Unveiling the Secrets of the Oldest Civilisation in the World

Oldest Civilisation in the World

Updated On: April 20, 2024 by   Yasmin ElwanYasmin Elwan

The world is full of ancient civilisations that have left their mark on history. From the Mesopotamians to the Chinese, each civilisation has contributed to the world in its own unique way. However, when it comes to the oldest civilisation in the world, there is much debate and discussion.

Defining what constitutes a civilisation is an intricate task. However, most scholars agree that a civilisation is a complex society with a developed culture, including social, economic, political, and religious systems. The oldest civilisations in the world are those that date back thousands of years and have contributed significantly to the development of human history.

What is the oldest civilisation in the world? While there is no clear answer to this question, there are several contenders for the title. Scholars often debate whether the San People of Southern Africa, Aboriginal Australians, or the people who settled in Mesopotamia are the oldest civilisations in the world. Understanding the chronology of these civilisations and their contributions to human history is essential to answering this question.

Key Takeaways

  • Defining what constitutes a civilisation is complex, but most scholars agree on its basic characteristics.
  • There is much debate about the oldest civilisation in the world, with several contenders for the title.
  • Understanding the chronology and contributions of these ancient civilisations is crucial to answering the question of the oldest civilisation in the world.

Defining Civilisation

Oldest Civilisation in the World

Civilisation can be defined as a complex society characterised by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms (such as writing), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment. It is believed that the first civilisations emerged in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Egypt around 3000 BCE.

Civilisations are often distinguished from other societies by their level of cultural, scientific, and technological advancement. They are typically characterised by the development of writing systems, monumental architecture, complex social hierarchies, and sophisticated forms of art, music, and literature.

One key feature of civilisation is the development of cities, which serve as centres of trade, commerce, and political power. Cities also facilitate the exchange of ideas and the spread of culture, allowing civilisations to expand and influence other societies.

Another defining characteristic of civilisation is the development of complex systems of governance and law. This allows for the regulation of social behaviour, the resolution of disputes, and the protection of individual rights.

What is the Oldest Civilisation in the World?

Figuring out the oldest civilisation in the world can be a real head-scratcher, mainly because historians and archaeologists don’t all see eye to eye on it. But a lot of folks in the know lean towards the Sumerian civilisation, which emerged in Mesopotamia way back around 4000 BCE. So, while it’s not written in stone, many scholars reckon the Sumerians take the crown as the oldest civilisation on the block.

Mesopotamia, which is located in present-day Iraq, was home to several ancient civilisations, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. These civilisations flourished in the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which is often referred to as the “cradle of civilisation.”

Oldest Civilisation in the World

The Sumerians are credited with many significant achievements, including the invention of writing, the wheel, and irrigation systems. They also developed a complex system of government and religion, with a pantheon of gods and goddesses that were worshipped in elaborate temples.

While the Sumerian civilisation was the first urban civilisation in the world, it was not the only ancient civilisation to emerge around this time. Other early civilisations include the Indus Valley civilisation in present-day Pakistan and the Egyptian civilisation along the Nile River.

Despite the many achievements of these ancient civilisations, they all eventually declined and disappeared. However, their legacy lives on in the form of their art, architecture, and cultural traditions, which continue to inspire and fascinate people around the world today.

Understanding Chronology

When discussing the oldest civilisation in the world, understanding chronology is essential. Chronology refers to the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence. It helps to provide a clear understanding of the timeline of events and how they relate to each other.

The earliest civilisations emerged in different parts of the world at different times. For example, the Indus Valley civilisation in present-day Pakistan and northwest India emerged around 2600 BCE, while the ancient Egyptian civilisation emerged around 3100 BCE.

It’s important to note that the emergence of a civilisation does not necessarily mean that it was the first human settlement in the area. Humans have been present in many regions of the world for tens of thousands of years before the emergence of civilisations.

Chronology also helps to understand the interactions between different civilisations. For example, the ancient Egyptian civilisation had contact with the ancient Mesopotamian civilisation. Chronology allows us to understand the timing and nature of these interactions.

Mesopotamian Civilisation

Mesopotamia is often referred to as the “Cradle of Civilisation” due to its status as one of the earliest and most influential civilisations in history. The Mesopotamian civilisation emerged in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is now modern-day Iraq, around 4000 BCE.


Around 4000 BCE, the Sumerians kicked off something big in Mesopotamia. These trailblazers are known for giving the world some incredible innovations like the wheel, the plough, and the very first writing system known as cuneiform. They didn’t just stop at being inventors; they built some jaw-dropping cities like Uruk and Ur. 

Their society was a well-oiled machine with an intricate government and a religion that kept things in check. When it came to farming, these folks were pros. They had irrigation down to an art, which meant they could grow more food than they knew what to do with, supporting a large population.


The Akkadian Empire was founded by Sargon of Akkad in 2334 BCE. It was the first empire in history and covered a vast area, including Mesopotamia, Syria, and parts of Iran. The Akkadians adopted many aspects of Sumerian culture, such as their system of writing, but also made significant contributions of their own, such as the first known law code, the Code of Hammurabi. The Akkadian Empire lasted for around 180 years before it was conquered by the Gutians.


The Babylonian Empire was an ancient Mesopotamian civilisation known for its significant contributions to law, mathematics, and astronomy. Its most famous ruler, Hammurabi, established a comprehensive legal code, and the city of Babylon became a powerful centre under his rule. 

