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Which country is recognized or documented as having the first prominent civilization? After reading so many articles, I couldn't determine which country should be acknowledged as having the oldest civilization. According to Puranas of India, it seems to be the oldest country with a prominent civilization. However, while searching Google, I found that Egyptians existed at the same time as the earliest Indian civilization. Can anybody clarify this?

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    Very good question!!! ( i would say I couldn't have said it better myself but I really could not – Napoleonothecake Oct 31 '11 at 22:17
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    Define Civilization. – Lennart Regebro Nov 1 '11 at 8:44
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    I really think Lennart's question is essential in this matter. "Civilization" is hardly an academically fixed concept. – Cerberus Nov 1 '11 at 12:15
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    I'd also ask what is meant by prominent, are we talking the first, earliest civilization that can be detected with current methods and tools? – MichaelF Nov 1 '11 at 17:24
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    You also need to clarify whether you mean that there's cultural continuity, or that the ancient civilization just happens to be located in the modern-day country. Modern Egypt, for instance, has almost nothing in common with ancient Egypt, or even Egypt under the Ptolemies, Romans, or Byzantines. – jamesqf Jun 1 '15 at 17:47
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The Sumerians are widely credited with being the first genuine civilisation on Earth, beginning gradually around the 5th millennium BC and reaching clear 'civilisation' status by the early 4th millennium BC. Towns and large agricultural communities existed before this time, but are generally not considered to have constituted a civilisation. The Sumerians, who were situated in modern-day lower Iraq and Kuwait, are widely believed to have invented the city-state and organised government, law, writing, systematic agriculture, the wheel (probably), and irrigation, among various other early innovations and marks of civilisation.

Although the dates of the beginnings of these civilisations are in general not terribly well-defined, the order of the appearance of "civilisations" is often considered to be the following.

  • Ancient Sumerian — the very earliest (first city-states in world in 4th millennium BC, cuneiform script, probably first 'proper' writing system, c. 3,000 BC)

  • Ancient Egyptian — widely considered independent in origin (gradual development of civilisation throughout 4th millennium BC, unification / start of First Dynasty c. 3150 BC, appearance of hieroglyphs c. 3,000 BC)

  • Ancient Indian (Indus Valley Civilisation) — widely considered independent in origin (c. 3,300 BC, Indus 'Script' from around 3,300 BC but may well have just been pictograms for initial phase, since not yet deciphered, syncretism with Indo-Aryans from early 2nd millennium BC)

  • Ancient Chinese — widely considered independent in origin (c. 1,900 BC with Ertilou period and development of state, beginning of Bronze Age, Oracle Bone Script recorded from c. 1,250 BC but definitely older, yet still pictographic at this point)

  • Ancient Greek (Minoan / Mycenaean) — partially inheriting from Mesopotamian and Egyptian developments, older than the above if you count the Minoans of Crete (c. 3,000 or early 3rd millennium BC, undeciphered Linear A script from c. 2,500 BC, Mycenaean Greece and deciphered Linear B script from c. 1,600 BC)

  • Phoenician / Canaanite (Lebanon area) — partially inheriting from Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisation (first recorded in 15th C BC by Egyptians, but city-states likely several centuries older)

  • Ancient Italian (Etruscan / Roman) — partially inheriting from the Greeks (Etruscans and city-states from c. 900 BC, Rome founded in c. 753 BC, Republic in 509 BC, dominant Mediterranean power by late 3rd C BC and defeat of Carthage)

  • Ancient Iranian (Medean / Persian) — partially inheriting from Elamite and Mesopotamian civilisations (Medean Empire from c. 678 BC but with scarce archaeological remains, extremely influential and historically important Achaemenid Empire from 550 BC)

Sources for these dates can be found here and here. Admittedly, I miss out a few civilisations like the Elamites, Akkadians, Hittites, and other Anatolian and Middle Eastern ones (and thus perhaps I do them injustice) — that said, these would usually be considered to have left behind a far less marked cultural or historical impact on their respective regions, or indeed even a lesser archaeological or documental history in some cases. The Elamites are perhaps most deserving of a place in the above list, and they would date from c. 3,000 BC, putting them in '4th place'. I believe it's debatable how much they were influenced by Sumer.

