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- Happens in The Mysterious Cities of Gold with the people of Mu and Atlantis being the precursors.
- It turns out the 'aliens' who drive the plot of Rinne no Lagrange are actually this.
- In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet the Galactic Alliance and the Hideauze are this to the people of Gargantia.
- The Mulians in RahXephon are an example; Bahbem says in the final episode that the titular weapon was developed and used by him over ten thousand years ago.
- The "Ancients" in Monster Rancher.
- In Fate/stay night, Gilgamesh is disgusted with modern civilization for this reason. During his reign, humanity was a very powerful and advanced race that even had working fightercraft (his own flagship is one of the treasures inside the Gate of Babylon). Gilgamesh believes humanity has declined because there are so many humans now, and the intrinsic strength of humanity has become diluted in each human as a result. The reason he desires the Grail is because he wants to bring that golden age back by using the Grail to kill most of humanity. He would then rebuild his kingdom with the worthy survivors. The disturbing part is that due to the way magic works, there's a good chance he's right.
- The Laputians in Castle in the Sky were this, having uncovered the secret to mining and refining Volucite into the engines used to keep their empire aloft. They also created advanced robots with Fricking Laser Beams and even a Wave Motion Gun Kill Sat with which to dominate the Earth below. They appear to have died out hundreds of years before the start of the movie and all of their cities aside from the titular Laputa have fallen back to the ground from a lack of maintenance.
- DC Comics villain King Kull is the last survivor of a highly-advanced Neanderthal-like race, who had enslaved primitive humans until these revolted and killed them all. Kull escaped by placing himself in suspended animation until the present day, where he became an enemy of Captain Marvel.
- Hellboy and related series have the ancient Hyperboreans, who lived untold millennia ago in a majestic, utopian society that had mastered the power of the vril. Their corruption and fall may have caused the last Ice Age. Survivors built Atlantis and other legendary cities, and taught the secrets of vril to a few humans, before disappearing entirely. They may not have been precisely human, but looked pretty much the same as us and are considered one of the "races of man" - though the frogmen are considered the next race of man, so take that as you will.
- The Justice Society of America run across four kings who are Advanced Ancient Humans in an issue of All-Star Comics. The four kings naturally try to take over the world.
- Martin Mystere has no less than four of these:
- The oldest of them is Daytia, that, thanks to help from aliens, developed such an advanced technology they one day created the Red King, and self-destructed themselves to contain it and save the world from their error. All that remains of them is the containment systems of the Red King, situated under Roanoke, whose colony was not destroyed by the Daytian devices but a life-killing bomb from Mu that had been dropped there during a war with Atlantis but did not explode, and was found and accidentally triggered by the colonists.
- After Daytia there was Rupa, destroyed in an environmental cataclysm. Martin actually thought they were Daytia until the last guardian of the Red King set him straight.
- Finally, there are the classics, Atlantis and Mu. They fought multiple wars, the last one ending in mutual destruction. Atlantis however left behind some outposts and various living weapons, such as dwarves, mermaids (shown in Dylan Dog to have been driven to extinction, or close to it, by human pollution), the Green Men (a failure as they are pacifists, and also driven to near extinction by pollution), and many others.
- Child of the Storm hints at this, with immortal necromancer Gravemoss noting that in reference to Namor in his office as King of Atlantis (and as someone that he, Gravemoss, would not want to face) that Atlantis used to be a) on the surface, b) considerably more powerful, going by the remark 'even though it [Atlantis] was not that which had ruled in times of old.'
- In Jordan179's My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic series, including Nightmares Are Tragic, Fluttershy Is Free, A Meeting By Moonlight and others, the Ponies of the "Age of Wonders," which perished in the Cataclysm 4000 years ago, are this to the present-day Equestrians. The Age of Wonders had electronics, nuclear energy and spaceflight. A major theme of the series is that high technology is a good thing, and that modern Equestria is once again on the road to the stars. This concept is directly based on Alex Warlorn's use of My Little Pony Tales in his Pony POV Series universe.
- In The Bridge hints established in the Heisei Godzilla, Gamera, and Rebirth of Mothra series (which were combine thanks to a Shared Universe Retcon) were expanded upon. 77,000 years ago humanity had a full knowledge of mana using magic, lived alongside The Fair Folk, had Magitek advanced enough to control the weather and build floating cities; and now mythical civilizations like Atlantis and the Mu empire were very real. And then the Big Bad came along and enacted the Toba Catastrophe, wiping out almost all sentient life. The effort to seal him away under Attu Island took away most of the world's magic.