The empire experienced periods of rise and fall, with a notable revival during the Neo-Babylonian era, marked by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the capture of Jerusalem. Ultimately, the empire fell to the Persian Empire in 539 BCE, leaving a lasting legacy in the fields of governance and science.

Indus Valley Civilisation

The Indus Valley Civilisation is one of the oldest civilisations in the world, dating back to around 2500 BCE. It was located in the region that is now Pakistan and northwest India. The civilisation was named after the Indus River, which flows through the region.

The Indus Valley Civilisation was highly advanced for its time, with a well-organised social and economic structure. They had a written language, which has yet to be fully deciphered. The cities were well-planned, with a grid-like street system and a sophisticated drainage system. The people of the Indus Valley Civilisation were skilled in metallurgy, pottery, and weaving.

The economy of the Indus Valley Civilisation was based on agriculture, with wheat, barley, and peas being the main crops. They also traded with other regions, including Mesopotamia and China. The Indus Valley Civilisation had a complex trade network, with goods such as cotton, ivory, and precious stones being exchanged.

The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation is still not fully understood, but it is believed to have been caused by a combination of factors, including climate change, natural disasters, and invasion by outside forces.

Ancient Egyptian Civilisation

Oldest Civilisation in the World

The Ancient Egyptian Civilisation is one of the oldest and most well-known civilisations in the world. It is traditionally stated to have started around 3150 BCE when King Menes unified Upper and Lower Egypt and established a capital city at White Walls (later called Memphis). 

Although the specific dates and events are unclear, most scholars who study this period believe that either Narmer or Menes, or both, united Egypt politically when they gained control of both Upper and Lower Egypt.

The Ancient Egyptians are known for their impressive architecture, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, which were built as tombs for Pharaohs and their consorts. They also made significant contributions to mathematics, medicine, and art. One of their most famous inventions is the hieroglyphic writing system, which was used to record important events and communicate with the gods.

Religion played a significant role in Ancient Egyptian society. They believed in many gods and goddesses and had elaborate rituals and ceremonies to honour them. They also believed in an afterlife and spent a lot of time and effort preparing for it. This is reflected in the many tombs and burial sites that have been discovered throughout Egypt.

Chinese Civilisation

Oldest Civilisation in the World

China has one of the oldest civilisations in the world, with a rich and diverse history spanning several millennia. Chinese civilisation first emerged in the Yellow River valley, which, along with the Yangtze and Pearl valleys, now constitute the geographic core of China and have been the centre of Chinese civilisation for the majority of its imperial history.

Xia Dynasty

The Xia Dynasty is considered the first dynasty of China, and it is thought to have existed from around 2100 BC to 1600 BC. According to legend, the Xia Dynasty was founded by Yu the Great, who is credited with controlling the flooding of the Yellow River. The Xia Dynasty was succeeded by the Shang Dynasty.

Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty is thought to have existed from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC. The Shang Dynasty is known for its advances in bronze metallurgy, as well as for its use of oracle bones, which were used for divination. The Shang Dynasty was overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty.

China’s ancient civilisation is known for its many achievements, including the invention of paper, gunpowder, printing, and the compass. Chinese civilisation has also made significant contributions to philosophy, art, literature, and science. The legacy of ancient Chinese civilisation continues to influence the world today.

Minoan and Mycenaean Civilisations

The Minoan and Mycenaean Civilisations were two of the earliest civilisations in the world, both located in the Aegean region. The Minoan Civilisation, which flourished on the island of Crete, is considered to be the first advanced civilisation in Europe. It existed from around 3000 BCE to 1100 BCE and is named after King Minos, a legendary ruler of Crete.

The Minoans were known for their outstanding architecture, art, and trade. They were skilled in pottery, metalworking, and textile production, and their art often depicted scenes of nature and religious rituals. The Minoans also had a complex system of writing known as Linear A, which has yet to be deciphered.

The Mycenaean Civilisation, which existed from around 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE, was located on the mainland of Greece and was heavily influenced by the Minoans. The Mycenaeans were known for their impressive fortifications, such as the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae, and their remarkable palaces, such as the Palace of Nestor at Pylos.

The Mycenaeans were also skilled in metalworking and pottery, and their art often depicted scenes of warfare and hunting. They had a complex system of writing known as Linear B, which has been deciphered and provides insight into their society and culture.

Although the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilisations had distinct differences, such as their location and artistic styles, they also had many similarities. Both civilisations were heavily involved in trade, with the Minoans trading extensively with Egypt and the Mycenaeans trading with the Near East. Both civilisations also had a strong religious and cultural identity, with the Minoans worshipping a variety of deities and the Mycenaeans worshipping a pantheon of gods and goddesses.

A Final Word

Overall, the oldest civilisation in the world is a subject of ongoing debate and research. While the people who settled in Mesopotamia are often credited as the first civilisation, new research shows that Aboriginal Australians are one of the oldest known civilisations on Earth, with their ancestries tracing back to about 75,000 years ago and becoming a distinct genetic group around 50,000 years ago.

Other ancient civilisations that have been discovered include the Indus Valley civilisation, which archaeologists announced as the world’s oldest civilisation in 2022 after finding evidence on Harappan sites and concluding it by carbon dating. The Sumerians, who lived in Mesopotamia around 4000 BC, are also considered one of the oldest civilisations in the world.

It is worth noting that the discovery of ancient civilisations is an ongoing process, and new evidence can always change our understanding of history. However, the current research indicates that the Aboriginal Australians, Indus Valley civilisation, and Sumerians are among the oldest civilisations in the world.

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