The august Egyptians had pyrimads. The ancient Romans had aqueducts. The bloodthirsty Vikings had longships. Some historical civilizations are so well-known, almost anyone with even a passing interest in the past would be able to fire off their basic backstory and list of traits.
In fact, someone with only casual experience in history may think that (because of the intense focus that some civilizations garner), the history of the world is made up of only a few powerful empires, and that everyone else is unimportant.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Oftentimes, a civilization will be incredibly influential and important, but won’t receive a lot of discussion. Normally, this is because there’s nothing left to discuss.
These vanished ancient societies leave large gaps in our understanding. History is, at best, an inexact science, and can best be imagined as a book with several pages missing. Some of the lost cultures and mysterious historical civilizations that we know the least about probably have some of the most interesting stories to tell. Instead, we’re left wanting, our minds full of curiosity and wonder.
They spread across the majority of North America (and parts of Central America) within a few thousand years after humans first came to the continent, leaving behind their trademark weapons but very few other clues. No one is sure exactly what happened to this culture, whether it died out or simply assimilated into future civilizations.
We know the Mayans constructed some architectural wonders and created a truly impressive calendar, but we don’t know where they all disappeared to. The Mayan Empire appears to have collapsed about 1000 years ago, leaving behind a veritable ghost town. Some modern theorists believe that climate change was the culprit.
Rarely has a civilization gained so much fame for a single piece of art, but then again, this single artwork was replicated dozens of times. The famous “heads” (or Moai) of Easter Island (which were eventually discovered to have underground bodies, which is objectively super cool), are all that is left of the mysterious people who once occupied the remote island.
Easter Island is far away from any other civilization, even by Polynesian standards. This means that one small group of ocean-faring people likely loaded into a canoe, found Easter Island, created some iconic statues, and then either left or died. Modern research suggests the island’s inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, may have destroyed their own livelihood through resource depletion.
They created countless stone structures meant to track the movements of the stars, which likely laid the groundwork for other ancient civilizations to pick up the study. The Nabta Playa people lived in a harsh desert environment, which helps explain why they didn’t leave much other information behind, although some believe that they were the ancestors of future Nile civilizations.
The Olmecs, who occupied the same basic area as the mysterious Mayans 1200 years before their rise, fell victim to the same reforestation that has obscured Mayan history. The Olmecs spread their empire for over 900 years, establishing the pattern that future South American empires would follow, before mysteriously vanishing around 300 BC.
One of the complete sets of bones happened to belong to a young woman with a grotesquely elongated skull, something that archaeologists believe was a natural occurrence. Maybe we don’t need to learn more about this peninsula-spanning mutant empire, after all. There are enough nightmares in the world.
Modern geological studies have shown that a massive earthquake shook their region around the time of their disappearance. This may have diverted their primary water source, leading to their civilization’s quick demise.
People Of Punt
Punt was apparently a very wealthy land, with treasures and resources that rivaled the Egyptians, and yet there is very little evidence of them trading with anyone other than Egypt, or going to war with anyone at all. One would think a rich land in the middle of Africa would have been ripe for invasion, but nothing like that seems to have ever happened. If anyone ever actually discovered Punt’s location, they didn’t write it down.
The Sea Peoples
Their primary targets were the Egyptians and the Hittite Empire, but nobody knows where they came from themselves. All that is recorded is that they sailed in from out of nowhere, raided Mediterranean lands, and then sailed back off into the sunset. Of course, they frequently returned to wreak more havoc. A pirate-viking empire existed in the ancient world, and they managed to keep their secret base hidden to history. How awesome is that?
The original site, a temple found in modern day Turkey, dates back between 13,000 and 12,000 years, yet contains architectural techniques that would not be seen again for millennia. Subsequent digs have revealed the location to be much more expansive than previously thought.
Austronesians Of Madagascar
The original inhabitants of Madagascar appear to be Austronesian in origin, the only such people anywhere near that part of the world. The language spoken on Madagascar was most similar to that spoken in Borneo, which was 4,000 miles away. Anthropologists are still unsure as to exactly how these people reached their new home, although an epic naval journey seems certain. The existence of this civilization has been likened to Columbus arriving in the Caribbean and discovering a singular island full of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swedes.