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Advanced Ancient Acropolis
In the dark heart of Africa lies the Shining City of Wakanda. ... What? It's night time!

The development and advancement of human civilization has been greatly spurred by tech sharing (or spying) between cultures and peoples as ideas are traded. While some have advanced socially, culturally and/or technologically faster than others thanks to internal stability and enlightened rulers, it's rare for a single society (much less city-state) to advance leaps and bounds ahead of its neighbors while keeping all its advances to itself.

Except in fiction, that is.

A common setting in pulp stories is the search or surreptitious discovery of an Advanced Ancient Acropolis. Hidden beneath the Earth in a Lost World, an Atlantis under the sea, or concealed with advanced technology or magic, the Advanced Ancient Acropolis is the last city of an empire that reached space age levels of technology and/or mythic magical powers. In some cases, it is an isolated city-state rather than one of an empire. Their claim to fame is that while the rest of the world was living in mud huts they had built a society of Crystal Spires and Togas and parked it in a Medieval comfortable Technological Stasis. All while never revealing its existence, though ancient legends of The Time of Myths may speak of them.

Bonus trope points for avoiding all social decay while being completely insular, double bonus if they use Cultural Posturing on the "inferior" civilization the heroes hail from. One common variation has the Advanced Ancient Acropolis be in the same abandoned and ruined state as the one in Greece, having been destroyed, abandoned, sunken, buried, wrecked from civil war, plague or some other misfortune. There might however be a last survivor in the form of a robot, golem, ghost, or immortal citizen. Sometimes this may expand to include the descendants of the original culture who have regressed into a simpler stage and scavenge in their ancestors' ruins. Heroes visiting these sites are advised that any ancient relics found are likely of the dangerous cursed or Lost Superweapon varieties.

Of course, all of this can be explained if the founders of the city were aliens or from a Higher-Tech Species, or the survivors of a cataclysm that reduced the rest of the world to a lower level.

Common deconstructions frequently focus on just how decadent and out of repair such a society can become, which may in fact be what leads to their ruin. Frequently, this is because their slave race of robots (or actual slaves) rebelled.

See also Schizo Tech and Advanced Ancient Humans. Compare City of Gold and Temple of Doom. A specific form of Older Is Better.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The demon world Pandaemonium in Chrono Crusadenote  has technology leaps and bounds ahead of humanity. Of course, this is because Pandaemonium is actually a giant living spaceship under the ocean and the demons are actually aliens.
  • The ancient floating city in Laputa : Castle in the Sky.
  • The Mykene from Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger inhabited the Greek island of Bardos in ancient times. Their technologic level was miles ahead of any other culture of the same time, and the rest of the world would need millennia to catch up. However, one earthquake shook their island and destroyed their cities, and they were forced to seek shelter underground. They founded another civilization Beneath the Earth, but on the surface the only remainder left of their presence were abandoned, decaying ruins, and old legends about the Humongous Mecha they used to defend their land.
  • The Yamatai Kingdom from Kotetsu Jeeg. Slightly subverted, since they used advanced technology as well as magic.
  • The Protoculture City in Macross DYRL.
  • Although we still know very few details, there was an ancient civilization in One Piece destroyed by the World Government that seemingly created some of the most powerful weapons that history's ever known, each one capable of destroying the world.

    Comic Books 

    Film 

    Literature 
  • The Noldor domains in Beleriand and Númenor of the Dûnedain in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion
  • Conan the Barbarian was chock full of these.
  • Kelsingra in Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings.
  • H.P. Lovecraft's 'At the Mountains of Madness' features an example of this, notably of the alien civilisation subtrope.
  • In Shane Johnson's novel Ice, two stranded astronauts find an advanced moon base built by humans from before Noah's flood. The technology is far beyond anything they've seen.
  • Dinotopia has the lost civilization of Poseidos, which in its heyday had robot dinosaurs, remote control drones, computers, and all sorts of other Schizo Tech.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, the promise of Forerunner ruins motivates the mission to Clio, even though they are forbidden to make contact with the natives and have to do a lot to avoid it.
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, Ruhkarv was left behind by Forerunners. The one attempt to dig there led to disaster.
  • H. Rider Haggard's She has the ancient city of Kor in Africa. The 1935 adaptation was in Antarctica and the 1965 movie went back to Africa.

    Live Action Television 
  • Played straight and then subverted in Stargate SG-1. Our heroes discover references to the lost city of Atlantis and set out to find it. They think they've found it buried under the ice in Antarctica, but eventually they figure out that Atlantis is in another galaxy — setting the stage for the spin-off series Stargate Atlantis.
  • Wonder Woman TV Series: Paradise Island is an uncharted island within the devil’s triangle. At 1942, The amazons wear togas and use arcs and arrows, but they had an invisible plane, a truth serum, and guns to use in her “Bullets and bracelets” challenge.

