I'm reading a bit about early human history, and was asking myself when and where the civilization showed up.

First of all, Ancient Egypt came to mind, and I figured out that this civilization started to get such a culture somewhere around 4000-3000BC. But I also read that there were a lot civilizations in the Fertile Crescent earlier than Egypt's.

So was Ancient Egypt the first civilization and the others were just humans who settled, or were there other civilizations before?

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    Sumer and Akkad existed first. They were about as civilized as Egypt, but with less population.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 22, 2016 at 12:57
  • Ancient Egypt for all its "infrastructures" really didn't leave a lot behind for the human race. Ancient Greece for the West...Han China for the East would be my first two. The Mayans are an interesting third possibility but we are still trying to unravel that one. In many ways "Mayan Time" (Moon/Earth) is the most accurate measurement of our actual existence ever created. Sep 22, 2016 at 13:22
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    It might be useful for you to define "high culture". If you are asking which culture first distinguished certain arts or artistic products as being of "high" nature, in contrast to popular forms, then that is an interesting question indeed, though not an easy one to answer. Sep 22, 2016 at 14:54
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    If I had to guess, I would say it first arose in Sumer with the priesthood. "High culture" would have been the culture of the priests. Sep 22, 2016 at 14:58
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    Imprecise terms anti-pattern; what is "civilization"?
    – MCW
    Apr 15, 2021 at 11:28

2 Answers 2


Many historians go so far as to equate the term "Civilization" with writing. So let's look at that.

Egypt and Sumer (in Modern-day Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) both founded literate civilizations around 3000 BC. There appears to be an ongoing debate over which was first. Its tough to know for sure, just because reconciling ancient civilizations' ruler-based chronologies with modern calendars (or worse yet, each other's chronologies) is a difficult challenge that occupies many a career.

When I was coming up most Historians said Sumer was first, but before I was born most Historians assumed it was Egypt. So it isn't hard to find older histories that state categorically it was one or the other. So I can see where you might get a confused picture from your reading.

The Indus Valley Civilization was probably 3rd, starting around 2600 BC. China started writing at roughly 1500 BC, and the Olmec Civilization in Central America also goes back to roughly that date. The first evidence of Andean Civilizations using their unique form of writing is from around 1000 BC.

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    OTOH, if for you "Civilization" means "cat memes", the Egyptians were clearly first.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:22
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    I'll see your Ancient Egyptian cats and raise you 10000 year old Neolithic cat paintings. Sep 22, 2016 at 17:06
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    Writing is pretty minor as a basis for a Civilization... calligraphy matters as it shows a fascination with the word as an Art Form. That would be Han Chinese, the Arabs and the English if you use that standard. I still think seeing oneself as connected to a Celestial Being is why most start with Egypt (Rah...the Sun God, father of time, distance) but very few Civilizations really focused on what is physically off of Earth as "on Earth" in the sense of organizing ones sense of self and purpose "without thinking" as it were. It's not like we wear sundials on our wrists to determine what time is Sep 22, 2016 at 18:07
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    I think cities is a much better basis for defining "civilization" (aside from the obvious etymological connection), in part because we don't have any solid, unambiguous evidence for genuine writing in either the ancient Andes or the Indus Valley civilization (as opposed to possible proto-literary accounting systems). Sep 23, 2016 at 12:09
  • According to the modern views, writing was invented independently in Sumer, Egypt, China and America, and Sumer was the first. This can be revised if new evidence is discovered.
    – Alex
    Sep 24, 2016 at 18:56

The term "high culture" is a bit subjective. I believe, however, the earliest site as it predates the Neolithic Revolution, is Göbekly Tepe in Turkey: Göbekli Tepe (Wikipedia).


The question changed from "high culture" to "civilization". I would say that writing is a bad metric for civilization. Writing was only invented a couple times and I think there were clearly civilizations prior to the advent of writing in the Levant. Need a better parameter to answer the question, otherwise you're really just debating on what civilization means.

  • This wasn't the call I made, but it is a defensible position. Entering the Neolithic is what allowed the kind of extreme job specialization that made most of the things we recognize as "civilization" possible.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:10
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    See my comment on the original question.
    – fdb
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:14
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    You may (or may not) want to edit this answer based on the question's edit. I know personally I dislike when questions get edited away from an answer I posted.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:28
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    Banging copper plates out is not the basis for a Civilization. Sep 23, 2016 at 2:44

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