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One relic they always leave behind is a sense of wonder.

"They left our planets long ago
The Elder Race still learn and grow
Their power grows with purpose strong
To claim the home where they belong."
Rush, 2112

Precursors, a.k.a. "Ancients", "Elders" or "Old Ones", are a standard of Science Fiction (especially Space Opera), Fantasy and occasionally Horror: an ancient race whose culture and knowledge rose to its pinnacle in ages long past but which is no longer present.

In Science Fiction, they may have visited Earth and/or other worlds but they would remain a mystery. They are considered the first species to have technology, making them godlike. In fantasy, they will usually be the forerunners created by gods/God, mighty in deeds and magic. At the height of their civilisation, Precursors might have created intelligent species or reworked entire worlds with a snap of a finger. Any strange and persistent mystery in the story's 'verse is usually laid at their feet.

Predecessors now leave behind nothing but tantalizing ruins and rare, sometimes incomprehensible Lost Technology, Ancient Artifacts, and dangerous weapons. (Any of the aforementioned sorts of relics may be a Big Dumb Object.) Just why, no one knows. Perhaps they Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence, succumbed to decadence, were wiped out by a disaster or war, or maybe they just relocated en masse to somewhere else where they haven't been found yet.

Whatever the reason, they set the stage for the modern world, left behind a few MacGuffins and surprises for the heroes and villains to find, and then conveniently got out of the way. Usually, their disappearance was a sudden and dramatic event, and often comes paired with a World Sundering whose scars linger well into the present. In fantasy, magical Precursor civilizations often annihilate themselves in a Wizards' War. Afterwards, there is usually a long dark age of barbarism and savagery before the setting's modern civilizations emerge or recover. And then there are the times where they themselves are the reason everything's gone to hell, and they intend to keep it that way. If the Precursors implemented a plan that, whether they still exist or not, still influences outcomes, then they are also Powers That Be.

Sometimes the Precursors can be rediscovered; this is often regarded as a bad move, especially by the Precursors themselves. This also applies to the audience: the romance of Precursors can be easily shattered by giving too much away.

It may also happen that Earth humans are Precursors and their human or otherwise descendants try to rediscover their heritage. If humans are the Precursors, that's also Advanced Ancient Humans. If everyone's scared of them, that's Humans Are Cthulhu. If they pick on their descendants, that's Abusive Precursors; if they couldn't care less about anyone else, it's Neglectful Precursors; if they help their descendants, it's Benevolent Precursors. If there's one or more race that played Precursors to the Precursors, then they're Recursive Precursors. Any and all of these are susceptible to Awakening the Sleeping Giant. If they gave their tech or it's being used by another race, it's Low Culture, High Tech. Very often, their most powerful technology will appear deceptively primitive and/or ceremonial. If everyone gets into an argument over their leftover toys, you have an Archaeological Arms Race on your hands.

Very commonly used to justify Rubber-Forehead Aliens: everyone was made from a common template by the Precursors, so they look pretty similar.

Compare/contrast with Sufficiently Advanced Alien, Space Elves, The Fair Folk, Eldritch Abomination.

Not to be confused with the space flight sim, The Precursors.

And now, young one, behold the legacy of those who were here before you:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, There are a number of sand-filled ruins that the BUILD DiVERS emerge from to reach Eldora, and it is discovered that the One-Eyes that have been attacking were created by a defensive AI the Ancients left behind long ago, and sees the new Eldorans that evolved on the planet in the Ancients' absence as invaders. Then after everything is discovered to be real, a new wrinkle is found: some the Ancients themselves digitized themselves when they left Eldora, found their way to Earth, and ended up entering GBN early in its development. Their souls have been reincarnating as EL-Divers, the living A.I.s that have been spontaneously appearing in GBN for the past two years.
  • In Heroic Age, the precursors (known as the "Golden Tribe") was the source of many wonders; giving birth to stars, discovering the Star Way which connects all stars, as well uplifting several races. In time they eventually undertook a journey out of their home galaxy and into a new one. The story is about how the lesser races cope with the "Golden Tribe's" absence.
  • In Hoshin Engi, five aliens, The First People, came to Earth millions of years ago after their home planet self-destructed. All but one merged with the Earth and its life forms to spread their blood, leaving behind the first seven paope (magical weapons used in the series) from which all others would be copied.
  • The Pillar Men from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency follow most of the criteria for this trope. They were a highly evolved humanoid species that lived in Mexico tens of thousands of years ago, created the Stone Masks, fed on humans, and all but four of them were wiped out when they disagreed with the direction that Kars wanted to take their people. The four survivors ended up sealed in stone pillars for thousands of years, until they were awakened by Those Wacky Nazis.
  • In Last Exile, this turned out to be the answer to all the mysteries (and there were plenty).
  • In Lyrical Nanoha, the lost civilization of Al Hazard/Alhazred, whose artifacts and technologies were considered Lost Logia even back in the era of Ancient Belka.
  • The Macross series has the Protoculture, who are apparently responsible for everything that happens in the Milky Way: humans, Zentradi, and a multitude of other species across the galaxy were all created and seeded by them, and the Birdman was made by them in an attempt to mimic the Vajra. Moreover, they "created" (it's a bit more complex than that) the Protodeviln, who pushed them to the brink of extinction before being defeated. About the only thing the Protoculture didn't have a hand in creating are the Vajra of Macross Frontier, and that's because the Vajra are even older. The Protoculture based some of their most advanced technology (such as Space Folding) after the Vajra's biological systems. The Vajra themselves seem to primarily take a "live and let live" attitude towards other intelligent species; the fact that they don't have a clear means of communication probably has a lot to do with this.
  • In The Mysterious Cities of Gold the Mu Empire and Atlantis developed highly advanced society and technology but were wiped out, along with (most of) their technology, by a nuclear war.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the First Ancestral Race (FAR) dropped Black and White Eggs (Adams and Liliths) on several planets. No planet was supposed to get more than one Egg, but because we got two, we got the inter-egg wars that compose the series proper (Lilith's children vs. Adam's children). The First Ancestral Race were never mentioned in the show itself, but is referred to in the early scripts and gets a bit more fleshed out in the Neon Genesis Evangelion 2 PlayStation 2 game that served as supplemental material.
  • The as-of-yet unnamed Ancient Kingdom in One Piece fits this bill. Dating back from the Void Century, they were incredibly powerful, but later fell to the alliance which later became the World Government. Nonetheless, they left their Phoneglyphs all over the world, chronicling the events of the Void Century, which has become Nico Robin's goal.
  • In Outlaw Star, an ancient race is revealed to be responsible for the Galactic Leyline, yet another of the many Sequel Hooks in the last episode.
  • In Sailor Moon, The Moon Kingdom was an ancient civilization that existed on the moon since prehistoric times. With Queen Serenity as its ruler, It boasted prosperity and everlasting peace during the Silver Millenium, and held the all-powerful Legendary Silver Crystal. Until Queen Metalia had to ruin all the fun. The ruins are still on the moon.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne — The people of Atlantis created fate-altering technology and the "zone of absolute fortune". They were responsible for the creation of the world of Gaea. In the end they were destroyed by the "zone", so it did not quite live up to its name.
  • A "Great Prehistoric Civilization" that seeded all the Human Alien planets in the galaxy is occasionally mentioned in Tenchi Muyo!. The Tenchi Muyo! GXP novels reveal that the civilization originated millions of years ago on the Earth where Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure is set and that Tenchi's Earth isn't the original.

