The ancient Egyptians had pyramids. The ancient Romans had aqueducts. The bloodthirsty Vikings had longships. Some historical civilizations are so well-known, almost anyone with even a passing interest in the past would be able to fire off their basic backstory and list of traits.
In fact, someone with only casual experience in history may think that (because of the intense focus that some civilizations garner), the history of the world is made up of only a few powerful empires, and that everyone else is unimportant.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Oftentimes, a civilization will be incredibly influential and important, but won’t receive a lot of discussion. Normally, this is because there’s nothing left to discuss.
These vanished ancient societies leave large gaps in our understanding. History is, at best, an inexact science, and can best be imagined as a book with several pages missing. Some of the lost cultures and mysterious historical civilizations that we know the least about probably have some of the most interesting stories to tell. Instead, we're left wanting, our minds full of curiosity and wonder.
Chances are if you know anything about the Olmecs, it’s due to the gigantic stone heads they left lying around. You know, like the one that once hosted a game show or the one that famously occupies The Simpsons’ basement. The Olmec culture likely had more to it than giant, menacing heads, but it’s been hard to find out exactly what that is.
The Olmecs, who occupied the same basic area as the mysterious Mayans 1200 years before their rise, fell victim to the same reforestation that has obscured Mayan history. The Olmecs spread their empire for over 900 years, establishing the pattern that future South American empires would follow, before mysteriously vanishing around 300 BC.
Sometimes, we encounter a mysterious civilization from history that we really don’t want to know more about. Such is the case with the Silla, a civilization that, despite ruling Korea for over a thousand years, left behind very few intact skeletons due to the soil on the peninsula.
One of the complete sets of bones happened to belong to a young woman with a grotesquely elongated skull, something that archeologists believe was a natural occurrence. Maybe we don’t need to learn more about this peninsula-spanning mutant empire, after all. There are enough nightmares in the world.
As far as ancient histories go, China's is incredibly well-documented. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gaps left to fill. The Sanxingdui were apparently a powerful empire in ancient China that left behind a surprisingly small amount of physical evidence. They appear to have been wiped completely off the map about 3,000 years ago.
Modern geological studies have shown that a massive earthquake shook their region around the time of their disappearance. This may have diverted their primary water source, leading to their civilization’s quick demise.
People Of Punt
No, this isn’t a mysterious island full of American footballers. Instead, the people of Punt are a near-mythical civilization that operated with and around several ancient African nations, including Egypt. Egyptian records speak of many trading expeditions to the land of Punt, but to this date, no modern archeologist has been able to figure out exactly where that was.
Punt was apparently a very wealthy land, with treasures and resources that rivaled the Egyptians, and yet there is very little evidence of them trading with anyone other than Egypt, or going to war with anyone at all. One would think a rich land in the middle of Africa would have been ripe for invasion, but nothing like that seems to have ever happened. If anyone ever actually discovered Punt’s location, they didn’t write it down.