    Video Games 
  • Atlantis, of course, in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the cinematic game formerly known as Indy 4, with half human hybrids and Bronze Age Orichalcum-powered Lost Technology.
  • Shevat, its rival Solaris, and Zeboim Civ in Xenogears, though the former two were mostly just hoarding tech from the super-advanced starship that brought Humans to their world in the first place.
  • Played straight with Atlantis in The Journeyman Project 3. While El Dorado and Shangri-La were somewhat advanced in comparison to neighbors, Atlantis was a self-contained city-state that enslaved the crew of any ship that discovered their location.
  • Golden Sun uses Lemuria, which was formerly the most advanced civilization in Weyard. After the powers of Alchemy were sealed by the lighthouses, the island closed itself off in an attempt to keep the remaining alchemy to themselves. Lemuria makes for an interesting case because, like the traditional Elf village setting, the citizens live for a very long time, and many of them deny that any decay has taken place at all. The king, however, shows the player's party maps of the world prior to the sealing of Alchemy and after, and there's a visible level of decay on a continental scale. This actually serves as a major turning point for the game.
  • The Final Fantasy series likes this trope:
    • Final Fantasy I: The flying fortress in the original NES version was obviously high-tech and patrolled by the Warmech, a robotic Boss In Mooks Clothing. Later versions gave it a more medieval look.
    • Final Fantasy IV: The Crystal Spires and Togas Lunarian city.
    • Final Fantasy V: The Ronka Ruins were highly advanced, considering that upon activation they began to fly with the Crystal of Earth and had teleporters and anti-air cannons installed. They also created the airship maintenance base Catapult.
    • Final Fantasy VIII: The Centra Ruins, though there's only one structure left from the ancient magitech culture. The existence of this civilization is justified by the setting; every so often for the past 10,000 years, a swarm of monsters falls from the moon, and this event (dubbed the Lunar Cry) has enough destructive power to destroy entire civilizations. Whatever technological disparity exists between empires is solely because the ones that go the longest without being hit by the Lunar Cry are also the ones that have the most time to develop.
    • Final Fantasy X: All over the place. The two main examples are huge subversions of the usual trope.
      • Bevelle is a living city that abandoned its Lost Technology for religious reasons. Except that they didn't.
      • Zanarkand is the summoned dream of an ancient, lost technological civilization created to preserve its people in the face of a war of extinction.
    • Final Fantasy XII: A downplayed variation; the world of Ivalice was certainly once in the throes of a major industrial revolution, and almost all technology in the setting is of modern innovation, but the ancient ruins in the game have teleporters. No one in the party really knows how they work nor cares for that matter. It's just something they expect ancient ruins to have.
      • Ivalice games that are set after FF 12 probably have that game to thank for their examples. The Clockwork City of Goug is a Moogle city in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 in which old technology is excavated, and new technology is created. Long in the future in Final Fantasy Tactics, it's also a city where ancient machine relics are dug up and examined.
  • Atlantis, again in Ecco the Dolphin , where the Atlanteans invented a time machine and escaped into the past when their city was destroyed. The machine remained until Ecco destroyed it after defeating the Vortex.
  • Any place where Titan structures remain intact in World of Warcraft is this by default. Most are concentrated on areas of land close to the north and south poles. The dwarves have taken particular interest in these old Titan leftovers after relatively recent discoveries of a connection between their race and some of the old Titan constructed races, and make it a point to try and find and excavate such sites.
  • Columbia in BioShock Infinite is a single city that is apparently advanced enough to wage war against the rest of the world. It stole most of its inventions through Tears in reality that allowed them to see possible futures. This is how they gained Vigors; by stealing them from Rapture
  • Inverted with the city of Shinto in Asura's Wrath as well as the rest of the Shinkoku Trastrium civilization. All the buildings and sculptures fits the look of Ancient Hindu and buddhist buildings and sculptures that would seem far too advanced for their time, but in a twist, the story takes place several thousands, if not millions of years in the future that merely is made to look like an ancient civilization.
    • The DLC ending reveals that the game in fact took place 870 million years in the past!
  • The scattered cities of the Dwemer in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim lie in ruins, but their technology, which runs on some kind of steam and the power of souls, is clearly far more advanced than anything else in the setting. Blackreach, the former Dwemer capital of the Skyrim settlers of the Tribe Unmourned, is especially massive.
  • The isolated citadels of the ancient Jotuns in Guild Wars 2 can be considered this. Located high in the mountains, they were created by the highly-advanced Jotun culture before their civilization tore itself apart.
  • Many 4X- and Grand Strategy Games may make the player (or at least in theory other AI players) advance way beyond their neighbors, more so than realistically possible.
    • In the Civilization series, one civilization can be building a star ship to the next system while others are still fighting with axes and haven't even discovered the wheel.
  • BioForge: The Phyxx base, the last relic of this advanced alien civilization, found on a distant moon.
  • The Xel'Naga temples in StarCraft
  • The Floating Continent of Ys in the second game of the series, the Ancient City in Ys IV, the lost kingdom of Kefin in Ys V, and the ruined city of Kishgal in Ys VI.