  • Beast Fables: Thousands of years before the current werebeast civilisation, there was the Primeval Age, when were-dinosaurs (and other anthropomorphic Mesozoic animals) ruled the land. They're long gone, but their memory lives on through oral traditions and artefacts.

    Comic Books 
  • In The DCU, the Malthusians were one of the earliest sentient races in the universe. They went on to become the Guardians of the Universe. And the Controllers, and the Zamarons, and Krona. They run the gamut of precursor subtropes.
  • The High Ones of ElfQuest surely qualify (even though they have known descendants), because none of the protagonist elves know much about them, and their powers and origins are a great mystery when the series begins.
    • Elves, trolls and preservers come to be thought of this way by the humans of the medieval and futuristic eras.
  • In Watchmen, it is hinted that Dr. Manhattan will go on to do this somewhere else in the universe, or in another one of his own creation.
  • There's also the Old Gods, precursors of the New Gods. They are actually older than the DC Universe and are said to have caused the destruction of the one before.
  • In Gold Digger, finding the various precursor civilizations is Gina's job. Of course, she usually ends up encountering the stuff left behind, and occasionally bringing it home.
  • In the Marvel Universe:
    • The Celestials have influenced many planets, including Earth, where they created multiple races of superhumans and placed the initial spark in human DNA which would later mutate into the X-Gene. They also test races and civilizations according to their standards to see who are worthy. They normally appear as skyscraper-sized mechanical giants, but these are actually suits of armor concealing their unknown true forms. Unfortunately, "capable of killing a Celestial" would eventually become something of a yardstick to show off how strong a new character or weapon is.
    • In addition, there are also the Elders of the Universe, a loose association of beings who all are the only survivor of their species, and who hail from the first intelligent races to develop in the universe. They are less active, though, since they are all obsessed with one narrow hobby which apparently is the only thing that keeps them from dying of sheer boredom. The Grandmaster may be interested in the gaming and gambling habits of various lesser races, for instance, but couldn't care less about any aspects of their culture that has nothing to do with his obsession with games.
    • There is also the race known as the Watchers, who started to do something similar but got cold feet when early interference with a much more primitive race led to horrible wars. They have sworn to not interfere with their nigh godlike powers, only record what happens. (The Watcher appointed to Earth is a juvenile delinquent who breaks this rule regularly, but surreptitiously, so as to not get in trouble with his kind.)
    • Royals has a reveal that the Kree were created by a long-gone bunch called the Progenitors, much like how they created the Inhumans. These Progenitors are also the ones responsible for the mysterious Sky Spears. It eventually turns out they're full-on Abusive Precursors. They enhance species, then come back and sample the innovations to make more Progenitors out of their test subjects. They gave up on the Kree thanks to their becoming an evolutionary dead-end, but when a handful of Inhumans stumbled upon one of their farm-moons and blew it up, that got their attention, so they decide to come to Earth to farm the Inhumans.
  • The Merk in Nexus are or were a race of extremely psychically gifted and technologically advanced aliens who left the galaxy and, apparently, their bodies, behind. One of them remained behind, however, and empowered the eponymous hero.

