As young as the Earth is, it has been around longer than most civilizations and societies. The Earth's age is nothing compared to how many people have lived, flourished, and died on it. On this note, the topic of several societies and civilizations that lived on this planet are countless. There were people with mysterious beginnings and even more mysterious disappearances, with very little or no evidence found. And then there are these magnificent cultures and societies that left behind buildings and monuments of their once wealthy and powerful civilizations. Having a population upwards of thousands, with families, a form of government, and traces of livelihood and early signs of intelligence and sophistication that's unheard of and are as astonishing as any other fossil of an extinct dinosaur.
In this article, we will try to shed some light on 15 of the most controversial societies that ever existed on our young planet. The sophistication of these people, the advancements in their way of life, and the mysterious disappearance of their culture and their own little, or massive, world. The other part of this story is a list of 10 societies that are still here. Ten of the oldest civilizations, once small or massive, adapted to the times and reshaped by history and nature, or both, but are still a working and by definition, a society or a civilization.
25 Vanished: The Maya
Basic computer coding would not have existed if not for the Maya society. This civilization invented the number zero, they were also one of the most advanced people of their time. Architecture, agriculture, math, and that famous calendar, are only some of the achievements the Maya civilization brought to our world. Unfortunately, the Maya started to fade in existence, due to numerous theories like climate change, war, and disease, to name a few. Remnants of the ancient civilization now rest in Central America, located and spread throughout Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
24 Vanished: Clovis
These people are believed to have been one of the first inhabitants of the New World. Mammoth hunters who used chipped flint points called "Clovis points." They hunted big game for food and used animal skins for their shelter and clothing, including mammoths, bison, deer, and other smaller animals. The Clovis is one of the first great predators to disrupt the natural balance of North America's ecosystem. A civilization that started as early as 10,000 B.C., their extinction was believed to have followed the extinction of the mammoth, one of their main sources of food. Imagine how many Clovis mouths one mammoth would have fed? Other theories include a lack of mobility and comets.
23 Vanished: The Nabataeans
Petra was the capital city of the Nabataean civilization. A trading route that was too good to be true, people traded everything in this ancient city center: from silks, spices, and ivory, to gems, medicine, and precious metals. This was a civilization free of slavery, people carried and worked for themselves and no other. Located in and around the countries of Jordan and Arabia, the Nabataeans were most famous for building Petra, which might as well be the first ever mall in the world. When most of the traders shifted direction, it was believed that the Nabataean people also slowly abandoned Petra, leading to the civilization's demise.
22 Vanished: The Lost Colony of Roanoke
John White was the appointed governor of more than a hundred English people that settled on the island of Roanoke. This was a story that is very well-known in modern day North Carolina. The island these English settlers decided to live on is just off the coast of North Carolina, United States today. John White was supposed to sail to England and sail back to the island with supplies to start their new civilization, but when he came back, the only thing that greeted him was a tree with the word "croatoan" carved on it. The settlers were gone, believed to have been abducted, killed, or died while trying to sail back themselves.
21 Vanished: The Anasazi
During 1200 BC, the area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah was home to the Anasazi. They were Native Americans, also known as Ancestral Puebloans. These people hunted at first but then learned how to farm later on. Evidence of their existence is seen in pottery, cookware, baskets, bows, and arrows. Their shelters were situated near cliffs, and small towns spread all over the Four Corners land area. Their disappearance cannot just be explained by drought or an increase in population. Some experts say there must have been some kind of social conflict that led to the civilization's demise.
20 Vanished: Nabta Playa
In Egypt, a long time ago, about 6500 BC, there was a society that lived in the Sahara Desert. During that time, it was believed that the climate and surroundings made it possible for people to live in the middle of the Sahara. Archaeological findings show that the citizens were farmers and they even knew how to domesticate animals like cows. Their village is located about 500 miles from today's Egyptian capital, Cairo. There were also stones that point to the Nabta Playa people's knowledge of astronomy.
19 Vanished: Indus Valley Civilization
The Harappan civilization, or more popularly known as the Indus, was a society that grew to an estimated 5 million. They lived on lands that are Afghanistan, India, Iran, and Pakistan today. This civilization flourished for about 2,000 years, leaving behind brick houses, walkways, shops, and other amazing archaeological finds. They were believed to have created a plumbing system due to their indoor toilets and were kind of experts in agriculture. Apart from climate changes and war, it is a mystery why one of the largest civilizations ever in the world vanished.
