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Ancient People Facts

"I should say that civilizations begin with religion and stoicism: they end with scepticism and unbelief, and the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure. A civilization is born stoic and dies epicurean." —Will Durant

The first apparent record of counting dates from 30,000 years ago. A leg-bone of a wolf was found in Czechoslovakia containing fifty-five cuts, arranged in groups of five. It is not known what the cuts represented. (source)

View more facts about: Numbers and Measurement

The dog was the first animal to be domesticated, around 12,000 years ago.

View more facts about: Animals

The comb dates back to Scandinavia, from around 8000 B.C. It is believed that the comb was developed independently by most early cultures. (source)

Over the past 5,000 years, the seemingly worthless Sinai Peninsula, mostly desert, has been the world's most besieged land, having been the battlefield for over 50 invading armies on their way between Africa and the Middle East.

The great architect of ancient Egypt, Imhotep (2,655–2,600 B.C.) is the earliest scientist who is known by name today. We also know the names of other ancient Egyptian architects, scientists, and mathematicians, such as the scribe Ahmes. On the other hand, China, Sumeria, and Babylon did not record the names of their early scientists. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Egypt | Books and Literature

Damascus, Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited city, having been inhabited since at least 2,500 B.C. (source)

Assur was the capital of ancient Assyria.

The earliest known example of musical notation was found on a clay tablet in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), dated to around 1,800 B.C.

View more facts about: Music

The number 10 is used as a convenient base to count with, but the Gauls of ancient France, the Mayas of Central America, and other peoples used a base of 20. The Sumerians, the Babylonians, and others after them used a base of 60—convenient because 60 can be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30. The use of base 60 survives in the division of hours into minutes and minutes into seconds, and the division of the circle into 360 (60 × 6) degrees. (source)


In the code of laws of Hammurabi (1792–1750 B.C.), which is one of the first law codes in history and among the greatest ancient codes, the penalty for medical malpractice was for the doctor's hands to be cut off. (source)

View more facts about: Laws and Customs | Medicine and Health

When the troops of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose I invaded Syria and Carchemish on the upper Euphrates in 1525 B.C., they were astounded to see the Nile "falling from the sky" and a river that "in flowing north flowed south." The soldiers only knew Egypt and the Nile, and so were fascinated to see rain (the Nile falling from the sky) and the direction of the flow of the southward-flowing Euphrates; to the Egyptians, south meant "upstream", so they saw the Euphrates as flowing "backwards". (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Egypt | Exploration

The first time that humanity "used up" a natural resource was 4,000 years ago, when the supply of tin ore, needed to make bronze, was used up in the Middle East around 2,000 B.C. The rich tin mines of Cornwall, England were dug in the thirteenth century B.C. by Phoenicians looking for tin. In over 3,000 years of mining, around three million tons of tin have been removed from the Cornish mines, and they still have not been exhausted. (source)

View more facts about: Ancient Britain and Ireland | Exploration

The longest-lasting contribution of the Phoenicians, a group of seafaring Canaanites who lived on the eastern Mediterranean seacoast, was an alphabet that, with some modifications, was later adapted by the Greeks.

An interesting innovation of the Assyrians was the use of mass terror. Their armies would literally kill everyone around if they encountered any resistance when invading an area. Because of their reputation for doing so, their enemies often surrendered rather than putting up any resistance. (source)

The first dictionaries known include one made by Chinese scholars in 1109 B.C., and one from Mesopotamia around 600 B.C. (source)

View more facts about: China | Firsts

Tyrian purple, a natural dye, was so expensive that its use was restricted to royalty. It was discovered about fifteen centuries before the Christian era, and the art of using it did not become lost until the eleventh century after Christ. It was obtained from two genera of one species of shellfish. It was estimated that 8,500 shellfish were required to produce one gramme of dye, so only small amounts could be produced and so the price was very high. Ultimately, in later ages, a restrictive policy of the eastern emperors caused the art to be practised by only a few, and around the start of the twelfth century, when Byzantium was suffering from attacks without and dissensions within, the secret of Tyrian purple was lost. The rediscovery of Tyrian purple was made in England around the year 1683 by a Mr. Cole, of Bristol. Before 1856, the only textile dyes available were those found in nature. (source)