    Fan Works 
  • Alien/Species Crossover: Return to LV-426: The Engineers are mentioned, and remain highly mysterious. There's also whoever sent the message to Earth containing the genetic information that created Lise, called the Senders, for lack of a better word.
  • Child of the Storm alludes to the Celestials as a matter of course, as well as making vaguer allusions to Atlantis before it sunk below the waves.
  • Purple Days: In this A Song of Ice and Fire fanfiction, Planetos has had at least thirty-one different Precursor civilizations before humanity evolved (including the Deep Ones who contact Joffrey). All of them were cyclically wiped out by the Long Night.
  • It is common in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction to speculate about some sort of precursors. Generally, the long-gone precursors tend to be civilizations of dragons, alicorns, or humans.
    • The Great Alicorn Hunt: Daring Do figures that one of these is responsible for creating the Tree of Harmony, she just can't figure out who.
    • It's A Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door: In ancient times, the deer were the world's dominant race, but all but destroyed themselves in a great war. While pockets survive, such as the denizens of the Shimmerwood, they can no longer rise to their former glory, nor do they wish to.
    • In the Pony POV Series, there are several:
      • The Centaur Empire, which was once the biggest and most advanced Empire in its heyday and predated Ponykind as a sapient species. Sadly, Lord Tirek is the Sole Survivor of the Empire because he destroyed it, and he is most certainly an Abusive Precursor. The Empire as a whole may count as Benevolent Precursors to a degree, as they treated the then nonsapient Ponies fairly well.
      • The Age of Myths was this to the Age of Wonders. The Paradise Estate Ponies in particular count as Benevolent Precursors, as they actively defended Ponyland from any threats that may come up, including defeating Grogar every five hundred years if they couldn't keep him locked up.
      • The Age of Wonders was this to the current age being the My Little Pony Tales society, until it was destroyed by a Class 2 Apocalypse. To a degree qualifies as Benevolent Precursors, as some of them genuinely DID try to make the future brighter for the civilization to succeed them. Also count as Benevolent Precursors to the Lost Age, which they used their wish spell to create.
    • Twilight Then, Twilight Now Universe: The Penna were very technologically and magically advanced for their time and could also magically create living beings. Their fall came when they created the draconequi and it backfired on them when the draconequi turned against them. The Penna-Draconequus war destroyed the Penna civilisation, which left the ponies to rise in their place.
    • The Writing on the Wall features Adventurer Archaeologist Daring Do and a team of workers excavating an Ancient Tomb built with extremely advanced masonry, far in advance of even what ponies could do in the present — but the building has been dated back thousands of years before ponies first built buildings out of stone. Surrounded by metallic spikes to keep out intruders (which are, alas, easily circumvented by someone with wings) and with a room full of writing in dozens of long-lost languages, Daring Do naturally assumes that all of the rigmarole is meant to dissuade would be grave robbers. She's absolutely right. Too bad that the building isn't a tomb, but a nuclear waste storage facility built by humans, and the attempts at dissuading future people from breaking into the place was for their own good.
    • In Austraeoh, Whitemane explains that Alicorns first found the world, floating barren in the void, and seeded it with life. She lies. Pegasi were the first race to inhabit the world, possibly before Urohringr was broken into twelve pieces. Modern ponies are descended from them through alicorn meddling.
  • Hidden Frontier: The Gray are set up to be precursors of some kind, but it turns out they're actually artificial life forms built by actual precursors, of whom Siroc, the Big Bad, is the last one left.
  • In Shepard's R&R, when Commander Shepard asks Princess Celestia about the fantastical abilities of the Equestrians, Celestia smiles and cryptically states that "their Mother shaped them that way." When Shepard learns the fact that Equestrian DNA is shows almost-impossible levels of genetic engineering, Shepard concludes that this "Mother" must have been one.
  • Mega Man Recut has the Vannu'bi, an ancient civilization that existed on a small remote island and were apparently destroyed by a volcanic eruption. They may have been Abusive Precursors, since their architecture describes them as constantly warring with other civilizations and making deals with an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Harry Potter fanfiction:
  • RWBY Alternate explains the Schizo Tech of RWBY as being due to this. The world used to be very technologically advanced but an incident known as "the Fall" left everything all-but in ruins. Humanity has since picked itself up but it's not on the level of the Imperial Era. The only remnants of the old era is some of the advanced technology, such as holograms and robots, which have been mainly repurposed for military usage.
  • In Fallen Kingdom, the deceased Antonio and Emperor Morton's powers are said to far surpass Mario and Bowser's, and the First Koopa War sowed the seeds of Mario and Bowser's conflict.
  • Rerum Danarae: The Ancient Kingdom, of Danara Marina. The name is a reference to a quote from the Aeneid by Virgil, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" ("I fear the Danaans [Greeks], even those bearing gifts"), and the kingdom's undisputed rule over the oceans at the height of power. Dating back from the Void Century, they were incredibly powerful, but due to a corrupt usurper, their nobility sold the kingdom out to the alliance which later became the World Government. They left their Poneglyphs, the letters to their descendants, all over the world, chronicling the events of the Void Century. The modern Navy is basically the only other thing what's left of it.
  • Steel Soul Saga: From Steel Spirit: As said in "Input Functionality": They were the Draconeuuqii, but only one is known, Discord.
    "Wait," Sweetie Belle interjected, "the precursors are real?"
    "Yes, as a matter of fact. You've even met one!" Cheerilee nodded out the door. "The Draconeuuqii were once quite widespread—"
    The school bell suddenly chimed
  • Pokédex: Before humans arose, Sceptile practiced agriculture, Conkeldurr built cities, and Cranidos trained Pokémon.
  • Pokémon: The Great Adventure: The Ancients, a civilization of very advanced humanoid aliens who migrated to this world three thousand years before the story and set the bases of the modern world. By the time of the story, everyone think they're gone. They introduced Aura to the world and Silver is one of them, just like Sir Aaron's mother.
  • Kaiju Revolution: There have been two advanced sapient races present on Earth before modern man. The first were the sophont pterosaurs known as the Mahars who arose during the Mesozoic and would eventually become so advanced that they could create immortal, artificial bodies and give themselves telepathy. The second was a Paleolithic hominid civilization known as the Paleoarchs who developed technology that surpasses anything made in the modern day. However, both civilizations would collapse when they tried to control Earth's kaiju or make their own. The surviving Mahars would be forced to hide in their Antarctic stronghold of Pellucidar, while the Paleoarchs were fractured into different groups that evolved into various races, including Homo sapians.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One of the most widely known Precursor stories is 2001: A Space Odyssey, where they are also (presumably) Energy Beings who guided human evolution.
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has a twist on this in its final act, in that humans have become extinct and are now viewed as an ancient and wise precursor race by the robots who have inherited the planet.
