tepe (one of the most important sites in human history) to Stonehenge, there have been reminders of how humans have grown and changed to become a society. But who were the first people to come together in a society?

Many countries today seek to lay claim to the title of the oldest civilization in the world, but science hasn't yet awarded a winner for this coveted prize. This list explores some of the world's oldest civilizations and looks at where they came from and where travelers can go to learn their history today.

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10 Sumeria, Mesopotamia

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Anu Ziggurat at Uruk, Remants of the Sumerian Civilization

Sumeria could be considered the world's oldest civilization. It flourished in Mesopotamia, the rich crescent of land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Sumeria is estimated to have existed for several thousand years, between 4500 and 2100 BCE.

Ancient Sumer was responsible for many innovations, including creating the world's first written alphabet. Today, what used to be Sumer is in modern-day Iraq. Visiting the remains of ancient cities like Ur, Uruk, and Babylon is possible today to get a taste of this ancient civilization.

9 Ancient Egypt

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The Great Pyramids of Giza

Egypt is one of the best-known empires, as its culture has seeped into the modern day. Thriving along the Nile River from around 3100 BCE to 30 BCE, Ancient Egypt was a remarkable civilization known for monumental pyramids, hieroglyphic writing, advanced mathematics, and complex religious beliefs.

Some scholars consider Ancient Egypt the start of classical culture and learning, and it continues to influence the modern world today. Visitors can even tour the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is the last remaining survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient Egypt is indeed one of the greatest of all the oldest ancient civilizations in the world that ever existed, and it extends well beyond modern Egypt's borders, encompassing Sudan and parts of Libya.

  • Civilization Name: Egypt
  • Modern-Day Location: Egypt, Sudan, and part of Libya
  • Best Tour to Experience History:Wonders of Ancient Egypt
  • Price: $$$

8 Norte Chico Or Caral-Supe

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Panoramic View of Caral, Remants of the Norte Chico Civilization

While many people may know about the top ancient civilizations around the world mentioned previously on the list, the Caral Supe or Norte Chico people might be new.

Between 3000 and 1800 BCE, this pre-Columbian civilization thrived on the north coast of Peru and parts of Chile. The civilization featured complex societies with monumental architecture, including pyramids and plazas, and advanced agricultural practices, making it a significant archeological discovery. The civilization was so influential that the Incans, who came several centuries later, still paid homage to the Norte Chico in their fabrics, culture, and style of worship.

Today, archeologists are still working to uncover the secrets of the oldest civilization in the New World. The Incas left behind many ancient sites for visitors to explore today, but without the Norte Chico, there would be no Inca.

  • Civilization Name: Norte Chico or Caral-Supe
  • Modern-Day Location: Peru & Chile
  • Best Tour to Experience History:Norte Chico Tours
  • Price: $$

The Norte Chico's symbolism of the Three Sacred Shapes (The Bird, The Serpent, and The Cat) pervades through a lot of South American culture. It appears in the religious worship of civilizations thousands of years removed from the Norte Chico.

7 Indus Valley Civilization

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Excavated City of Mohenjo-Daro

Ancient civilizations sprung up near sources of water, and the Indus River is one of the most prominent water sources in the subcontinent. Dating from around 2600 to 1900 BCE in what is now Pakistan and northwest India, this great ancient civilization was a highly advanced urban culture known for its grid-like city planning, advanced drainage systems, and distinctive pottery.

Also known as the "Saraswati" or "Harrapan" civilization, it leaves behind two of the oldest cities - Mohenjo Daro and Harrapa. While many of the civilization's developments have been lost to antiquity, archeologists have found and preserved much of what makes this civilization unique and fascinating. Today, visitors can explore its remnants, such as its writing and pottery, in many museums worldwide.

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6 Elam

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Cylindrical Elamite Seal used for Official Documents

Elam is another one of the oldest civilizations around the world dating from 3200 to 500 BCE. Elam is not a Mesopotamian civilization, but it had regular dealings with the people between the rivers. Their language was wholly unique and unrelated to other cultures in the same region.

