Created By: Shnakepup on October 30, 2012 Last Edited By: Shnakepup on November 20, 2012
Troped

Advanced Ancient Humans

Pre-historic humans were super advanced

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Trope
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!)

Examples:

Anime and Manga

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Tabletop Games
  • 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.

Videogames
  • 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.

Real Life
  • 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.


Needs More Examples
Community Feedback Replies: 43
  • October 30, 2012
    Koveras
  • October 30, 2012
    Shnakepup
    ...yes. I think. If I understand those tropes correctly, yes.
  • October 30, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Literature
  • October 30, 2012
    Shnakepup
    I already had the Halo example, but I like your wording better so I'll use it instead :P
  • October 30, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • In Whitley Strieber's novel The Greys Nordic aliens were said to come from a Lost Colony of earth founded 150,000 years ago.

    • 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.
  • October 30, 2012
    StarSword
    Literature
    • The Book Of Swords series touches upon an Old World which was technological rather than magical. Present-day humans 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.

    Live Action TV
    • The Ancients in the Stargate Verse are biologically indistinguishable from modern humans, but technologically? They built the stargate network. And that's not even scratching the surface.

    Tabletop Games
    • The ancient history of Warhammer 40000 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.
  • October 30, 2012
    NimmerStill
    • Blue Dragon has ancient technological ruins in an otherwise feudal Japan-type society.
    • In Battlestar Galactica, 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.
  • October 30, 2012
    Damr1990
    The Kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger they were once a mighty civilization with both advanced Technology and Acces to magic, however, their magic and power source was an sleeping Eldritch Abomination who they thought they could tame for their own purposes...they couldn't
  • October 31, 2012
    ChunkyDaddy
    Mythology In Hindu mythology, the universe goes through cycles of construction and destruction, each lasting 4 to 8 billion years. Each cycle starts with a golden age and ends in a dark age. In the first age, people have perfect communion with gods, do not require to exert labor to obtain goods, and at the same time there is no desire for collecting goods. Everyone has perfect divine knowledge, so there is no need to write down anything. By the time last age rolls in, people have lost divine knowledge and turned materialistic and proud. We are currently in year 4000 of the 400,000 year long dark age. Since, mankind is has lost contact with the divine, they lose memory of the ages that came before. Also, there is technological progress within the dark age that develops to replace the loss of spirituality, which results in what appears to be mini golden ages within the dark age. Things seem to be progressing forward technologically as they slide backward spiritually.
  • October 31, 2012
    Shnakepup
    ...and that's related how? The last line there, about things progressing forward technologically, seems to go against what this trope is about (being more technologically advanced in the past). Can you maybe explain it more?
  • October 31, 2012
    Bisected8
    • In Real Life, while there's no evidence of any civilisations 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.
  • October 31, 2012
    MattStriker
    • 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.
  • October 31, 2012
    Omeganian
    Vicious Cycle has examples.
  • October 31, 2012
    NimmerStill
    For Real Life, examples include the Roman empire vs. the Dark Ages (in Europe), and the fall of the Mayan empire.
  • October 31, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @ Omeganian : Can you point out some of those examples? I tried looking through Vicious Cycle a bit but couldn't find anything that directly relates to this trope.

    @ NimmerStill: My history's not so great...were the Europeans during the Dark Ages actually less advanced than the Romans? I was under the impression that the Dark Ages certainly were bad, in terms of ignorance and culture, but did things really regress technologically?

    Now that I'm thinking of it, it'd be really hard for Real Life examples to fit. This trope is specifically about modern-day humans discovering a previously unknown yet highly technologically advanced human culture (read: more advanced than our current state). So, with the Dark Ages and Romans, the following would have to be in effect: a) the Europeans had no knowledge of the Romans, b) they find out about the Romans, and c) the Romans were more advanced. If that's not how it went down then I don't think it'd count.
  • October 31, 2012
    NimmerStill
    At first, right after the fall, it really was. Things didn't progress technologically until the "high middle ages", after the turn of the millenium or so. So yeah, Rome had things like aqueducts and advanced fire control, not to mention advanced roads and other aspects of infrastructure, and though my details aren't that good either, I think even the Italians literally forgot how to do those things.

    And I suppose by the time historians later rediscovered these things about ancient Rome, they had largely already re-invented that technology if not better (and also learned things from societies like the Middle East which didn't experience the Dark Ages in the same way), but I think it still counts since it was there all along.
  • October 31, 2012
    Chabal2
    Blake And Mortimer has one show up in The Gondwana Sanctuary.
  • November 1, 2012
    MattStriker
    Here's 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.
  • November 1, 2012
    Shnakepup
  • November 1, 2012
    DracMonster
    Advanced Ancient Ancestors for mo' alliteration.