  • Alien has the barely-featured Space Jockey's species, which the Expanded Universe claims is responsible for the creation of both humanity and the Xenomorphs. Prometheus clears this up a bit: the "Engineers", as they are called, apparently seeded life on Earth in prehistoric times. Whether this was done by just one Engineer or a collective is not clarified; the characters think it was all of them. They also intervened in some ancient cultures, leaving clues in bas-relief and cave-painting form, pointing to a planet in a certain star system, about 34 LY from Earth. The movie makes it clear that about 2000 years ago, they changed their mind about us for some reason and decided to exterminate humanity; the planet in question was one of their outposts, from where ships carrying biological weapons (much like the Xenomorphs) were to be sent to cleanse the Earth of life. The only thing that saved us was the fact that the monsters escaped captivity and killed the Engineers at the outpost. All except one...
    • The implication is there that they did indeed create the Xenomorphs as the perfect biological nuke. Alien: Covenant debunks that implication by revealing the who and why of the Xenomorph's creation.
  • In AVP: Alien vs. Predator, the Predators are retconned to being responsible for teaching humans how to build, farm and write, all so they could have people to sacrifice as part of their barbaric rites of passage.
  • Contact. The alien says that the Portal Network used by the protagonist was not built by them, but by a long-disappeared race.
  • The Mondoshawans in The Fifth Element — based on their representation — apply to this trope as well, at least to a certain degree.
  • The Krell of Forbidden Planet, who created the huge machine powered by near limitless energy beneath the planet's surface. The machine was meant to read their conscious thoughts and create or manipulate everything they wished so that they could be free from dependence upon instrumentality. They were all killed in a single night by their own primitive subconscious thoughts which they'd unknowingly let loose with the machine's completion.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Kong's ancestors. Kong is the Last of His Kind, but his ancestors (whom apparently went to war with Godzilla in the past) have left behind a great temple in the Hollow Earth, where Kong finds an axe made from the energy-absorbing dorsal plate of one of Godzilla's species embedded in a Titan's skull and claims it as his own.
  • Moonfall reveals that the human race as we know it is the second coming of humanity, seeded on Earth by an advanced human empire annihilated by its own A.I. creation, with only the moon megastructure and its controlling artificial intelligence remaining as their legacy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda's lead character Dylan Hunt was a (half-Heavy Worlder-half-) member of a highly developed culture which was at the heart of the old Commonwealth. In later seasons, the series begins to pursue those "lost people" because of their amazing advancements which have since been lost, only to learn they intentionally closed themselves off from the outside barbarism.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The "First Ones", who have all mostly emigrated "beyond the rim of the galaxy", although some remain lurking about in known space. Lorien, the "First One", is literally the first sentient being in the galaxy.
    • The Vorlons and the Shadows, which drive the main plots of the entire series, have meddled extensively in the affairs of younger races.
    • In an homage to Forbidden Planet, Epsilon 3 (the planet which Babylon 5 orbits) houses many super-advanced artifacts of a long-dead alien race.
    • The humans and the Minbari, who will become precursors to the future races, as shown at the end of Season 4. And to Earth itself, when the Rangers secretly guide the planet's rediscovery of technology following "The Great Burn" in "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars".
  • In Battlestar Galactica (1978), the Cylons were originally a race of lizard people. They built robots to act as their servants, but the robots rebelled and wiped the lizard people out. Eventually, these robots ran into humanity. Humans have already been at war with these robots for a thousand yahrens when the series opens.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The series sometimes paints the Time Lords like this. At the dawn of their civilisation, they sent a star supernova, and caged the resulting black hole to fuel their time travel. They fought several wars against other primordial races (notably the Great Vampires), driving them to virtual extinction. In at least one instance, they're suggested to have actually driven magic from the universe and the Doctor's TARDIS is frequently described as the most powerful and/or advanced ship in the universe with the Heart of the TARDIS, when harnessed by Rose Tyler, being a full on Reality Warper capable of wiping out an entire Dalek battle fleet with the wave of hand, accidentally granting someone Resurrective Immortality and scattering a message through time and space. If it hadn't started to burn Rose out, she'd probably have gone further. Later, the Master jury rigged it into a machine powerful enough to hold together a paradox connecting Earth and the very end of the Universe. Furthermore, that TARDIS? By Time Lord standards, it's obsolete. It was old when the Doctor found it, and other Time Lords frequently making disparaging remarks about its quality/patched together nature. They were even worshipped as gods on at least one planet, until their technological gifts backfired, and they instituted a policy of non-interference. The Expanded Universe attributes the widespread presence of Human Aliens in the setting to them (offering multiple versions of the reasons why).
    • The unseen race (otherwise known as the Disciples of the Light) who caged the Beast also qualify. It had done this before the beginning of time. The Doctor points out that this is both stupid and impossible. But that doesn't stop it from still being true.
  • Farscape:
    • The Eidolons, who once controlled an entire galaxy through their power to induce "rationality and tranquility" in others before their near-extinction several millennia ago. For good measure, they are actually responsible for the creation of the Peacekeepers and the Sebacean race as a whole, having abducted primitive humans from Earth and altered them to act as bodyguards.
    • Subverted in the case of the Ancients, who, despite the name and their status as a Dying Race, aren't precursors at all. In fact, in spite of their impressive technology, they've actually gone out of the way to make sure that nobody knows about them unless absolutely necessary: this is because they were sent from another dimension to monitor the development of wormhole technology.
  • The "First People" from Fringe.
    • They're actually Walter and Peter (mostly Walter) in a Stable Time Loop sending the artifacts to the different universes.
  • Slight subversion: the inconceivably ancient Morphin Masters of Power Rangers themselves worshipped their "Ancient Ancestors" who watched down on them... Apparently from Rita's similarly super-ancient lunar palace.
  • Red Dwarf postulates that all life originated on Earth; after three million years, there are many variations on sentient life — creatures descended from genetic experiments, animals that evolved into sentient humanoids, self-sustaining races of androids, "pan-dimensional liquid beasts", etc. etc. etc.
  • The Stargate-verse:
    • The gate network itself was created by one such race, named (creatively) the Ancients, though they later are discovered to have called themselves the Anquietas (formerly the Alterans, later the Lanteans after the planet on which Atlantis resided). They eventually ascended and adopted a strict non-interference policy on the lower planes. The other side of that coin is the Ori, also ascended Alterans but with a very different policy; they are eventually revealed to have driven the Ancients from their home galaxy to the Milky Way.
    • The Ancients themselves discovered evidence of even older race of Precursors (or God) than themselves who left a complex message/pattern or signal deep within the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation of the universe either before or shortly after the Big Bang.
    • The Asgard, Goa'uld, and Wraith. The Goa'uld use humans as hosts and slaves, and founded Egyptian civilisation, and the Wraith loosely farm humans as food (though the Wraith themselves are the result of a life-sucking creature called the Iratus Bug being mutated by human DNA, possibly naturally, or possibly, as the Expanded Universe hints, by Ancient experiments), while the Asgard placed several worlds in the Milky Way under military protection from the Goa'uld.
  • Star Trek