The Phoenician navigator Hanno may have been the first to circumnavigate Africa, around 500 B.C. He observed that, at the southern end of Africa, the noonday sun shone in the north. This observation sounded ridiculous to the Greek historian Herodotus, who reported the tale, but this report shows that Hanno likely either did circumnavigate Africa, or or at least made a good attempt to do so. He likely wouldn't have been able to imagine the sun shining in the "wrong" part of the sky if he hadn't seen it. (source)

View more facts about: Exploration | Firsts

Slavery appears to have been a universal institution in the ancient world. For example, it was never questioned in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. (source)

View more facts about: Slavery | The Bible

Around 600 B.C., a Greek athlete named Protiselaus threw a discus 152 feet from a standing position, a record not exceeded for over 2,500 years, when Clarence Houser threw a discus 155 feet in 1928. (source)

View more facts about: Sports and Games

Herostratus burned down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, on July 21, 356 B.C., just so that his name would live forever in the history books. After his execution, the officials of Ephesus tried to thwart his plan by obliterating his name from all records. Obviously, they were unsuccessful. (source)

The Egyptians attacked the Jews on a holy day in 320 B.C. An army led by Ptolemy I of Egypt attacked Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Unlike the Israelis in 1973, the ultra-pious Jews did not fight, even in self-defense, on the Sabbath, and Ptolemy easily captured Jerusalem. (source)

Because there were virtually no tides in the Mediterranean Sea, the ancients knew almost nothing about them. The first Greek to mention tides was the explorer Pytheas, who explored the North Atlantic in 270 B.C. However, when Julius Caesar invaded Britain over two hundred years later, he lost a large number of ships after not beaching them high enough, as he didn't take tides into account. (source)

There is only one recorded battle in which both sides used elephants. In the Fourth Syrian War, in 217 B.C., Antiochus III of Syria used Asian elephants when attacking Ptolemy IV's Egyptian army with its smaller North African elephants (now extinct). While the Asian elephants were victorious, the Egyptian army would go on to win a smashing victory at Raphia on the Egyptian border. (source)

View more facts about: Animals

The ancient city of Troy is located in what is now Turkey. It wasn't a large city, being a village of around 7 acres' size. (source)

Coin of Mithridates VI
Coin depicting Mithridates VI.

King Mithridates VI (132–63 B.C.) of Pontus (a kingdom composing parts of Asia Minor and the Black Sea coast), took small doses of poison throughout his life to develop a resistance in case an attempt was made to poison him. He built up such a strong immunity that when he took poison in order to take his own life to escape capture by the Romans, the poison had no effect. He had to order a slave to kill him with a sword. (source)

In the Pampa Colorada (Red Plain) in the Peruvian Desert, there are large line-drawings of geometric shapes, animals and plants on the desert soil. These drawings are known as the Nazca lines. These were likely drawn by the Nazca Indians approximately 2,000 years ago. These figures are only fully comprehensible from the air. In fact, in 1937, before flight was commonplace, a highway was constructed through the Nazca lines, as no-one was yet aware of the lines' significance. It is unknown how the drawers achieved such geometrical precision in their art, or why they would draw figures that they could not view. (source)

View more facts about: Pre-Columbian America | Strange But True

At Carnac in Brittany, France, stand some 3,000 upright stones (or menhirs) between 18 inches and 20 feet high and laid out in parallel lines. These rows of local stone were created around 4,000 B.C., and stretch almost three miles across open countryside. No one knows why these stones were placed at Carnac. However, it is thought that the stones may be monuments to the dead, and it has been suggested that the stones may have formed some kind of lunar observatory. (source)

In 1992, a troop of Les Eclaireurs de France (a French Protestant youth group similar to the Boy Scouts) went to la Grotte des Mayrières Supérieures, a cave in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of southern France, to clean off graffiti that covered the cave walls. However, after having removed the graffiti, they discovered that the "graffiti" had actually been prehistoric cave paintings between 10,000 and 15,000 years old, the only such paintings that had ever found in that part of France. (source)

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