  • In Tales of Phantasia, the ancient city of Odin was more or less on par technologically with Earth in 1994, and even looked like a modern metropolis. It suffered a major universe-appropriate WMD-style cataclysm and ended up buried, but reasonably intact. Contrast with the mostly medieval style of everything else in the world.
  • In Tales of Vesperia, the ancient Kritya society invented the Blastia, but were wiped out by an apocalypse. The player even visits a Krityan ruin early on the where they find some of the only golems in the game.
  • Tears to Tiara 2: Tartetos, an entire city floating in the middle of a lake. Complete with walls light enough to float, but stronger than anything humans can build. The grounds keeper is a Dragon Goddess that looks like a young girl.
  • Chrono Trigger: The Kingdom of Zeal includes floating cities and other advanced technologies, and is more advanced than the civilizations that would follow for thousands of years.
  • In Phoenotopia, humanity on Earth recovered after the ancient war, and ancient Earth is seen as one of these.
  • Justified in Phantasy Star IV. Any ancient civilization dug up and studied in Motovia were built and controlled in Phantasy Star II by the hyperly advanced alien AI called "Mother Brain", which had been designed to provide convinient and somewhat lazy life for humans as the villain's gradual poison apple plan to dominate the planet. When Mother Brain was killed by the heroes at the end of the game, Motavia's global system mulfunctioned, and the planet's civillization was reverted into Desert Punk society like it used to be.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The Berbers had a civilization in the Hellenistic era (it fell a little after Rome did) that even managed to irrigate the Sahara—well enough to grow dates.
  • The deserts of Saudi Arabia and the Sahara contain lost cities that are only now being discovered. One city in the deep desert, Iram of the Pillars was assumed to be just a fanciful myth but was in fact a major metropolis with multi-story high-rises completely buried in sand. Another in Yemen is still inhabited.
  • Just about every continent contains lost civilizations we know little about because the remains got scattered. Most of ancient Persian architecture and civilization is lost, for instance.
  • The Mound Builders around the Mississipi River had elaborate agriculture and trade networks, in support of a chiefdom system probably somewhat similar to feudalism. They fed a population of tens or even hundreds of thousands, despite only using copper for ornaments—they did all that with stone tools (and no wagons). The Mound Builders were so advanced 19th century Anglo-Americans assumed their earthworks must've been the work of Ancient Astronauts or Atlantis, because they didn't believe any Native Americans were capable of that level of engineering.
  • The Olmec, best known for their colossal sculptures, probably laid the foundations for all later Mesoamerican civilizations, having innovated the "ball game", civic design, mathematical concepts and agricultural techniques, and probably also a great deal of cosmology (they originated ritual bloodletting, for example, although we have no evidence they actually practiced human sacrifice—that's their successor, the "Epi-Olmec". No one's sure why the Olmec declined, although we can assume they abandoned their urban sites because their decline, whatever caused it, meant they no longer had the resources to maintain cities.
  • The Classic Maya, and to a lesser extent the early Postclassic (most famously the Postclassic center Chichen Itzá), had an extremely complex urban civilization and the only decipherable written language in the New World.
  • Teotihuacan, whose name (in the Aztec language Nahuatl) is the very dramatic "Place of the birth of the gods", is a giant abandoned metropolis. Even more significantly its Maya name means "Place of Reeds", which is the homeland of the Aztecs' ancestors, the Toltecs ("Reed-people"). Only, we're pretty sure the people who built Teotihuacan weren't anyone related to the Toltecs, but either the Totonacs (who claim they built it, and the Aztecs agree with them), or, as all the archaeological and linguistic evidence indicates, a Mixe-Zoquean group; more confusingly everyone seems to have been represented in the city, it had distinct ethnic neighborhoods, so it's very difficult to pin down as "a city of the X people".
  • Rome's civic works were extremely advanced, the kind of thing only a massive central bureaucracy and the backs of millions of slaves can accomplish without modern industrial infrastructure. We've found steam-powered toys and even an ancient computer in Roman ruins, several of which had much better sewers than Victorian London. For centuries after Rome's fall, its works (which, again, had "empire" resources to play with) were seen as the pinnacle of engineering—even by cultures that had surpassed Rome in raw technical ability, like the medieval French, whose arches were stronger, whose wooden houses had stone chimneys (there was a reason Rome had all those fires), and whose industry used the first mechanized factories ever, powered by water-wheels attached to camshafts (invented in about the 10th century).
    • It's not just that, they even have a forgotten recipe for "Roman Concrete". This stuff's harder than modern portland versions. It's why the Roman cities are still safe to walk around in, while the Egyptian Pyramids and the Great wall of China also exist, the Colosseum has an entire city to keep it company.
  • The Indus Valley Civilization cities had planned layouts and a sophisticate sewage system 2000 years before the foundation of Rome. The city of Mohenjo-daro is thought to have housed 35,000 inhabitants at its peak.
    • Mohenjo-daro actually had a better sewage system than some MODERN Indian cities. And, to make it even more impressive, some of the fringe-theorists believe the reason it got abandoned is because it got NUKED. Don't ask how, it's a long story.


Adam and Eve PlotSpeculative Fiction TropesAdvanced Ancient Humans
Ancestral WeaponOlder Is BetterArchaeological Arms Race
AdminisphereSettingsAdventure Towns
Adorable AbominationAdded Alliterative AppealAdventurer Archaeologist
Black PantherImageSource/Comic BooksNineties Anti-Hero

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