This trope is when modern-day/near-future Humans discover that they actually had a super advanced society eons ago, in pre-history. This prehistoric civilization, for whatever reason, fell or disappeared before recorded history, thus explaining why nobody knew about it before. Oftentimes they lived in an Advanced Ancient Acropolis
which they'll leave behind for present explorers to marvel at.
Compare Adam and Eve Plot
and Earth All Along
. For a specific subtrope of this, see Atlantis
(depending on how advanced it's depicted). For any
species that came before us, including aliens, see Precursors
. Compare Ultra Terrestrials
, when an alien species turns out to also be from Earth but developed and left way in pre-history (before Humans were around). When the story is set in a future where Humanity is extinct, see Humanity's Wake
(Some of the below examples might be spoilers, so be careful!)
Anime & Manga
- Star Wars, of course, is set "a long time ago", though it's never quite clear if the Humans in that galaxy are the same as us or just Human Aliens.
- Halo: Cryptum reveals humanity had a galaxy-spanning empire several hundred millennia ago, but lost it all in a war with the Forerunners, who then forcefully degenerated their society.
- Empire from the Ashes by David Weber. In it, the Moon turns out to be a giant ancient human starship, and all humans on Earth at the descendants of it's crew.
- The Book of Swords fantasy series touches upon an "Old World" which was technological rather than magical. The "modern" humans in the story don't even begin to understand it.
- Similarly, the Shannara series offers occasional glimpses of a technological era that preceded the current magical one. Antrax, the Big Bad of the eponymous book in The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, is a malevolent supercomputer that survived the end of said era, designed to guard its knowledge.
- In Whitley Strieber's novel The Greys, the Nordic Aliens were said to come from a Lost Colony of Earth founded 150,000 years ago.
- The punchline of the Frank Herbert short story "Occupation Force" is that the aliens who just landed in Washington DC are just checking up on a colony they founded...roughly seven thousand years ago.
- In the massively convoluted history of the Perry Rhodan universe, there are several precursor species that turned out to be either human or descended from a common ancestor. Specifically, Atlantis was colonized by the survivors of an alien expedition who were, unknown to themselves, actually descended from the last interstellar civilization to arise on Earth.
- A somewhat weird example: In Terry Pratchett's early sci-fi novel Strata, a human explorer ends up on an obviously artificial disc-shaped 'Earth' inhabited by medieval humans (and stuff like demons, djinni and dragons). She ends up launching a project to transfer the disc's inhabitants from their failing world to a newly-built planet, which is very strongly implied to be our Earth. It gets weirder, though, with the second part of the Twist Ending: The entire universe turns out to be artificial, made by the same Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that produced the disc...who then colonized it, voluntarily forgetting about their origins to become ordinary flesh-and-blood 'natives'. So basically, humanity ends up being its own precursor twice over.
- The Giants series of novels by James P. Hogan revolve around the discovery that Homo Sapiens actually evolved on the now-destroyed planet Minerva between Mars and Jupiter over forty thousand years ago.
- Dean Koontz's Twilight Eyes. At some point in the distant past humanity had a highly developed civilization, including genetic engineering. They created a race of evil shapeshifters that went out of control and destroyed civilization so thoroughly that modern humans can't find any trace of it.
- Andre Norton's Operation Time Search. The fabled civilizations of Mu, Atlantis and others really existed and had highly advanced magitech. In the original timeline they were all destroyed as a result of the evil actions of Atlantis, but the intervention of an accidental time traveler changed history so they still existed in the present.
- In Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, humans are the descendants of the Golgafrinchans. They sent the most useless third of their population(phone sanitizers et.c) to crash land on Earth. The entire remaining population was then wiped out by a plague contracted from a dirty telephone.
- In Battlestar Galactica it's revealed that the whole show has been set many thousands of years in the past, meaning their advanced society predates ours.
- Even the ancestors of the colonial humans were more advanced than the main characters thought, having built Cylons on Kobol before branching out into the colonies.
- In Stargate SG-1 the Ancients turned out to be human, albeit originally from a different galaxy and who manipulated evolution on earth to produce the current Milky Way humans. The Ancients are biologically indistinguishable from modern humans, but technologically? They built the stargate network. And that's not even scratching the surface.
- Blake's 7 had a couple of episodes that implied a human(oid?) galactic civilization existed tens of thousands of years before the present.
- Subverted by Fringe, which built the mysterious "First People" into its mythology starting in the second season and really taking off in the third... only to reveal that the "First People" were actually the main characters who sent technology back in time for their past selves to find in order to heal the damage done to the universe by technology run amok...or something like that. It was never explained just why they had to invent a whole ancient hieroglyph aesthetic for the world-saving machine, unless they actually wanted to convince people that they were some kind of ancient civilization of humans that evolved billions of years before the dinosaurs (stretching scientific credibility so thin you can see through it).
- In the Twilight Zone "Probe 7- Over And Out", Cook has a spaceship and Norda came from another planet, so she probably had one too. Their first names turn out to be Adam and Eve.
- Space1999 The episode "The Testament of Arkadia" has the crew of Moonbase Alpha discover that Earth was settled from another planet 25,000 years ago.
- The ancient history of Warhammer 40,000 speaks of an era called the Dark Age of Technology. The Imperium of Man still uses what technology remains from the Dark Age, but ascribes its functions to machine spirits.
- Blue Dragon has ancient technological ruins in an otherwise feudal Japan-type society.
- The Kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. The game is initially set in "1000 AD", and Zeal takes place in "12,000 BC" (i.e. 13,000 years prior). The Kingdom was a mighty civilization with both advanced technology and access to powerful magic. Unfortunately, their source for all this was a sleeping Eldritch Abomination who one day woke up and wiped them from the map (almost literally; their civilization existed on a floating continent that was destroyed and fell into the ocean).
- Whatever previous group of people that left behind the ancient ruins in a game of Civilization. If you recover technology from one of the ruins, it will always be one more advanced than the ones you already have, which means you can recover industrial or modern technologies if you happen upon one late in the game.
- The Mu in Mega Man Star Force are this. Not only did they have everything that was a recent innovation for the modern humans, but a great deal more.
- The mysterious group in Assassin's Creed known as "Those Who Have Gone Before" are revealed to be the remnants of a once-great advanced society prior to recorded history. The implication is that Those Who Have Gone Before were an earlier subspecies of Homo Sapiens, about as close to us as the Neanderthals. They were able to interbreed with humans, which means a pretty close genetic relationship...
- In Arcanum, the ancient civilization of Vendigroth had technology in advance of anything that Arcanum's recent industrial revolution has developed; including medicinal compounds that can resurrect the dead, mass-produced Clock Punk automatons, schematics for the most powerful gun in the game, and a technology powered Macguffin that allows you to kill the Final Boss.
- While there's no evidence of any civilizations with current day levels of technology, there were quite a few who were advanced compared to what followed, particularly since until a certain point, even the largest societies were at risk of being wiped out by a natural disaster.
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