  • In the The Sword song, "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians", the Precursors are humans from roughly the current era. After a presumably nuclear war screws up the planet, the survivors idiotically decide that they need to find and launch more of our missiles.
  • The Jimi Hendrix song "Up From the Skies" has an alien revisiting Earth after a long hiatus: "I have lived here before/ in days of ice/ and of course this is why I'm so concerned/ and I come back to find/ the stars misplaced/ and the smell of a world/ that's burning." Maybe a precursor, maybe not, but he'd been here a long, long time ago.
  • Some of Doctor Steel's music and videos, most notably his song "Planet X Marks the Spot", deal with the Ancient Astronaut theories of Zechariah Sitchin.

  • According to Loony Labyrinth, the ancient Minos were masters of time travel, genetic engineering, and other amazing feats.

  • In the backstory to the Cool Kids Table game Small Magic, the Tenshi and the Oni are this for humanity. When a Tenshi and an Oni had a child together (the first human), it led to a war that wiped out most of them, forcing the Tenshi to put the Oni in a deep sleep and flee the world.

  • Dimension X: In "The Lost Race", an adaptation of Murray Leinster's "The Lost", the titular species are an ancient race who constructed the canals on Mars and the ruined cities on Titan, Centaurus II, and Centaurus III, around one hundred thousand years ago. Their influence extended to more than a thousand planets before they mysteriously destroyed themselves. The archaeologist Mr Howell determines that the Lost Race were a race of highly evolved monkeys who were being slowly mutated by atomic energy. He concludes that they committed mass suicide as they could not stand the idea of turning into human-like creatures.

  • BIONICLE toyed with this idea a lot, but eventually subverted it with the Great Beings: hailed in the story's early years as powerful, mythological figures responsible for creating the Matoran Universe and its creatures, but then moved to other projects, and chaos ensued. Later it was revealed that these Beings were a highly eccentric group of scientist governors, and can only be seen as the precursors to the Matoran Universe's inhabitants — whom they themselves viewed as expandable machines. Otherwise, they were just one of Spherus Magna's (the planet which they once ruled over) several species. They are also still around someplace, but are hiding, as the inhabitants of their world hated their guts.