18 Vanished: The Minoans
Today, we know it as Crete, but about 3,000 BC to 1,000 BC, it was the land of the Minoan civilization. In mythology, Minoa was believed to be ruled by the Cretan Bull and its Minotaur offspring. But in reality, Minoa is believed to have been one of the very first civilizations in Europe. An intelligent people with palaces, art, and commerce, they had a language called Linear A and Linear B. The Minoans were believed to have been wiped out by a devastating volcanic eruption, or through starvation afterward, if some of them ever survived.
17 Vanished: Easter Island
Surely there was a civilization that once lived and flourished on Easter Island. The standing hard evidence is the world-famous stone monuments called Moai found all over the island. These statues were constructed by the people who lived on the island from as early as 700 AD and the people were called the Rapa Nui. Recent archeology digs have shown that the heads are just the tops of what are full-body statues, up to 70 feet tall. Experts estimated the Rapa Nui people had grown to a healthy 3,000 before they died down to just about 100. Being island people, the reasons for their disappearance are attributed to lack of resources and starvation.
16 Vanished: The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture
A society that periodically burns their old village to construct a new one on top of it, the Cucuteni-Trypillian people are a fascinating civilization. Located in Europe and believed to have existed with a maximum population of 15,000, the Cucuteni, as known by Ukraine, lived as early as 5,500 BC. They flourished until 2,750 BC, learning all kinds of livelihood from farming to livestock. The heads of the families were the women, men were the hunters and animal herders, the women were in charge of agriculture. The Trypillian people, as they are known by the Romanians, were believed to have vanished due to drastic climate changes that made it impossible for their people to stay and survive.
15 Vanished: Angkor
As fascinating as its people, the Khmer, if not more fascinating, is the city of Angkor. This jungle-ridden city ruin was once a bustling city, now it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Cambodia. Made famous by Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film, this city is a 402-acre monument, temple, and is the largest religious monument in the world. Three centuries before the Khmer Empire fell, Angkor Wat fell to ruin due to various reasons, some of which were war and natural disasters. Today, the city is enveloped by the forests of Cambodia, but still has regular visitors.
14 Vanished: The Aksumite Empire
It is where Ethiopia is today, but in the 1st century AD, it was known as the Aksumite Empire. It was one of the most successful trading centers of its time, conducting business with the help of the Red Sea, and trading with the likes of the Roman Empire and India. Great archaeological finds of this vanished society were the massive obelisks used like tombstones of the nobles. The Aksumite were the first to have their own monetary system in the form of coins, which was a big deal in those times, a sign of great wealth in a civilization. More theories revolve around hostile takeovers, them losing a war, rather than the other usual reasons for a society's decline.
13 Vanished: Cahokia
America's forgotten city was located in modern-day Illinois. It was a big civilization that was believed to have reached a population of 40,000. They lived in America long before the first European vessel ever found its way to American shores. These people are called the Cahokia, they were a sophisticated and very intelligent group of people with skills that went over farming, irrigation, and agriculture. They were amazing architects and astronomers as well, evidenced by structures reminiscent of the Stonehenge and earthen pyramids. Their houses, called mounds, can be seen in Illinois today.
12 Vanished: The Olmec
The Olmec were one of the first societies that inhabited Mexico. Their remnants and most of the evidence found were around south-central Mexico and along the Gulf of Mexico. These people lived off of the trade business, making the Olmec the mother of cultural beginnings in Mesoamerica. The famous carved heads and some other relics were evidence of the civilization's early beginnings and proof of life in the area, but no proof ever supported the explanation of their disappearance. It could be due to climate change, a hostile takeover, natural disasters like volcanic eruptions or floods.
11 Vanished: The Khmer Empire
During its time, the Khmer Empire was one of the most powerful forces in the whole of Southeast Asia. Just imagine how beautiful Angkor Wat was during its prime. It was a testament to how powerful the empire of the Khmer was. The Khmer had one of the first successful military regimes in Asian history, fighting against the Chams and the Annamese. Their religion was old versions of Buddhism and Hinduism, some regarded self-enlightenment as a way of life, which experts claim was the downfall of the empire, together with the construction of roads, making it easier for their enemies to march to Angkor and wage war.
10 Still Here: China
In Chinese history, the birthplace of the Chinese civilization happened near the Yellow River. One of the very first Chinese dynasties was established here, at around 2700 BC. China is one of the oldest civilizations today, having invented paper and silk, these people were industrialized long before some continents even had any distinct human life that can be considered a society. The very first dynasty to ever rule over the entirety of China is the Xia dynasty. This happened in 2070 BC and then a number of dynasties followed suit. But through all these dynasties and emperors, what's notable are the various inventions the Chinese people contributed to the world in general. The Chinese also invented printing and gunpowder, among others.
