Ten Lost Civilizations
If humans had eight fingers, this would be “Eight Lost Civilizations.” However, by accident of biology or God’s design (one and the same really) humans have ten fingers so we are stuck with lists of ten things. I have a number of ten things lists under construction to relieve the tedium of war, terrorism, and global warming. Here’s the first…ten lost civilizations. And yes, I have ulterior motives here, there is some logic and history hidden below. I hope.
Moving right along, there have actually been about 7000 civilizations in the course of human history, new ones are discovered all the time. I’m sure there is an actual scientific definition of the term “civilization,” for my purposes I am defining the term as “a distinct culture and society delineated by a particular region, nation, or era.” As for what I mean by lost, I mean they are no longer around. That covers such things as Rome whose institutions, myths, and language still permeate western society, to true mysteries like the demise of the Indus Valley civilization. They are roughly ordered from the least mysterious to the most mysterious, though some might quibble.
I’ve tried not to include civilizations like the Arawak or the Inca who were simply annihilated in historical times by foreign invaders. I’ve not included lost cities, there’s a whole lost cities list under construction. I’ve only included one “mythical” lost civilization, basically because it is so well known that not to include it would be a disservice. And lastly, I’ve not included lost civilizations that are still truly lost and only hints of them have been found. Again, another list. Who knew the world was so filled with mysteries?
This, like all my paranormal posts, is presented as factual entertainment. I have little patience for debunkers and true believers alike…this is aimed at the middle ground. There are amazing mysteries in the world…but there’s no need to invoke aliens or magic to explain them. Yet.
Atlantis. Atlantis is the easiest lost civilization to understand, everything we know about Atlantis comes from a few passages in the works of Plato, a classical Greek philosopher. There is not one single whit of evidence outside of Plato’s writing for the existence of Atlantis, every single reference in the world’s history mentioning Atlantis leads back to Plato. Which hasn’t stopped people from spending their lives searching for it.
Hmm, a reasonable person would have to assert that the most likely explanation is that Plato made Atlantis up for whatever reason. Oddly enough Plato wrote about Atlantis in 360 BC. Just a dozen years earlier the Greek City of Helike literally sank beneath the sea during an earthquake and tidal wave, taking all its inhabitants to a watery grave. It was big news at the time, tourists sailed over the ruins for centuries before they became buried with silt and were lost. It’s not hard for me to imagine that Helike was the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis.
Rome. Ah yes, Rome, whatever happened to them? Whole books could and have been written about why the Roman civilization fell. Seeing as I have a paragraph or two, I will be brief. The first is that only half of the Roman Empire collapsed and was overrun by barbarians. The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) with its capital in Constantinople lasted another thousand years after the sack of Rome. A lot of reasons have been proposed for the collapse, from corruption to barbarians to moral decay to Christianity. Truth of the matter is, no one really knows. The Empire was never particularly well run to begin with, historians generally consider there were only a handful of good emperors. The mystery then becomes, why did the Roman Empire become so large and last so long if it was so badly run? Good question.
The Maya. The Maya built fabulous cities and temples in central America, but by the time the Spanish arrived they had abandoned their cities and reverted to living in villages. What the hell happened? Good question, we still don’t know, though recent archaeology has shown that many of their cities were hastily fortified and show signs of violence near the end. So internal strife is a good bet, though caused by what is still unknown. Climate change and drought is a recent theory. The fact that a great civilization (fifteen million people at their peak!) can abandon its cities and move back into villages is food for thought, nu? The Maya are the most well known civilization who did this, but by no means the only one.
As a trivial note, much is made by some about the significance of the end of the Mayan calender in 2012. At the risk of offending people, I think this is just silly. The “end of the Mayan calender” is simply an artifact of how they constructed their calender. The Mayans put no significance to it. It’s like saying that the year 9999 will be the “end of our calender.”
Angkor Wat. This is another great civilization that abandoned its cities mysteriously. No one really knows why, though there’s some current investigation that hints that the metropolitan area got too large for its infrastructure to sustain. Of course contemporary modern civilizations know well the immense importance of infrastructure and always maintain it well. Snort.
Clovis People. Now this is an interesting one, a mysterious people using sophisticated and distinct stone tools colonized North America at the end of the last ice age, around 13,000 years ago. There were people here before them, but the Clovis people seem to be the first large scale colonization of North America. Where did they come from? No one knows, but France is a current guess. Where did they go? Their culture was destroyed during a cold period around 11,000-10,000 years ago. Possibly by weather, possibly by an impact event. The Clovis people lived on even if their culture was fragmented, and they are thought to be the forebears of most of the new world’s native people.
The Chachapoya. Called the “warriors of the clouds” these people lived high in the Andes in Northern Peru. The fought the Incas for centuries, only to be conquered by them shortly before the arrival of the Spanish. Recent discoveries are forcing a rethink of how important they were, but because they ceased to exist politically before Cortes arrived, they too are forgotten. Frankly if the Incas hadn’t been such an aggressive and warlike culture, they might have been able to resist the Spanish invasion, but I digress. And yes, the Chachapoya were conquered in historic times, I just thought they were interesting and obscure enough to include.
Goner. Who the hell were they? The Goner were a mysterious city building civilization that flourished in central Asia at the same time as the first city building civilizations in China, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. The were located in what is now Turkmenistan and are only now being revealed by archaeology. They were very possibly the first great trading civilization connecting east and west in Asia. For whatever reason their civilization failed and was covered by the sands of time.
The Minoan Culture. Ah, the Minoans. They were a pre classical Greek culture that built fabulous modern cities on the island of Crete, and unlike most ancient cities in the region, they had no city walls. Probably protected by their navy, their civilization thrived for over 1,000 years, from 2700 BC to 1450 BC. While there is much we know about them, there is far more we don’t know. What the heck is going on in the Minoan illustration above for example? We don’t even really know what happened to them. Their cities were pretty much destroyed by the terrible eruption of the island of Thera, but they rebuilt and a lasted another 50 years before they abandoned their cities or were overrun by invaders or something.
Harappan Civilization. As many as five million people once lived in one of the world’s very first large civilizations, in the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan and Western India. They lasted for thousands of years (3300-1700 BC.) The Harappans built their cities out of mud brick so little remains but a few mounds. They were only rediscovered about 80 years ago, we know very little about them. What happened to make this thriving civilization disappear while others in China and the middle east went on to found the civilizations of the world today? It’s being looked into. A lesson here: Don’t build out of mud if you want your civilization to be remembered.
Megalith builders. At least these people built out of giant stones so we still have a lot of their stonework today. For thousands of years (4800-1200 BC) people built a variety of structures out of giant stones in western Europe, sometimes transporting stones hundreds of miles for these mysterious constructions. The idea seems to have spread out of Africa, at least one purpose of some of these structures was astronomical as in they could track the seasons and such and have a calender. Stonehenge is the most well known of these sites, but by no means the largest or most mysterious.
(The above image of “bull-leaping” from the Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete is public domain under US copyright law. What these people were doing is still a mystery. A sport? Right of passage? Entertainment? Extreme bull baiting? Let’s make up some nonsense to confuse people in the future?)