  • Aurora (2019) has the Ancients, magically inert master architects who lived on the surface while humans and elves lived in caves to avoid the elemental winds. Even though they could not directly manipulate the elements they used tools to do so. However, their continent-spanning civilization tore itself apart in civil war. Today, the only traces of them are ruins, semi-fuctional war machines, and traces of their blood in humans and elves.
  • Awful Hospital has the Old Flesh and, to a certain extent, the Parliament of the Old Flesh. Apparently, at the beginning of all things, all of existence contained the Old Flesh, and nothing else. At some point, the Old Flesh became infected, and as that infection devoured the Old Flesh, it gave rise to all other concepts in the Range. The Parliament are the remains of the Old Flesh itselfnote , and they seek to use their own infection to eliminate all concepts that arose from the Old Flesh (i.e. 'literally everything') and re-create it in the form of the New Flesh.
  • The Cyantian Chronicles have at least two species, the Rumuah who created the Cyantians as servants and heirs, than died out from a genetic disease. And the "Squids" who came along centuries later and enslaved the Cyantians, until Alpha Akaelae led a successful rebellion and wiped them out.
  • Drive (Dave Kellett): The Sill were the most advanced race the galaxy has ever known and the only one to ever reach a type 2 Kardashev civilization. They ruled the galaxy for over 20,000 years undisputed, they played crucial roles in the history of almost every species they encountered and their technology reached levels that modern societies can barely dream of. All that's left of them now are some impressive ruins and some slowly dying monks.
  • Harbourmaster has the Qohathoth, who were tormented by the loneliness of being the only sapient lifeform in the galaxy. Although their quest to find other species to befriend (the Yogzarthu didn't want friendship) led them to journey into other dimensions before humans could become spacefarers, they terraformed many other planets to be Earth-like in hopes of sparing humanity that same pain. Ironically, they made the terraformed planets too paradisial; nothing was subjected to the kind of pressures that would select for sapience, until a comet strike altered Tethys's climate, allowing the entomorphs to evolve to sapience.
  • In Homestuck, universes are created by sessions of Sburb. And the trolls created ours.
  • In Impure Blood, they are the Ancients. Roan is a Half-Human Hybrid descendent. The Watchers think they are evil.
  • In Iothera, the ancient Seb attained spaceflight, then apparently vanished.
    Cassandra: We still don't really know who the Seb were — or how they built the Red Towers — or why they were on the moons — or even what all the stuff they left behind does.
  • In Jack (David Hopkins), a Furry Webcomic, the furries that currently live on Earth are the descendants of furries created in a lab by humans, making humans the Precursors. They were wiped out in a war started by the first furry, Jack. The furry version of the United States government knows about furrykind's origins, and is (probably wisely) keeping it a secret.
  • Leaving the Cradle: The Ancients had unimaginably powerful presence in the galaxy some milions to billions years ago, changing planets and star systems so they could be able to support life, leaving behind artifacts that enabled the civilizations that came after to discover FTL and other fancy tech, and apparently they are even responsible for the very possibility of FTL travel itself, with strong implications that they tampered with the fundamental physical forces of the Universe on a whim, and before that you could travel only as fast as Einstein would allow you. Then they just disappear without a trace, sans for some artifacts or occasional astroengineering project.
  • Schlock Mercenary: There's a scattering of ruins from extinct civilizations, but not as much as one would expect considering Fermi's Paradox. The oldest race around, the Gatekeepers, are only a million years old. Quite old, to be sure, but young compared to the galaxy. As Petey put it, "If it's this easy to be immortal, where are all the adults?" They were all wiped out due to a variety of reasons over the eons, top of the list being the long-gun, a weapon that can fire anywhere in the galaxy from anywhere in the galaxy as long as you have targeting coordinates. The few survivors of these eras went completely off the grid, hiding their stars in massive superstructures or constructing spaceships the size of planets and running dark. The reason the Gatekeepers were still around (though they hid the bulk of their people in Dyson Spheres) was as part of a plan to halt this cycle by restricting galactic travel to a Portal Network instead of receiverless teleportation, in the hopes that this would prevent the rise of the long-gun. It worked for a while, and the current galactic civilization has lasted longer than most previous ones, but eventually the Gatekeeper stranglehold was broken and things continued on the same path as before. It eventually turned out that many, perhaps even most, of them weren't wiped out at all; all civilizations reach a point where immortality is easy and it's just safer in the long term to move your entire civilization into gas-giant sized spaceships and go dark beyond the galactic rim. Once the galaxy figured out how to detect them they discovered that there's so many of those ships that by conservative estimates surviving precursors outnumber what they had thought was the population of the galaxy by fifteen orders of magnitude.
  • In Unity, the creatures living in the ship are all distant descendants of Earth life. Humans built the ship, but disappeared long ago.
  • Unsounded: The Senet Beasts came before humans, most have been wiped out by humans who use the First Materials they're made which means that many of the surviving ones will not hesitate to kill or trick humans they come across, and they do not reproduce. All Senet Beasts that are still around have been around since ere the dawn of humanity.

