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25 More Mind-Blowing Facts About Ancient Civilizations

By Jake Beardslee · April 29, 2024

The Pyramids of Giza Were Originally White

Most people envision the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt as golden sand structures, but they were actually covered in polished white limestone to reflect the sun’s rays, creating a dazzling sight.  Simon Berger/Unsplash

Romans Used Urine for Cleaning

In a peculiar practice, Romans used urine, particularly from public urinals, as a cleaning agent due to its ammonia content, showcasing their resourcefulness even in hygiene.  Nils/Unsplash

The Osterby Head: A Perfectly Coiffed Iron Age Relic

Among the most curious archaeological finds is the Osterby Head, a skull from the late Iron Age with an impeccably preserved hairstyle. This millennia-old relic offers a rare glimpse into the grooming practices and hairstyle trends of a bygone era.  Bullenwächter/Wikimedia

Mayans Used Chocolate as Currency

The ancient Mayans valued chocolate so much that they used cocoa beans as a form of currency, illustrating the importance of this delectable treat in their society.  Guido HN/Unsplash

The World's Oldest Fart Joke

While humor often feels distinctly modern, the world's oldest recorded joke dates back to ancient Sumeria around 1900 BC – and it's a fart joke. This crude yet timeless gag reminds us that some forms of humor have stood the test of time, transcending cultures and eras.  TYalaA/Wikimedia

Golden Treasures of the Ancient Silla Kingdom

The ancient Korean kingdom of Silla, which dominated from the 7th-9th centuries AD, left behind a dazzling array of golden artifacts and treasures. Ornate crowns, girdles, jewelry and ceremonial regalia made of gold have been uncovered from Silla tomb sites  Gary Todd/Wikimedia

Inca Empire's Khipu System

The Inca civilization utilized a unique method of communication known as the Khipu system. These intricate knotted cords served as a form of writing and record-keeping, showcasing the complexity of their society.  Fedekuki/Wikimedia

Toilet Technology in Mohenjo-Daro

The ancient Indus Valley civilization in Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan, boasted sophisticated urban planning, including an advanced sewage system with indoor toilets. They were way ahead of their time in terms of sanitation practices.  Saqib Qayyum/Wikimedia

Inca Rope Bridges

The Inca civilization constructed impressive suspension bridges made entirely of woven grass, allowing them to traverse the rugged Andean terrain with ease.  John Carter Brown Library/Wikimedia

Indus Valley Script

The script of the Indus Valley Civilization remains undeciphered, posing a tantalizing mystery to linguists and historians alike.  Zunkir/Wikimedia

Mayan Calendar

The Mayan calendar system was incredibly precise, accurately predicting celestial events and eclipses with remarkable accuracy.  theilr/Wikimedia

Ancient Roman Sewer System

The Romans engineered a sophisticated sewer system, known as the Cloaca Maxima, which is still partially functional in present-day Rome.  Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg/Wikimedia

Innovative Writing Systems

The Sumerians of Mesopotamia were one of the first civilizations to develop writing, known as cuneiform, on clay tablets.  Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikimedia

Ingenious Inventions

The ancient Chinese invented papermaking, printing, and the compass, revolutionizing communication and navigation.  Wang Jian/Wikimedia

Persian Desert Refrigeration: Ancient Ice Storage Mastery

By 400 BC, Persian engineers had achieved a remarkable feat – mastering ice storage in the midst of desert summers. Their ingenious techniques allowed them to preserve ice even in the most arid conditions, a technological marvel that would not be replicated for centuries.  Hansueli Krapf/Wikimedia

Ancient Greek Insult Ammunition: Engraved Slingshot Taunts

In the 4th century BC, Ancient Greek warriors added insult to injury – literally. Archaeologists have uncovered slingshot ammunition inscribed with taunts like "Take that!" and "Catch!", revealing a surprising blend of warfare and wordplay among these ancient combatants.  Ελληνικά: ΆγνωστοςFrançais : Coupe attribuée au Peintre de Triptolème/Wikimedia

Ancient Roman Celebrity Fighters

In ancient Rome, gladiatorial contests were wildly popular entertainment. The greatest gladiators attained celebrity status, with their fame spreading through graffiti, paintings, and carved sculptures. Legends like Spartacus and Flamma became household names.

The Mysterious Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization

Around 1800 BC, the advanced Indus Valley civilization abruptly declined across the Indian subcontinent. Theories for this sudden collapse range from climate changes and droughts to foreign invasion.  KennyOMG/Wikimedia

Caral: The Oldest City in the Americas Predating Ancient Egypt

The ancient Peruvian city of Caral has been dated to around 2600 BC, making it the oldest urban settlement ever discovered in the Americas - older even than the Egyptian pyramids.  Paulo JC Nogueira/Wikimedia

Timbuktu's Ancient Book Trade

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the ancient city of Timbuktu was an unexpected center of scholarship and education. An immense book trade flourished, with camels hauling precious manuscripts across the Sahara desert in yearly caravans.  Louis Archinard (1850-1932)/Wikimedia

China's Prehistoric Pyramids: Xi'an's Ancient Burial Mounds

While most famous for the Terracotta Army, the ancient capital of Xi'an, China contains hundreds of flat-topped pyramid mounds dating back over 2,000 years. These massive earthen tombs reveal the burial practices of the Qin and Han dynasties and have given up troves of archaeological treasures.  Acstar/Wikimedia

The Bog Butter of Ancient Ireland

In Irish peat bogs, archaeologists have uncovered large casks and containers filled with incredibly well-preserved butter - some estimated to be over 3,000 years old. This "bog butter" provides insight into ancient Irish dairy practices and foodways.  Sorin Gheorghita/Unsplash

Huge Ancient Mexican City Uncovered Using Lasers

In 2020, archaeologists utilized revolutionary lidar sensing technology to map over 800 square miles of jungle in Mexico - unveiling the remains of a massive ancient city. The researchers discovered pyramids, plazas, and complexes suggesting a sprawling pre-Columbian urban center rivaling modern Mexico City in size.  Simon Burchell/Wikimedia

Ancient Roman Apartment Complexes: The Original Condos

While often imagined living in lavish villas, many residents of ancient Rome actually dwelled in urban apartment complexes called insulae. These multi-story buildings contained basic housing units rented out to poorer residents. Archaeologists have uncovered insulae ruins giving insight into this cramped but communal living situation.  Briana Tozour/Unsplash

Derinkuyu's Underground Cities

In central Turkey, the ancient underground cities of Derinkuyu are an archaeological marvel. This vast subterranean network included living quarters, stables, wineries, and chapels spanning 18 stories below ground - all meticulously carved from porous rock.  Igor Sporynin/Unsplash