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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 21 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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