Humans have been around for around 350,000 years, but it has only been a short time since they began to group together in what we call civilizations. In all of our history on this planet, humans have only civilized themselves for approximately 10,000 years thanks to the development of agriculture, animal husbandry, and eventually writing.
Of the thousands of civilizations that have existed, most have disappeared. Few have remained in the same place they originated such as the Chinese or Egyptians, while most have died out. Many ancient civilizations existed throughout human history, but some lasted longer than you might believe. The oldest known civilizations in the world may not be around any longer, but they stuck around long enough to give the world the wheel, government, religion, and everything else humans developed over the past 10,000 years.
Çatalhöyük was one of the earliest known civilizations in southern Anatolia. The Çatalhöyük civilization is known from the large Neolithic proto-city's remains pictured here. The settlement existed between 7,500 and 5,700 BCE making it one of the earliest known civilizations in the world. It is believed the site was chosen due to the presence of a river channel and alluvial clay, which would have been beneficial for agriculture. The remains of Çatalhöyük were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.
Area: Southern Anatolia
Modern area: East-central Turkey
Period: 7500 to 5700 BCE
‘Ain Ghazal Civilization
‘Ain Ghazal is a neolithic settlement located in modern-day Jordan near the Amman Civil Airport. The site has been dated to more than 9,000 years ago, though it could be older. It is believed the ‘Ain Ghazal Civilization consisted of an estimated 3,000 people, making it one of the largest population centers to exist at the time. Ceramic artwork has been found at the site (pictured) and burial practices have been noted through excavation. Not much is known about the people of the ‘Ain Ghazal Civilization, which is why the site is protected by the World Monuments Fund.
Area: Northern Jordan
Modern area: Amman, Jordan
Period: 7000 to 6500 BCE
Norte Chico Civilization
The Norte Chico Civilization was a complex Peruvian Civilization that thrived between 4000 and 1800 BCE. The society was broken up into 30 major population centers spread across the Norte Chico region of North-central coastal Peru. The first city, Huaricanga, was settled around 3,500 BCE, which led to the development of similar cities throughout the area. Eventually, the society saw a decline around 1800 BCE. The Norte Chico Civilization is believed to be the oldest in the Americas.
Area: North-central coastal Peru
Modern area: Peru
Period: 4000 to 1800 BCE
Mesopotamia was the region that sat between the Tigris and Euphrates River system in what is now Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Multiple distinct civilizations existed throughout Mesopotamia between 3500 and 500 BCE including the Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians from the beginning of recorded history. It was ultimately conquered by the Achaemenid Empire, otherwise known as the first Persian Empire. It later fell to Alexander the Great and the Seleucid Empire followed by the Parthian Empire, and finally the Romans. Mesopotamia is often considered the cradle of civilization due to the development of writing, agriculture, and systems of government.
Area: Northeast by the Zagros Mountains, Southeast by the Arabian Plateau
Modern area: Iraq, Syria, and Turkey
Period: 3500 to 500 BCE
The Harappan Civilization, also known as the Indus Valley Civilization, was a Bronze Age civilization that stood from 2200 to 1900 BCE. It was one of the three early cradles of civilization found in South Asia. The civilization rose during a period of aridification, which gradually reduced the amount of potable water used in agriculture and consumption. While this likely caused the Harappan Civilization to come to an end, people remained in the area where they eventually settled what would become Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
Area: The Indus River basin
Modern area: Northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India
Period: 3300 to 1900 BCE
Ancient Egyptian Civilization
The Early Dynastic Period of Ancient Egypt existed from 3100 to 2686 BCE following the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It lasted until the period known as the Old Kingdom rose in 2686 BCE. Originally, the capitol city stood at Thinis, but was eventually moved to Memphis. While the Pyramids were not constructed until shortly after the Early Dynastic Period came to an end, there were many innovations made in art, religion, and architecture, which helped shape the Egyptian culture that would develop following the period.
Area: Northern bank of the Nile River
Modern area: Egypt
Period: 3100 to 2686 BCE