Film — Animated
- If one defines "human" broadly (as in, "the genus Homo", because they show up in our fossil record as Homo habilis), then the Pak, in Larry Niven's Ringworld and its sequels, certainly count. They built the eponymous Big Dumb Object with energy-matter conversion technology, collected species from throughout the Milky Way and preserved them on the Ringworld, and built a star-spanning empire without hyperdrive. Their technological achievements actually frightened the Pierson's Puppeteers, a race that turned their home planets into spaceships (admittedly, scaring Puppeteers is easier than it should be).
- The Forerunner Saga novel 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.
- In Empire from the Ashes by David Weber, the Moon turns out to be a giant ancient human starship, and all humans on Earth are the descendants of its 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 (see below).
- The usual iconic example, though, is the Lemurian Empire (centered, naturally enough, on Lemuria, i.e. Earth), which existed around 50,000 BC until it fell in a war against Halut. Many "modern" humanoid cultures in the setting's Milky Way galaxy (and some over in Andromeda) can directly trace their ancestry to refugees and abandoned colonies from that conflict.
- 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, where they developed an advanced civilization 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 magitek. 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 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, humans are the descendants of the Golgafrinchans. They sent the most useless third of their population (phone sanitizers etc.) to crash land on Earth. The entire remaining population was then wiped out by a plague contracted from a dirty telephone.
- Andrei Livadny's novel Ark heavily implies that the planet that the titular Moon-sized starship (it is the actual Moon, hollowed-out and rigged with engines) crash-lands on is Earth in distant past, especially since the first person out of the ship is a shepherd named Noah. Oh, and the crash happens to have emptied (or parted, perhaps) a sea. Apparently, the giant ship has somehow traveled back in time. The author obviously ignores the consequences of a Moon-sized object hitting Earth (not to mention a giant spherical mountain that we have somehow missed).
- In the Noob novels, the Order's backstory makes the inhabitants of Syrial this. When their capital first appears, the royal palace turns out to have an elevator and part of the story takes place on a flying palace, both of which are implied to be some kind of Magitek. Nothing surprising so far except that the Empire, another faction, found Imported Alien Phlebotinum and developed its own technology... centuries if not millennia after Syrial got frozen in time, Unpersoned and surrounded by a Perpetual Storm that made it inaccessible to humans by the world's gods. Syrial gets introduced while it's "thawing" from its time freeze and the storm is calming down, which lasted several more millennia after the Empire's discovery of technology. The fact that the Syriallians managed to make something that the Empire and the Coalition considered a threat (the aforementioned flying palace was meant to bombard their home bases with powerful explosives) is hence quite remarkable, despite how much their king worried about his people having become obsolete.
- The Paratime Police assign timelines to 'Levels' based on whether or not the people in them remember their race came originally from Mars.
- In Battlestar Galactica (2003): 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 the finale it's revealed that the whole show has been set many thousands of years in the past, meaning their advanced society predates ours.
- 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).
- The Twilight Zone, episode "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.
- 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.
- Ancient Aliens theorizes that various ancient human cultures such as the Egyptians had higher technology based on or given by Ancient Astronauts. The ancient Bolivian city of Pumapunku, for example, is claimed to have been built 17,000 years ago with diamond-studded tools that didn't exist until the 20th century, though this is more of a case of the documentary's frequent number skewing and distortion of the facts; the actual city is less than 3,000 years old and is built with soft stones that the basic metal tools of the time could chisel.
- The Elder Race of Man from the Rock Opera 2112 by Rush. A culture that valued creativity and the arts, the Elder Race was at some point thought destroyed and replaced by the Solar Federation. Word of God says the final track in the series is meant to represent the return of the Elder Race and the defeat of the culturally repressive Federation.
- The ancient history of Warhammer 40,000 speaks of an era called the Dark Age of Technology, when humanity was at its peak and had essentially conquered the galaxy. Then everything went horribly wrong. Over fifteen thousand years later, the Imperium of Man still uses what technology remains from the Dark Age, but ascribes its functions to machine spirits.