9 Still Here: Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is the collective civilizations that thrive in southern North America and Central America for millennia. These people are now the people that populate areas of Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These were civilizations like the most notable Olmec and Mayan civilizations, evolved and adapted through the changing times. They shaped the future of agriculture by tending crops such as maize, beans, and cotton. The last true Mesoamerican empire was taken down by the Spaniards under the leadership of Hernan Cortes in 1521.
8 Still Here: Egypt
Egypt may very well be declared the oldest existing and most popular civilization in the world today. This is mainly due to the Pyramids and The Great Sphinx, which to this day, is a total mystery as to how they were built. Ancient Egyptian civilization started at about 3,100 BC along the Nile River (it seems that great civilizations start near rivers). Historians also claim that paper was also invented by the Egyptians, but there is no doubt that they were the first to mummify corpses, its how they preserved the ancient Pharaohs. Today, Egypt is just like any other country in Asia, one that is rich in culture and history, but they were once the most advanced and the most successful civilization on the face of the Earth.
7 Still Here: Mesopotamia
The war and conflict-riddled countries of Iraq, Turkey, and Syria were the lands of the first-ever recorded civilization on Earth. As early as 8,000 BC, these people already knew how to domesticate animals and some form of agriculture. But the civilization started to take form around 3,300 BC, with the rise of the Mesopotamians. This civilization fine-tuned what the first people knew about farming, livestock, and art, and turned it into the first known civilization of humankind. Their reported rise took place in the Zagros Mountains by the Arabian Plateau.
6 Still Here: India
After the disappearance of the Indus Valley civilization, the Aryans were the civilization that flourished in India, migrating from 1,500 BC and creating a society that lasted up until 500 BC. Then in 320 BC, the first imperial state rose, the Mauryan empire. The greatest ruler of this empire was Asoka. Ancient Indian civilization produced two religions in Buddhism and Jainism. Modern-day India is one of the richest countries culture-wise and one of the most influential ones in terms of the Buddhism religion.
5 Still Here: Australia
Australia and Papua New Guinea comprise the lands southeast of Asia, and together with New Zealand and some other surrounding country islands, they are called Australasia or Oceania. Recent studies prove the fact that the indigenous Australian people were one of the earliest civilizations that roamed Earth. Coming from Africa, they braved the vast oceans to migrate to Australia, making them unofficially the first people to travel by sea. DNA markers of the current population of Australians and Papua New Guineans trace back to this ancestry, this early form of civilization that could be as old as 51,000 to 70,000 years ago.
4 Still Here: Greece
Greece holds the candle as the civilization that was most influential to the rest of the world, during their peak, and to this day. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, and Alexander the Great were just a few of the great Greek names that helped shaped the history of the world as we know it now. Before Greece, the kingdom spread through Italy, North Africa, Sicily, and even France. This civilization gave men biology, physics, and geometry in academia. In politics, the concept of democracy and the Senate. And in sports, the Olympics.
3 Still Here: Rome
When one speaks of Rome, they talk of power, military, and world domination. At first, Rome was led by kings, but this rule lasted only for seven kings recorded by history. The people rose and governed themselves at the demise of the kingdoms. Hence came the Roman empire, a vast area that comprises of most, if not all, countries today that surround the Mediterranean Sea and even into Great Britain. An unstoppable force then, the Roman empire, its civilization, and history can be seen and felt in modern-day Rome.
2 Still Here: Morocco
The Kingdom of Morocco is located northwest of the continent of Africa. Recent reports state that the first humans lived in Morocco as far back as 315,000 years ago. But before that, it is recorded that early forms of civilization started between 190,000 and 90,000 BC. Ancient Morocco had several dynasties, like the Berber and the Sharifian dynasties. During this era, Morocco was established as an Islamic nation, as it is presently. The ancient civilization left behind the Sawmaat Hassan, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important monuments in Morocco.
1 Still Here: Japan
Japan is one of the most industrialized countries today. It is a land of disciplined people, rooted in their history and culture. Ancient Japanese civilization was believed to have started as early as 14,000 BC in the Jomon Period. This claim gives rise to the probability that the ancient ancestors of Japan lived in the Jomon Period. After the rather dark history of Japan, with all its exploits in World War II and with China, this country still stands as one of the more technologically advanced on Earth.