    Web Original 
  • Beyond the Impossible: The Drylon disappeared five billion years ago, but they left behind technology so powerful that the gods will do anything to put their hands on it.
    Five billion years ago, the Drylon disappeared. The legend goes that the Drylon waged war against the universe and lost. They lost so bad that hardly anybody remembers them.
  • Open Blue has the Iormunean Imperium, a once glorious empire that prospered thanks to their goddess. When a new religion started encroaching on the fringes of the empire and the local Church Militant did nothing to stop its growth, aforementioned goddess turned her back on them while they were in the middle of a war with invading barbarian hordes. Suffice to say, it led to their destruction, and their blessed weapons and artifacts being scattered across the world for the present nations to search for.
  • In Orion's Arm abandoned ruins with highly advanced technology are considerably more common than living aliens with technology even close to the level of Terragen civilization. Many find this somewhat disturbing.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-1000 reveals that Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti were this to us. They created a great civilization millennia ago, had a population in the tens of billions, and mastered Organic Technology that even modern Foundation researchers can't comprehend. Ancient humans were to them what Great Apes are for us: fenced-in endangered species that are granted protected status, but still exploited for various purposes. Eventually, humanity managed to acquire some of their bioweapons and rose up, slaughtering most of their species in a single day and imprisoning the rest in their own minds, then turning it on ourselves to eradicate the memory of them. And the modern remnants of the species have been slowly regaining their mental capabilities...
      You think bigfoot is funny because we want you to think bigfoot is funny.
    • SCP-2932 also reveals that humans and bigfoots aren't so different. Not only did the Bigfoots have their own facilities for containing anomalous objects, but they also overthrew the ones that came before them.
    • SCP-4000 reveals more details about the precursors who came before the bigfoots, otherwise known as the Fae. They were largely similar to humans, but with an obvious allergy to iron. Not only were they overthrown by the bigfoots, but the Foundation committed genocide against them after the War with the Factory; SCP-4000 is basically a refugee camp in another dimension, where they harbor a bitter resentment against the Foundation.
    • SCP-4001 is a massive sentient library that chronicles the lives of every human being that has ever existed, numbering at least 120 billion in total and with new ones created every minute; the oldest ones stretch back 75,000 years. Burning a book or tearing out the first pages results in the person it's about being erased from existence. Beneath the floorboards is a huge layer of ash, the last remnant of the ancient Homo nobilis civilization after they wiped themselves out in a nuclear war 70,000-80,000 years ago. The library asked the last Watcher to burn the entire collection of books so that the damage could be undone, which resulted in them being wiped from reality
    • SCP-2117 is an anomalous spaceship used by the Foundation against possible extraterrestrial threats. If the age of the ship is to be believed, the Foundation has existed even before life did.
  • The Whateley Universe appears to have at least two Precursor races — the Telemap, whale-like beings that explored the Universe through Astral Projection, followed by the humanoid Isokist, who did so in person and colonized several galaxies before they began experimenting with the dimensions outside our Universe, which quickly led to them being nearly annihilated by Eldritch Abominations. Somewhere along the way, one Isokist Mad Scientist created the Scourge — a sentient Ultimate Weapon in the form of a female Isokist — as a last-ditch defense against the invaders. The rest is hidden in the mists of time, but it is known that the Scourge survived, until eight billion years later it merged with a human teenager, becoming the character of Tennyo.

    Western Animation 
  • In Cadillacs and Dinosaurs , humans of 21th century are refered as the Ancients and are the Precursors. In the far future, mankind has regress greatly in terms of technology and must now coexist with dinosaurs.
  • In Gargoyles, the Lost Race, while never directly referred to in the show, has been revealed by Greg Weisman to have preceded the Three Races.
  • Once Upon a Time... Space (the sci-fi and prevalently entertaining installment of the Il Était Une Fois... educational series) has at least two of these races. The two confirmed races were at war with each other, with one composed by human lookalikes (some of which landed on a primitive planet inhabitated by other Human Aliens and taught them better science before nuking them for attacking them in order to steal their technology) and the other implied to have normal-sized starships capable to blow up a planet (the asteroid belt is believed having been one such planet, where this race believed some of their enemies had taken refuge). The inhabitants of Atlantis are a subgroup of another race of Human Aliens, known for having interbred with Earth humans (with Psi's Psychic Powers implied to be the result of descending from them) and who are possibly connected to the first group, and a fourth, who actually appear, are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that may be the same who sent the Atlanteans on Earth and have some connection to Psi. The protagonist themselves become this from time to time, acting as teachers to less developed species.
  • In Shadow Raiders, a mysterious race created world engines (if not the planets themselves). This allowed the natives to not get consumed by the Beast Planet. One has to wonder who they were and why they did it.
  • She-Ra has the First Onesnote , who integrated the planet of Etheria with their technology.
  • In StarCom: The U.S. Space Force, Mars was once inhabited by an advanced alien race called the Builders. The Builders are long gone by the time humans colonized the solar system, but they left behind ancient cities buried under the Martian dunes — cities which are still functional, and not entirely abandoned.