Elam's written script, called Elamite, was crucial in helping archeologists understand the region's complex politics during the civilization's existence. Visiting the ruins of Elam is one of the best reasons for visiting Iran, although the region is still undergoing political instability.

  • Civilization Name: Elam
  • Modern-Day Location: The Border of Iran and Iraq
  • Best Tour to Experience History: Tours of Iran
  • Price: $$

5 The Olmecs Of Mesoamerica

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Olmec Great Pyramid in Tabasco, Mexico

The Olmecs were a significant power in Central America, although their civilization was short-lived compared to others. They existed from 1200 to between 400 and 300 BCE. No one is really sure why their culture went into decline, but they left behind marvelous works (like the fabled colossal heads in Mexico) to remind modern humans who they were.

The Olmecs were meticulous builders, and the cities of La Venta, San Lorenzo, and Laguna de los Cerros all had symmetry built into their construction, making them look like half a city reflected on itself.

The Olmec is simply the name archeologists call this civilization. Modern scholars don't know how The Olmecs referred to themselves since it was never mentioned in any records.

4 Minoans Of Crete

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Ancient Minoan-style Pithoi in Crete, Greece

Fans of popular culture will recognize the Minoans as the civilization that invented the Minotaur, but it's so much more than that. The Minoans were one of the world's greatest civilizations that ever existed, from about 3000 BCE to about 1400 BCE.

During their existence, Crete became a center of language, learning, and culture in the Aegean Sea. Knossos, on Crete, is considered Europe's oldest city. The Minoans significantly impacted the Greek culture that came after it. While much of the Minoan civilization is lost to antiquity, visitors to Crete can still explore ruins, such as the palaces of Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, and Agia Triada.

3 Mycenaean Civilization Of Greece

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Parthenon, Athens, Greece

The Mycenaean Civilization drew its inspiration from the Minoans but had its own style and class. This civilization only existed for a few centuries between 1700 and 1100 BCE and was heavily influenced by the Minoans who came before them.

Once ruled by the Minoans, they threw off the control of their island conquerors and established themselves as the power in the Aegean for a few centuries. Many of the myths and legends we know today as Greek come from oral tradition from Mycenaean Greek orators. Their impressive architecture is visible throughout modern-day Greece, and stories like The Illiad and The Odyssey take their cue from Mycenean tradition.

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2 Shang Dynasty Of China

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Bronze Axe-Head Dating back to the Shang Empire

Another one of the greatest ancient civilizations in the world in its time, the Shang Dynasty ruled China from around 1720 BCE to around 1030 BCE, although the exact dates of the formation and collapse of the dynasty remain uncertain. The Shang were among the first rulers of what the world knows today as China, although their realm was a bit smaller than its modern-day counterpart.

Known for its bronze casting, oracle bone script, and walled cities like Anyang, the Shang Dynasty laid the foundation for Chinese civilization. It is characterized by a complex social structure and religious practices, particularly ancestral worship. Today, sites like the Yin Ruins or Shancheng Village are remnants of this part of China's history. The Anyang Museum holds many archeological finds associated with this dynasty.

1 Catalhoyuk (Modern-Day Turkey)

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The Ruins of Catholoyuk, Turkey

Occupied sometime between 7400 and 5200 BCE, Catalhoyuk (pronounced "Chah-tahl-hew-yook") is one of the oldest places where ancient humans would gather. An estimated 3,000 to 8,000 people lived in the area during its height of popularity.

Catalhoyuk is renowned for its large, well-preserved, and densely packed mudbrick houses. It provides valuable insights into the early development of agriculture, urbanization, and social structures. While there isn't a lot known about this ancient civilization, archeologists believe that the closeness of the rooms in the complex suggests a more communal style of living than the civilizations that followed it.

These Are The 10 Oldest Civilizations In The World (& Where You Can Learn Their History) (2024)

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