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Who is the earliest person recorded in history? Whose fame has survived the greatest amount of time to come down to us today?

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This depends on whether you allow mythical personalities. There are many people described in myths which cannot be determined whether they actually existed and even if existed, when they did. – Anixx Jun 19 '12 at 6:59
@Anixx - Recorded means written. Remember, oral tradition is an excellent cultural exercise, but it's not history. Likewise myth is literature, and not history. The earliest name we know of in writing is that of the Goddess Inana, circa 3200bce. The earliest person is proving more elusive, but may be Nar-Mer, a Pharaoh. I'm doing more research to verify. – RI Swamp Yankee Jun 19 '12 at 12:11
Would you consider cave paintings to be recorded history? The problem is we don't know how to interpret them. Were they instruction manuals for generations of people to refer to, religious writings used by shamans, boys drawing dirty pictures or a combination of these things? – jfrankcarr Jun 19 '12 at 17:05
Most oral traditions were later recorded, and most ancient historical chronicles start with mythical depictions. For example, Russian Primary Chronicle starts with claiming (after the Bible) that Russians originated from Japheth. – Anixx Jun 19 '12 at 20:58
@RISwampY: There are written accounts of persons that go back further than 3200BC. The problem is that they become increasingly mystical, since they were written later. So IMO Anixx does have a point with his question. I think this all boils down to the question: Recorded by contemporary scribes, or recorded in retrospect? If it's the former, it might be possible to identify some ruler (likely a Pharaoh or a Mesopotamian king) who first had his name recorded in clay or stone for some deed. If the latter, things become muddier the further back we go, until they're lost in the mists of time. – sbi Jun 21 '12 at 10:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The Narmer Palette, dating to the 31st century BCE, displays the name "Nar-Mer", the Pharoah credited with unifying Upper and Lower Egypt. There are names from before this time in later written records, which may or may not be legendary figures, and then there is Iry-Hor, which is either a predynastic pharaoh of upper-egypt preceding Narmer - or a symbol for the Royal Treasury, we're not sure which. So the first person we know for certain to be recorded by a contemporary scribe was Narmer.

Ka may be older, as it is a single hieroglyph enclosed in a primitve serekh, and a direct predecessor of Narmer, or, again, something to do with the pharaoh, without being the pharaoh.

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Please incorporate your comment on the earliest name being the goddess Inana into your answer, since this question has been directed over here. – called2voyage Mar 12 '14 at 20:11

One interesting possibility is a person who described the making of beer on a tablet in Sumer, dated 3400 to 3000 BC. The suggested transcription of the tablet is


It is not cleared up whether Kushin is the person's official title or given name. But Yuval Noah Harari says that if it is his name, then this is the first human in history whose name was recorded.

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Yes, similar issues with the older Egyptian names, too - Ka and Iry-Hor aren't definitely names rater than titles. It'd be awesome if the first known name in history was the guy who brewed the beer. – RI Swamp Yankee May 18 at 15:45
@RISwampYankee funny, the book author from whom I got it says it's remarkable that the first name in history is not one of a ruler, but that of an accountant :) but I think his interpretation of the original text is slightly different. – rumtscho May 18 at 19:41

Perhaps the oldest known human being is the cave painter with a distinctive twist in his or her little finger whose hand imprint—thought to be a kind of signature—is found in several different locations in the Grotte Chauvet in France. The date given these imprints varies between 30 and 36 thousand years ago. Clearly, this predates history as the term is normally used, but it is a record, and it is much, much older than anything like it in Mesopotamia, Egypt, or China.

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Unfortunately, a signature is not a name - see the point above about Ka and Iry-Hor. It does not translate into any known language, and there is no context to it apart from being unique to a particular artist; we don't know if the artist was using it to identify themselves, or if they used it for another purpose. It's quite literally pre-historic, and we can't make any real assumptions on it. We can't even pronounce it. – RI Swamp Yankee Oct 30 at 20:09
But can't it be interpreted as "here I am, this is me" ? I have (several times) used a fictional Ugh representing pre-historical man. Since the creator of the hand-prints lived pre-historically, he lived by definition before writing had been invented, perhaps even before most speech. So, by showing us his print, he was saying "here I am, this is me, I am the owner of this hand and it is me." He has identified himself as a thinking being, capable of more than "where is my next meal and will that creature kill me?" – CGCampbell Oct 31 at 3:49
We don't know his name, but that is only because he didn't know how to write it. – CGCampbell Oct 31 at 3:54
We are not talking about a person as we might imagine them to be. We are talking about a name we can pronounce, and know it was a name we pronounced. The first was a bundled sheaf of wheat we learned from later developments in language and literature as "Inana" - a mythical goddess. The first person we can assign a name we can pronounce and without ambiguity was Narmer - so his is the first historical name. Sorry. – RI Swamp Yankee Nov 1 at 3:44

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