Note also that I am restricting this answer to Old World civilisations, since although the Norte Chico civilisation of South America can be considered very early, it does not bear some of the hallmarks of what we typically consider — rightly or wrongly — a 'genuine' civilisation (e.g., a mature writing system, the wheel).

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  • What about the Maikop culture? – Anixx Dec 17 '12 at 20:42
  • @Anixx: Too little is known about that culture, I believe. It would be too much of a stretch to call it a genuine civilisation, in any cases, at present. Most likely what "civilised" aspects it did pick up were from the contact of Indo-European peoples with the advanced Middle-Eastern cultures at the time. – Noldorin Dec 17 '12 at 21:18
  • The title asks what country traces its roots back to the oldest civilization. You mentioned Sumeria was in the Iraq area, but what about technological, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural heritage? Would you say that going that far back means just about everyone has roots in their civilization? Or is there some country or countries with a unique claim to Sumerian descent? – Mr. Bultitude Jul 26 '14 at 0:13
  • @Mr.Bultitude: In brief summary of a very complex issue: technological heritage was immediately the Assyrians (who later conquered the region), the entire Middle East, the Mediterranean and Indian civilisations, then the whole world in time. Ethnic? Very hard to tell, although there's nothing to suggest the Sumerians were wiped out. They lost their identity over time thanks to the Assyrians & Babylonians, but I'm sure many modern Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, and people far wider afield have a little Sumerian ancestry if you go back far enough! – Noldorin Jul 26 '14 at 0:38
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    @rougon Yeah, fair point. Of course, dates are very hard to pin down (by their nature only fuzzy) for the earlier civilisations in particular, but it's a good suggestion nonetheless. – Noldorin Feb 28 at 17:21
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The major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization imposed over modern borders

After contenders like Sumerians, Egyptians, there is another forbidden world which was ruined because of earthquake or may be foreign invasion (some estimate this). Here i am talking about Indus Valley Civilisation who trace back its root since 3300 - 1300 B.C and was the most advanced among all the ancient settlements at that time.

Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, with the Great Bath in the front - Handicrafts - In Mettalurgy - City Planning - Great sewage and drainage systems - Baked bricked walls

The civilisation was alien to us but came to known after britishers (colonists) discovered the ruins and clusters of city buried under the earth.

The civilisation was based on the land which is modern day punjab of pakistan. The Harrappa and Mohenjadaro were the major cities of those times.

Ten Indus Signs, dubbed Dholavira Signboard Ancient Art of MohenJoDaro For More information, follow this link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_Civilization

Sources: www.wikipedia.com/ indus valley civilisation www.google.com / search engine

{Apologizes for bigger than size images}

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If you use the term civilization with the connotations of culture than the first pieces of art were found in South Africa from more than 60,000 years ago. In an even broader sense apes are now known to possess culture, by teaching technological tricks to their siblings and newcomers in their group.

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Ancient Sumerians were the first people to invent an alphabet and they did it long before the Egyptians. They kicked off the "Agricultural" revolution, which started the "Urban" revolution and the domestication of animals.

They gave the world the first "Religion" that became a template for all civilizations that followed in human history. Consider the fact that their "war between the Gods" theme was incorporated by the big three monotheistic monopolies of our planet. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Then consider the fact that a citizen of Mesopotamia, named Abraham, ( and his sons ) started it all.

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  • Sure the Tigris and Euphrates are great rivers; so are the Yangtze, the Indus, the Mekong, and others. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 1 '15 at 21:57
  • They seem to have been the first with writing of some kind. However, the first known Alphabet was the Greek one, and that didn't happen until the Ancient Sumerians were long gone. – T.E.D. Jun 4 '15 at 13:08
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    @T.E.D.: The first known alphabetic system was Phoenician; the Greek's borrowed it. There are many writing systems, which are summarized here: omniglot.com/writing/types.htm – Peter Diehr Jun 5 '16 at 15:36
  • @PeterDiehr - Well...sort of. The Semitic scripts weren't true alphabets because they didn't have proper symbols for vowels. However, that's probably because vowels are regular enough in Semitic languages that symbols for them aren't really necessary. Last I heard, it wasn't 100% conclusive which was borrowed from which. – T.E.D. Jun 5 '16 at 20:03

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