- The Azrans from Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy. Curiously, since they're stated to have existed 1 million years ago, they wouldn't technically be humans, at least not anatomically-modern humans, which are the sole surviving subspecies of the Homo genus - every other species of human went extinct during the last ice age, which occurred less than 1 million years ago, so the exact taxonomy of the Azrans is ambiguous.
- Continuing from The Forerunner Saga, Halo 4 gives us our first visual look at the prehistoric spacefaring humanity, including its Lord of Admirals, Forthencho. Bungie's original plan was for the Forerunners and humans to be one and the same; they were later changed to be two separate rival species.
- It's also revealed that the war that the ancient humans started with the Forerunners was merely an attempt by the humans to contain the Flood. The Forerunners weren't yet aware of its existence, and thought the upstarts were merely being aggressive apes who sterilized their colonies for kicks.
- It is possible the humans had warned the Forerunners but were ignored in favor of believing the humans made up the Flood as an excuse or as a bio-weapon that went wrong. The Forerunners at the time were extremely egotistical and arrogant. Their method of ensuring peace in the galaxy was by genetically dominating all life to prevent evolution and to ensure no species save those few beyond their territory developed sufficient intelligence to advance past a neolithic level. Humanity's view of upholding the Mantle was to merely prevent mass destruction and extinction such as genocide and xenocide but to otherwise allow species to develop as they choose. This was the cause of many wars between humans and Forerunners.
- Interestingly, the advanced "humans" were actually a hugely diverse group of different Human Subspecies with distinct cultures, but after the massive casualties taken in their wars and being confined to a single world by the Forerunners, all but Homo Sapiens eventually died off.
- The above is completely and utterly incorrect. The ancient humans were devolved into numerous sub-species after the final war with the Forerunners (there had been many previous wars, none of which the Forerunners had won despite their far greater numbers and much more sophisticated technology). By modern measure, there are roughly 1,300 human sub-species. Only our own, Homo Sapiens Sapiens (two Sapiens there) survived to the modern day. It is possible that the augmentations of Spartans are not actually moving forward genetically, but undoing the de-evolution, as humanity's reclamation of its power and glory and that of the Forerunners is the Librarian's ultimate goal. Also, the devolved humans were originally placed on the Halos to live in peace. When the Librarian discovered what was done to the humans, she was horrified. Particularly since the devolved humans were forced by the Forerunners to feel each moment of their bodies changing and their intelligence slipping away.
- Bungie's post-Halo series Destiny plays with this trope. The games takes place in the wake of humanity reaching a Golden Age of space travel only to be nearly being wiped out, and with the players now navigating the ruins of that lost society. But that advanced civilization was founded in the future, so modern humanity is actually the ancient advanced ones.
- 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, they wanted to use a new source for all this which was a sleeping Eldritch Abomination who woke up from that and wiped them from the map (almost literally; their civilization existed on a floating continent that was destroyed and fell into the ocean).
- The Zeboim Civilisation in Xenogears, which has a similar role to the Zeal Kingdom of Chrono Trigger.
- 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.
- As well as the ancient civilization that colonized the other planets of the solar system and created the Stardroids in Mega Man V. May or may not be the same people, since the timeline of both series is (theoretically) the same up until the beginning of the 21st century.
- Assassin's Creed: The Precursor race known as The Ones Who Came Before apparently co-evolved with what later became modern humans, and were capable of sharing genetic material with them and possibly interbreeding, making a cross between this trope and Ultra Terrestrials. And they created the first humans as slaves. The slaves rose up, and a great war took place, and the only remaining signs of them are individuals with some First Civilization DNA, like Desmond and his ancestors, and the artifacts they left behind.
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, 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.
- One of the big twists of Utawarerumono is that all the Little Bit Beastly Half-Human Hybrids are genetically engineered organisms. The game does not take place in Fantasy Counterpart Culture of twelfth century Ainu Japan but a future Earth and Hakuoro is one of the very last surviving pure-blooded humans. Hakuoro is also edging towards Humanoid Abomination which explains his longevity.
- In the Star Ocean series, an Earthling civilization had a hyper-advanced society on the lost continent of Mu in the Pacific Ocean.note The continent was destroyed in a meteor impact, which somehow teleported the some of the inhabitants to other planets.
- Wolfenstein: The New Order: The Reveal of the game is that the Da'at Yichud, a secret society that created anti-gravity and advanced robotics technology centuries ago, the very society that the Nazis stole and reverse-engineered their game-winners from, is Jewish and still surviving. Their key to survival was pursuit of god through knowledge, which meant that almost nobody leaked the secrets or used them to conquer the world like the Nazis did, and the technology kept improving without stagnation. That means in this universe, by their own logic, the Jews are the properly advanced culture and the Nazis are winning by cheating.
