Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ancient Civilizations That Vanished

Some of you know that my blog started out with a central theme back in 2005. I used to write about the stranger and funnier side of science. I often posted about the paranormal or the strange. Even though my blog has pivoted more towards my writing, I still enjoy reading about the weird stuff I used to blog about. Today, I wanted to share my love for this kind of stuff.

One of the subjects that always draws me in is how whole civilizations just disappear. What the hell happens to these people? Many have built whole kingdoms spread over a large area, but then POOF....they're gone. Leaving little to no clues as to what became of them.

Here are 5 really strange instances of entire civilizations that vanished:

1) The ancient Myceneans was the Greek civilization often attributed to the defeat of Troy in Homer's Iliad.
They were a powerful civilization between 15th and 13th BCE. The Mycenaeans were also masters of seafaring, tool making, and warfare. Their demise remains a mystery. Many have attributed to their demise to invaders, earthquakes, and political infighting. Regardless, when the Myceneans disappeared, Greek society entered their own "Dark Age."

2) Indus Valley in the areas of Pakistan, India, Iran, and Afghanistan was home to 5 million people over 3,000 years ago (10% of the world's population at the time). They possessed some amazing technology that included architecture, roadways, and even plumbing with indoor toilets. Then they disappeared. Scientists today believe climate change is what destroyed this civilization. The land used to be much more fertile, but drastic drops in rainfall might have made it impossible to grow crops.

Moai on Easter Island
3) Easter Island. I don't know what it is about those giant head statues called Moai, but they captivate me. Maybe it's the sheer size of these things, and I can't help but wonder just how the heck these ancient Polynesian people moved them. But the Moai line the entire coasts of Easter Island. They inhabited the island from 700-1200 AD before they disappeared. Many believe that deforestation did them in.

4) The Anasazi was a Native American civilization that lived in the area where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah all touch each other. 700 years ago, the Anasazi liked to build amazing towns and cities out of stone. They even carved entire towns out of the faces of cliffs. Then around 1300 AD, they disappeared. Scientists also peg their destruction to climate change, but many other factors just don't jive with that theory. Some even talk about wars or cannibalism, but evidence doesn't prove that either.

Artist's depiction of Cahokia at its height
5) The Cahokians. Okay, I had to write about an ancient civilization that's right here in the St. Louis area. The first Native Americans settled in a region just east of the Mississippi around 700 AD, but the area exploded 300 hundred years later. The Cahokia region is known for its HUGE mounds. As a kid, we took field trips out there and walked up the steps. And there were a ton of steps. The area was said to be home to 40,000 people, making it the largest metropolitan center in the entire world at the time. They were advanced too, even diverting the rivers for agricultural use. Overpopulation is the most likely cause for the civilization's collapse, which happened by 1500. No one knows for sure what happened, but the city that was larger than Rome and London was abandoned by its people.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Makes you want to go back in time and see what happened. I've viewed some of the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi and they are really amazing.

Melanie Schulz said...

It is kind of creepy isn't it?

Nick Wilford said...

It's funny to think that some of these like the Myceneans were so much more advanced than Britain and elsewhere in Europe at the same time. Once they ended, things went back to a primitive state. Had no idea a Native American people had such a huge city either - pretty cool.

DEZMOND said...

I love the subject too and often like to read about it. History is generally my fave subject in books and films.

Robin said...

I, too, love contemplating these mysteries. The last one - The Cahokians - strike me stranger (right at this moment) than the others. When we think about The Native American tribes as they were when the British came here... what a HUGE difference. The tribes were mostly nomadic with a strong belief in taking only so much from the land. They were the epitome of conservationists. Using every part of an animal when you kill it. Never killing for sport. Honoring the land as part of their life. Is it possible The Cahokians overtaxed the land in their time? Disbanded the population and were absorbed into what became the tribes that we know? Did their past experience cause them to embrace the nomadic lifestyle and minimalism?

I know that you didn't mention this, but I remember the eye-opener I got when I went to Rome. That was back 1999. They were trying to build a subway system and being stalled at every turn. Turns out Rome was built over another city which they only discovered when they started digging. Everywhere you go there were cordoned off areas where the archaeologists were doing their thing. How does that happen? Volcano? Rome has been populated for the longest time. How did they not know they were building on top of another city? That kind of thing just blows my mind. Now I am curious again. I might have to look it up and see what progress has been made in the last 15 years...

D.G. Hudson said...

I love this sort of history research, Jay, so I'd come and read posts like this anytime. Like Alex said, we wish we could go back and see what caused their demise, so we might be able to avoid a similar fate. Is this what happens to civilizations who get too full of themselves or who do not take care of their resources? Perhaps we could learn something, eh?

cleemckenzie said...

I suppose that's why we're so intrigued by those civilizations. How can all of that be there and then disappear? How many years have we speculated about Atlantis? Great post, Jay. Love it.

Sheena-kay Graham said...


Terri Herman-Ponce said...

Great post, and about a topic I adore as well. There's so much fascinating history right under our feet, and gone forever, that leaves so many questions none of us seem able to answer. Thanks for this...makes me want to go back and read some of my research books on these incredible places.

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

Great post, and about a topic I adore as well. There's so much fascinating history right under our feet, and gone forever, that leaves so many questions none of us seem able to answer. Thanks for this...makes me want to go back and read some of my research books on these incredible places.

Tammy Theriault said...

I am right there with you! it's amazing to see things either fallen apart and half under ground or maybe even sunken away! tell the wifie "sup" for me :D

Tony Laplume said...

I incorporated a few of these and more in the last manuscript I wrote.

River Fairchild said...

I love this! I didn't know about the Indus Valley or the Cahokians. Thanks for sharing them. The Easter island statues of the Moai have long captivated my imagination.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I think civilizations rise and fall because of any number of things. Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out to me that a thousand years ago, there was a golden age of Islam. During this three hundred year period, scientific thought was encouraged, algebra, and astronomy invented, and people invited to Baghdad from all corners of the world for intelligent discourse. All of that ended when a radical Imam changed the thought processes of the population and discouraged scientific investigation because it infringed upon the idea that God is responsible for everything. These kinds of sweeping movements are very capable of destroying a civilization that may have survived all of the other catalysts for destruction: war, income inequality, climate change, sickness, and disease. All that we know for sure is that when a civilization dies, the earth lives on.

M Pax said...

My favorite is the Sumerians. Ancient cultures intrigue me. Throw that in a book and I'll read it. It's M. Pax crack is what it is. lol

Lexa Cain said...

I'd only heard of Roanoke and didn't know about any of those. It's really exciting wondering what happened to them. It's definitely the stuff of which novels are made. Thanks for the great post! :)

The Desert Rocks & Intangible Hearts said...

I just read an article in today's LA Times about the drought in the central valley of California that might turn some cities into ghost towns. Maybe that happened? Great post!

Mr. Shife said...

Good stuff, Jay. I enjoyed this a lot as this type of history is always fascinating to me. Thanks for sharing.

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