Ancient advanced civilizations

Hopefully with my 4000+ posts I have shown everyone that I am not a nutter. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. I don’t believe in ghosts or Bigfoot or anything else Art Bell talks about. I am however a science fiction fan and don’t mind having some fun with fantastic concepts.
The other day I was wondering, is it possible for there to have been technologically advanced civilizations in the distant past without any evidence left behind? I’m not saying I think there was any. I just want to know if it would be possible for such a civilization (not necessarily human) to exist with no trace found as of yet. What do you think? Is it an answerable question?

I don’t have any cite, but i remember reading about archaeologists finding a tool in the mountains of China that was carbon dated to a couple thousand BC. This tool was thought to have been invented in the 1800’s.

I think that it is possible there have been advanced ideas and inventions in very early times, but with events such as the burning of the Library of Alexandria, these ideas could have very well been lost forever.

I’d be willing to bet that there were agricultural city-states that predate recorded history that are now gone. I do think we keep pushing back the line for early civilizations with every year–in my opinion, Oetzi the Iceman having a copper axe (when every other thing about him was straight neolithic) indicates that there was just a hell of a lot going on that we know nothing about. But advanced, modern-metallurgical-type civilizations? Nah.

We know how long some sort of “human” has been around (regardless whether you want to set the starting point at H. erectus, H. habilis, or somewhere else) and we are pretty clear on the dates for H. sapiens. We are pretty confident that we know the wild plants that were domesticated to allow agriculture to develop. I think it would be pretty nearly impossible for a society to have developed using wholly alternative food sources (because there is no indication the plants we domesticated were feral) or that they achieved anything resembling “high tech” without leaving substantial architectural traces behind. Consider Manhattan or Tokyo or the U.S. interstate system (not the pavement, particularly, but the cuts, fills, and overall earthscaping that has been required. Where are the mines from which any earlier civilization extracted the ores with which to build? We should either have remanants of holes or remnants of open pits and I have never heard of either being discovered.

On a related note if it’s possible some species along the lines of Russell’s dinosauroid existed and developed a stone or even bronze age level civilization would anything be left 65 million years later?

Yes that is exactly that sort of thing I was thinking of. (or even more advanced) I know this is science fiction territory. I am not suggesting that such a thing has happened. I am just curious how long it would take before all evidence would be wiped out. Or if it could be.

One of the feature articles in the current (July 2007) issue of Scientific American describes one person’s analysis on how long it would take various aspects of our own present human civilization to break down and disappear, should all humanity instantaneously vanish from the planet (with a somewhat disturbing focus on New York City’s time decay, at least to this New Yorker). The conclusion: not all that long at all, geologically speaking, for most infrastructure and edifices. Suprisingly long for some other stuff (bronze sculptures would last the longest?!).

It’s not totally and completely out of the realm of possibility, but it’s very unlikely. Even after many million years, we’d probably be finding large rounded mines and mayve even some trash piles. Geology changes but not that fast.

Actually, we’re absolutely confident that domesticated crops are derived from wild species, as those wild species still exist and are sometimes used for hybrization to increase the viability of domestic crops. With the advent of gene sequencing, we can even tell (more or less) from what wild strain a domestic species was derived.

However, it would certainly be possible for an advanced prehistoric human civilization to domesticate their own crops and animals, and then have them disappear without a trace at the collapse of the civilization. Depending on your definition of “advanced”, it’s quite possible that some society with technology based upon available stone or soft metal could have come into being and been destroyed, leaving no trace. A society with technologies utilizing hard metals (tin, iron, nickel) and composite stone construction (concrete, tamarac) would be expected to have left some traces if even not complete structures. However, it’s worth noting that there are only fragments left of the continent-spanning civilization of Carthage, which is only slightlly more than two millenia old, and little more than rumors and pottery fragments of Elamite and other pre-Mesopotamian societies in the Middle East, and possibly contemporary civilizations on the Subcontinent. Most pre-contact New World societies have totally disappeared, with only a few like the Mayans and Incans leaving artifacts. So societies at these technology and material levels can certainly disappear with barely a trace.

Something comperable to modern Industrial or post-Industrial civilization, however, would be harder to explain away. Even if our artifacts disappeared or were swallowed up, the residue of our activities will remain for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer.

Regarding pre-Homo sapiens civilizations, the main problems seems to be that we’ve not found fossil evidence of any creature, or species that would lead to, something with sufficient cranial capacity to have a comperable level of intelligence with modern man. This doesn’t mean that it can’t exist–there are certainly major gaps in the fossil record, especially going more than a few million years back–but the existance of predatory megafauna and lack of any evidence of an intellectually advanced species certainly lays much doubt on theories of lost civilizations…unless, of course, they’ve all sank deep into the sea with Ry’lea, awaiting the reawakening of the mighty Cthulhu and the Elder Gods.

There’s an interesting Larry Niven story, though–one of the Draco Tavern series…here it is, The Green Maurader–in which an alien trader, visiting the Earth for the first time in several billion years (long-lived thanks to relativistic time dilation) is sorrowful for the loss of the original intelligence species of the planet, killed off by oxydizing toxins created by bacteria that cleared the reducing atmosphere into a blue sky and oxygen-rich environment. So…you never know. Maybe that Clostridium botulinum you so abhor is the last remnant of an ancient and honorable species.


Is there a topic Stranger On A Train isn’t an expert on?

This being GQ, the factual answer to the OP is yes, there might be ancient advanced civilizations that have yet to be discovered. That doesn’t change the fact that there is no evidence that such a civilization ever existed.

Maybe something like this happened.

I remember reading an old science fiction story (Asimov, maybe) that said that very common, heavy ceramics would be the most long-lasting – specifically, toilet bowls!

Which will, of course, be interpreted by future paleontologists as fertility idols.

I guess it depends on whether this previous civilization wanted to be found. If you consider an alien civilization that came here, visited and explored. Maybe they just picked up all their trash before they left, for whatever motives they may have. We would then be depending on an error and that error surviving to this day.

For an advanced civilization that originated on Earth and got wiped out, then it would depend on how it got wiped out. Maybe all the craters we assume are meteor strikes are really power plants that imploded into mini black holes and eliminated all traces of that previous civilization. Less than that, it would be very odd for a complete civilization to disappear without leaving any traces. Unless we are thinking elves who made everything out of plant matter.

Someone brought up that there may have been earlier civilizations in the Mesopotamia mold that we don’t know about. I think this possibility becomes more likely when we realize that the places they likely inhabited, costal areas, are now all underwater, due to a general rise in sea level over the past 8,000 or so years. An example of this possibility is the stuff that Robert Ballard found under the Black Sea. The big problem, of course, is that the sea is so corrosive that we may never find much.



I’m a firm believer that while agriculture is very conducive to leaving a big trace in history, it’s not particularly required or even beneficial for civilization. Is it possible we’ve missed some non-agricultural advanced societies that were just overrun by H. sapiens infestation?

Just to be clear, though, I don’t think this is the kind of thing the OP is talking about. He’s talking about a civilization in which evidence is not just hard to find, but non-existent. Those remains found under the Black Sea are connected to civilizations we already know about, not entirely new ones.

However, to counter this, we must remember that a number of aspects of modern civilization can be maintained in the complete absence of human intelligence and rationality, as a trip to any DMV office will clearly suggest to even the casual observer. :smiley:

Except hunting and gathering doesn’t allow the formation of cities and specialization. Everyone has to go out and hunt and gather their food, and this means low population density. That doesn’t mean that the hunters and gatherers can’t have a pretty elaborate culture, look at the Northwest Coast indians. It’s just that they aren’t cities, and civilization is defined as having cities.