    EDIT: Hmm yeah guess that just sounds like Precursors.
  • November 1, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Hmm. That's pretty nice, yeah, but this is specifically about Humans. I know technically that's what Ancestors would imply, but I have a feeling a lot of people will misinterpret "Ancestors" in a more general "any ol' species that came before us" sense and then this will pretty much just be a copy of Ultra Terrestrials.
  • November 1, 2012
    CobraPrime
    Happens in The Mysterious Cities Of Gold with the people of Mu and Atlantis being the precursors.

    Also, should be noted that it's not rare for the Precursors to have engineered/created the new human race on purpose (Happens in Stargate and Assassins Creed).
  • November 1, 2012
    0blivionmobile
    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.
  • November 1, 2012
    ayjazz
    Those Who Have Gone Before in Assassins Creed aren't humans, just very similar in appearance, but they are more intelligent and have a sixth sense, knowledge.
  • November 1, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @CobraPrime - Personally, I'd consider the whole "they engineered us" examples to be more Ultra Terrestrials or just straight Precursors. To me, this trope is explicity about Humans...basically, these ancient advanced people have to be the same as modern humans in every aspect but technologically.

    One interesting not-example would be the Engineers from Prometheus. They're technically the same as the "modern" humans in the movie, in that their DNA is identical. For all intents and purposes, we are the Engineers, just descendants. But in the movie, the Engineers are clearly not identical to normal humans, and instead are freaky albino guys with super strength. So because of that, I'd say they don't fit.

    However, I'm open to the idea of widening the scope of the trope to include examples like Prometheus's Engineers, since it's somewhat similar. I'd just be worried about the trope then getting too watered down and being too similar to Precursors.

    @ayjazz - Are you sure? Granted, I haven't played the games and have only read summaries, but I was under the impression that "Those Who Have Gone Before" were pretty much just advanced humans. I admit I could be wrong though. To be safe, I went ahead and removed the example anyway.
  • November 1, 2012
    mew4ever23
    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.
  • November 1, 2012
    MattStriker
    In the Assassin's Creed example, I believe the implication is that Those Who Have Gone Before are an earlier subspecies of Homo Sapiens, about as close to us as the neanderthal man. They were definitely able to interbreed with humans, which means a pretty close genetic relationship...
  • November 1, 2012
    Earnest
    Usually live in an Advanced Ancient Acropolis which they'll leave behind for present explorers to marvel at the ruins.
  • November 1, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Blakes Seven had a couple of episodes that implied that a human(oid?) galactic civilization existed tens of thousands of years before the present.

    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.

  • November 2, 2012
    Arivne
    Literature
    • 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.
  • November 2, 2012
    Shnakepup
    This is getting pretty close to launch-worthy, if I may say so myself. Anybody know any good ideas for a page quote and/or image?
  • November 2, 2012
    TBeholder
    Currently, it's under Atlantis -as-a-trope.
  • November 2, 2012
    Shnakepup
    I don't understand...are you saying this is a sub-trope of Atlantis? Because I certainly don't think it is.
  • November 2, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Subverted by Fringe which built the mysterious "First People" into its mythology starting with the 2nd Season and really taking off in the 3rd... 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... which stretches scientific credibility so thin you can see through it.
  • November 2, 2012
    Astaroth
    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.
  • November 2, 2012
    polarbear2217
    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.
  • November 2, 2012
    StarSword
    @Shnakepup re: trope image: Might be able to mine an image from the Stargate Wiki. This one, perhaps.
  • November 3, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Space:1999 The episode The Testament of Arkadia has the crew of Moonbase Alpha discover that Earth was settled from another planet 25,000 years ago.

  • November 3, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @StarSword Not sure how that relates to this trope, though :/

  • November 3, 2012
    StarSword
    I was trying to think of an image of one of the Stargate Ancients. That picture of Ayiana was the first one on their Stargate Wiki article, is all. On further examination it's probably Just A Face And A Caption.
  • November 6, 2012
    aurora369
    A What Could Have Been example: in the early stages of development of the Table Top RPG Exalted, it was planned as a prehistory of the World Of Darkness. And Exalted is quite Magi Tek-heavy.
  • November 10, 2012
    m8e
    • 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.
  • November 20, 2012
    StarSword
    Just Launch It Already. We'll worry about a page image later.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=1i7ahvrbs6ew3kao5wk35zdy&trope=AdvancedAncientHumans