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These Ancient Civilizations Deserve More Recognition

History books often highlight the powerful empires and civilizations that were prominent in their respective eras. These ancient civilizations rose and fell, leaving behind legacies that have significantly impacted our world. While many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Romans, are well known, others remain obscure despite their remarkable contributions.

Today, we explore six such obscure civilizations that have largely faded into the shadows of history. These societies, from the enigmatic kingdom of Aksum to the advanced yet forgotten Nabataeans, offer intriguing glimpses into the past.

Related: 12 Ingenious Life Hacks from Ancient Civilizations

1. The Kingdom of Aksum

In his works, the 3rd-century Persian prophet Mani recognized four major empires that ruled the Earth. These empires were the Babylonian and Persian, Roman, Aksum, and Chinese. The Aksumite Empire, despite being one of the most formidable forces in the 1st millennium AD, has somewhat slipped from the forefront of historical awareness.

Emerging in modern-day northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, this empire became a leading power along the Red Sea's coast, strategically located on the crucial trade route connecting Asia and Europe. Aksum was a major exporter of ivory, gems, frankincense, and animals, while also importing silks, spices, and glassware. Historical accounts mention conflicts, particularly over land. The Aksumite Empire is also recognized as the first sub-Saharan state to officially embrace Christianity.

Remnants of this vanished civilization can still be seen today, such as the massive obelisks that mark the tombs of the dead in the ancient Ethiopian capital of Aksum. This city is also home to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, believed to house the Ark of the Covenant.

2. Jōmon

The Jōmon civilization, flourishing in Japan from approximately 13,000 BC to the cusp of the 1st century AD, is widely recognized as the foundation of Japanese history. This enduring culture significantly shaped the trajectory of the nation. Remarkably, the Jōmon people distinguished themselves by adopting a sedentary lifestyle millennia before many other civilizations.

Their expertise in farming led to the creation of permanent homes, which in turn encouraged the growth of complex technologies. The Jōmon are particularly celebrated for their exceptional pottery. Their distinctive, carefully crafted clay pots were more than just beautiful, they also marked an important innovation - the discovery that fire could enhance the strength and durability of ceramics. These creative vessels, with their special designs, are thought to have been used for cooking and storing food for long periods. This mastery in food preservation was key to the Jōmon's settled lifestyle, providing a consistent food supply in their communities.

Related: You Need To Know About These Obscure Old Civilizations

3. The Carals

The archaeological landscape of the Americas underwent a major transformation with the unearthing of the Caral civilization in the 1990s. This advanced society thrived in modern-day Peru from around the 4th to 2nd millennia BC, dating back before the peak of the Mayan civilization in Central America by thousands of years. This discovery confirms the Caral civilization as the oldest known complex society in the Americas.

Studies of the Caral people have uncovered unique traits that set them apart from other ancient cultures. Unlike their peers, the Caral people did not seem to have a strong interest in visual arts and did not use pottery for practical purposes. Although no artwork, sculptures, or pottery for food storage have been uncovered, the finding of flutes made from animal bones indicates a possible love for music.

The Caral civilization was also known for its advanced architectural techniques, as seen in the lasting structures of their capital, the Sacred City of Caral-Supe. This grand city includes large pyramids, underground plazas, a round amphitheater, and homes. Research into the Caral civilization is ongoing, revealing more about the growth of complex societies in the Americas and extending the timeline back much further than previously thought.

4. Sogdiana

The Sogdians, an ancient Central Asian people, inhabited the fertile region of Sogdiana, situated along the Silk Road. This strategic location, nestled between the powerful empires of China, India, and Persia, turned them into key middlemen and traders.

The Sogdians thrived because they could meet the needs of these merchants moving along the Silk Road, offering them food, rest, and a lively market for trading. They were bilingual or multilingual, easily learning languages such as ancient Persian, Chinese, and Turkish in addition to their own. This ability to speak multiple languages helped them communicate with travelers from different places, strengthening Sogdiana's position as a place where languages and cultures meet.

Moreover, their skill in commerce also included bringing new and revolutionary technologies and products like paper and gunpowder to different societies. The Sogdians were instrumental in the slow expansion of Buddhism from India towards the east into China. Although their impact diminished in the 8th century AD because of the growing strength of Turkish and Mongol forces, as well as the Arab invasion, their contributions to commerce, language, and cultural interaction reinforce their status as an important, yet frequently overlooked, civilization in Asia's history.

5. Tlaxcala

Between the 14th and early 16th centuries, the Aztec Empire rose to power in Mesoamerica, but within their extensive territory, one particular native society, the Tlaxcala, managed to stand against their rule. With a strong military, the Tlaxcala managed to hold off Aztec advances, allowing them to keep control over their important, yet compact, area in the central highlands of Mexico.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early 16th century, the Tlaxcala faced a new threat. However, with their keen political skills, they chose to team up with the Spanish against their Aztec enemies. This alliance was crucial in the Spanish victory over the Aztec Empire. Although the Spanish began the formal colonization of Mexico, they granted the Tlaxcala considerable land rights and the ability to govern themselves in return for their assistance.

Despite the arrival of the Spanish, the Tlaxcala civilization continued to exist for centuries, retaining its unique identity and legacy as a people who defied powerful empires and negotiated a turbulent historical period through political acumen.

Related: This Ancient Civilization Just Mysteriously Vanished

6. The Nabataeans

The Nabataeans were originally a nomadic tribe that roamed the Arabian Desert but gradually evolved into an advanced civilization by the 4th century BC. Their strategic control over trade routes linking Arabia with the Mediterranean Sea fueled their economic prosperity. Further, the Nabataeans were formidable defenders of their territory, most notably repelling a Macedonian invasion led by one of Alexander's generals.

The Nabataean city of Raqmu, now known as Petra, remains a symbol of this lost civilization. This extraordinary historical site, located in Jordan, can only be reached by navigating a narrow, twisting canyon known as the Siq. Upon entering this area, tourists are greeted by elaborate structures carved directly into the sandstone cliffs, among them the renowned Al-Khazneh temple. This temple, often depicted as the Holy Grail's secret location in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stands as a significant representation of Nabataean creativity and skill.

Sources: National Geographic SocietyThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtPopular ArcheologyBritannicaIndigenous MexicoDiscover Magazine

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