Friday Five… Forgotten Civilisations

Norte Chico

The typical history syllabus has a lot of ground to cover, leaving little room for anything before the industrial revolution. For many, that means the only ancient civilisations that get a look-in are Egypt, Rome and Greece; it’s easy to get the impression that a map of the ancient world is mostly just blank space.

And yet nothing could be further from the truth, so let’s fill in those blanks!  Friday Five, we vow you will not be forgotten for long!


1. Zapotec


The Zapotec founded one of the first cities in North America in the 5th century BC. It was called Monte Alban, probably housed around 25,000 inhabitants, and lasted for 1,200 years. They were also among the first in the area to develop writing and agricultural systems. So why are they not up there with the Maya and Aztecs in our history lessons?!

2. Vinča


The site of Vinča on the shores of the Danube, a few miles from Belgrade in Serbia, was the largest prehistoric settlement in Europe and classified as a civilisation in its own right. The houses sat on streets making it Europe’s first urban settlement. It existed as early as the 6th millennium BC, three millennia before Dynastic Egypt!

3. Nok Civilisation


Although not incredibly long lasting, dating from 500 BC to AD 200, the Nok Civilisation of Nigeria were responsible for many great examples of artwork especially their life-sized terracotta figurines. Their advanced state is proven by the judicial system which was the most complex of its time. The mystery is what caused its rapid disappearance. Over exploitation of resources has been one suggestion among many more including famine, invasion or epidemic.

4. Norte Chico Civilization

Norte Chico

The Norte Chico civilisation had at least 20 major cities in the region of Peru which they occupied. It is the oldest known complex society of the Americas dating from 3000 to 1800 BC. Its people built huge stone temples and developed intricate irrigation systems. They probably influenced later American civilisations such as the Chavin civilisation.

5. Aksum


The kingdom of Aksum has appeared in various legends (home of the mythical Prester John, the lost kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, or the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant) but is actually more tangible than some might realise. It was an international trading power located in Ethiopia, named as one of the four major powers by a 3rd century Persian philosopher, alongside Rome, China and Persia.

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

Read more from Aisling Serrant +

Get Dig Mail

Keep up with the latest fun, facts & features from the world of archaeology.

Easy opt-out at any time - Privacy Policy

Archaeology / In Your Hands

Courses for anyone who wants to learn more about archaeology, and have fun while they're doing it!

Archaeology Courses

Our fab archaeology merch: dig team tee-shirts, Tatty Devine jewellery range, tote bags, and more!

Archaeology Shop