    Real Life and Mythology 
  • Homo erectus. They inhabited Africa and most of Eurasia for over 2 million years, and are once believed to be the first species of human (technically that position goes to Homo habilis, but it's debated whether they really belong in the Homo genus), and the first in Earth's history to make complex hunting tools, control fire and cook their food, and (it's debated) to have symbolic customs, such as burial rites. They were so widespread that they gave rise to many different species of humans, including Homo heidelbergensis, the ancestor of both modern humans and Neanderthals. There are ongoing debates about whether some known groups of early humans are actually Homo erectus or a subspecies descended from them.
  • An Older Than Feudalism topic is Atlantis:
    • It was first recorded by Plato, and may be an allegory he dreamed up to serve his conception of a utopian society by providing it with an enemy. While the Atlantis in Plato's story is explicitly a fiction, the question is whether the idea was original or making use of an existing legend. Another possibility is that the legend of Atlantis grew out of stories about the civilization on Bronze-Age Crete, long before classical Ancient Greece. Another candidate is Santorini, which was once Thera, an island city-state in the Aegean Sea, very advanced compared to its neighbors, even possessing indoor plumbing, but erased (along with the middle of the island) by a volcanic explosion about 36 centuries ago.
    • Theories on the origins of Atlantis are far ranging and include everything from islands in the Mediterranean to the continents of North and South America. Proponents of the latter theories, however, are not taken seriously because no such civilisation could have existed and left zero trace or record of its existence whatsoever.note 
    • The story includes a second set of precursors in the ancient predecessor of Athens (in another location in Greece which no longer exists), which embodied all of the traits of Plato's ideal state. After the war between the two ended in victory for Athens, it was also destroyed in the same calamity as Atlantis. Oddly enough, no one ever seems to believe that this culture was real, even though it gets much more focus in the story and the claims about it are much more modest.
  • Medieval and Renaissance Europeans often thought of the Roman Empire this way, perceiving Rome as a great, civilized, and intellectually superior culture they strived to emulate. The ruins of Roman buildings and infrastructure still dot the countryside to the modern day, and many European towns and cities were built among the ruins of Roman settlements — which, in many cases, were much larger than their Medieval successors and more comparable in size to their modern iterations. The Greeks were held in a similar sort of awe, and Greek and Roman writings were held as a sort of final authority in scientific matters: suggesting that modern people could equal or surpass the Greeks and Romans — "the Ancients", as they were known — in art or science was seen as ridiculous. Adventurer Archaeologists in Central Asia often thought of the various Silk Road Civilizations this way, too. Similarly, the early Iron Age civilizations of Greece, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia which emerged after the Bronze Age collapse and subsequent "Dark Ages" viewed their predecessors as such, most notably the awe in which the Hellenic Greeks held the Mycenaeans.
  • The ancient city-state of Teotihuacán played this role for the Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztecs who arose nearly 1,000 years after its fall. It was one of the great powers of its day, dominating several of the nearby Maya cities and its influence covering much of Mesoamerica; it even had what appear to have been apartment buildings. It had considerable influence on the development of most nearby cultures, including the Maya, and was seen as a holy place by the Aztecs, who believed it to be where the world had been created.
  • One serious solution proposed for the Fermi Paradoxnote  is that we humans are the Precursors — we are the first intelligent race, at the very least in this galaxy or this part of it. Or at the very least, our elders are too recently emerged to have expanded universe-wide yet. If this is true, uncounted billions of civilisations are gazing up at the sky, and are asking the exact same questions as us, but have yet to even go beyond their atmospheres. Though they may not know it yet, they are all depending on us not nuking ourselves or sinking back to pre-industrial levels. No pressure.
  • This is also a favorite theme of conspiracy theories, where the role of the Precursors is filled by ancient, vanished technological empires like Atlantis or Lemuria, or by alien visitors who founded humanity's ancient civilisations.
  • The mysterious Bronze Age Indus civilization reached levels of technology, health, and urbanism not reached again until the Middle Ages (in India) or later. For just a bit of perspective, the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro had a better sewage system than nearby Karachi does today.
  • Ancient Phoenician-influenced Sardinia could count. They had iron weapons, conquered Italy and southern France, and had huge stone fortresses long before the Middle Ages. The end of the Sardinian civilization also coincides with an eruption of Vesuvius, plus the geography and political state of the island could match the description.
  • Any ancient state ended up either as this or a Vestigial Empire. The best examples would be the six "cradles of civilization" where writing, urbanization, and features of modern society first developed independently of other civilizations: Mesoamerica, the central Andes, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus River Valley, and China.
  • According to Hindu Mythology, there were several lengthy ages before the current age, the Kali Yuga: the Satya Yuga, the Treta Yuga, and the Dvapara Yuga, each one being shorter than the previous era. Humanity begun in the Satya Yuga as being very devout and righteous under the rule of the gods, before declining in subsequent ages, and then starting over at the distant end of the Kali Yuga. Among the technology used during the previous ages included the vimana, a flying palace or chariot used by powerful beings such as Ravana.
    • Likewise, some Buddhist scriptures mention of a primordial king known as Mahāsammata, who was selected by his people as their ruler as there were no others around them. He was succeeded by several dynasties of chakravartins, universal monarchs who utilize treasures such as the 'chakraratnaya' wheel that allows them to travel across the sky to other continents. As the ages progressed, the chakravartins' rule broke down, and humanity declined in morality and lifespan from thousands of years to nearly a hundred.
  • Theosophy features Atlantis (Precursor to Egypt and Mayan culture), Hyperborea (North Pole, precursor of Europeans and Asians), and Lemuria (precursor to the African cultures and the lower castes of India). Later authors like David Icke and Drunvalo Melchizedek added aliens to the mix.
  • The Silurian hypothesis (name inspired by Doctor Who), posits that there could have been an industrial civilization on Earth millions of years ago, and how it could be detectable in this era by accounts of chemical and climatological global changes recorded on the rock strata.
  • During the Bronze Age, on the Mediterranean island of Crete and in the Aegean islands, flourished the mysterious Minoan Civilization note . As early as 2000 BCE they had complex and organized cities with features like freshwater aqueducts and sewer systems, with their cities being centered around impressive palace structures (that were more likely warehouses rather than government centers or military bases). Their writing system ("Linear A") is still untranslated, but the alphabet was adopted and modified by the Mycenaeans note  who's alphabet (called "Linear B") is understood and is the earliest form of written Greek. Their influence (in the form of architecture, technology, art, trade goods, etc...) is felt all throughout the Bronze Age Mediterranean, but especially in Greece. It's not entirely clear why they declined, but the most popular hypothesis is that a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini in 1600 BCE destroyed one of their major settlements and the repercussions were felt on Crete, which was subsequently conquered by Mycenaeans.


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Alternative Title(s): Precursor


The Final War

Monol relays to the Searchers how the ancient Pangeans became savage, leading to a war that lasted for unknown centuries, to the point that nobody even remembered WHY they were fighting.

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Main / ForeverWar

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