- In Deadfall Adventures, the Heart of Atlantis was created by "an ancient people, long before any known human civilisation".
- Diablo III reveals that the humans of Sanctuary are descended from an ancient race called the Nephalem, who are themselves descended from angels and demons. Their power was such that they were more than a match for angels and demons alike, so the Worldstone that was used to create Sanctuary was tuned to weaken their power. When Baal corrupted the Worldstone in a bid to unleash Hell on Earth and Tyrael was forced to destroy it, the power of the Nephalem began to reappear.
- A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: The Ancient Lydians who created teleporters from their investigations of saecelium technology, and the Ancient Somnians who made nuclear weaponry.
- In Stellaris, it's possible for a human Fallen Empire to be generated in a game map, combining this trope with Humanity Came From Space.
- The Hylians and Sheikah from The Legend of Zelda are portrayed as having once produced lots of advanced futuristic Magitek in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild respectively. In the former game, excessive development resulted in environmental degradation and desertification that left the advanced civilization in ruins, while in the latter game, the Kingdom of Hyrule deliberately abandoned the technology out of fear of its power and only dug it back up 10,000 years later to use it against Calamity Ganon.
- Ancient Zemurian Civilization in Kiseki Series who lives more than 1200 years prior to the game's timeline acts as this. The civilization is divided into seven factions, each of them given a powerful treasure from the Goddess called Sept-Terrion. As a result, they possess more advanced technologies than recent Zemurians, though how they are "advanced" is different among one another due to the treasures possessing different powers. As example, Aureole/Shining Ring, Sept-Terrion governing the power of space, is capable of granting wishes while Demiourge/Hollow Phantasm, Sept-Terrion governing the power of mirage, is capable of manipulating knowledge and perception, thus allowing to manipulate cause and effect extending into foreseeing future events around the world.
- An arc of Nodwick featured a time traveler from centuries in the past who was disappointed to see that society had degenerated into medieval feudalism, and there was a crater where his home city used to be, and he caused it by bringing a temporally sensitive date-minder through a time portal.
- It's not really elaborated on, but in one episode of Futurama, the characters find themselves on a planet with an ancient Egypt-like culture. They assume that these aliens visited Earth thousands of years ago and inspired Egyptian culture, but it turns out these aliens visited Earth thousands of years ago and were inspired by Egyptian culture.
- Alluded to greatly in Adventure Time. Especially by the opening intro containing relics of a advanced 21st century civilization, though Word of God confirms it's really set After the End.
- A frequent theme in Theosophy and related authors like Edgar Cayce, Drunvallo Melchizedek and Julius Evola. According to them, modern humanity had not only one, but 6 more advanced precursor civilisations who all destroyed themselves. (Some of them were reptilian and energy beings. Some others had Dinosaurs as pets.) Theosophy provided the inspiration for this trope in many science fiction stories.
- 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. The Minoans of Santorini, considered a likely inspiration for the legend of Atlantis, are a prime example. They were quite advanced for 4000 years agonote , but unfortunately the wonderfully fertile island on which they built their civilization was the crater of a supervolcano. Around 1600 BC, the city center was completely obliterated by one of the largest eruptions in human history, and the rest of the island was buried under the volcanic ash.
- The Antikythera Mechanism (named after the Greek shipwreck it was found in) was a geared device discovered underwater, dating to around the 1st century BCE. Designed for predicting the positions of various celestial bodies, the level of craftsmanship and complexity it exhibits is far greater than anything else recovered from that time period. It was, in fact, the first known analog computer. Though its origin is still a mystery, it is thought to be perhaps one of Archimedes' inventions, possibly used by Hipparchos, an early Greek astronomer.
- In the 1st century AD, among the inventions of Heron of Alexandria was the aeolipile, the first steam engine. While the aeolipile was a mere curiosity, Heron had also invented rudimentary versions of everything else needed for the steam engines that would bring about the industrial revolution in the 18th century. But he died without realizing this.
- It should be noted though that European metallurgy wasn't advanced enough to contain pressures large enough to do useful work. Even if it was, at that time machines were expensive and slaves were cheap so there would be little motivation for it.