The ancient Egyptians had their pyramids, the Greeks, their sculptures and temples. And everybody knows about the Maya and their famous calendar.But other ancient peoples get short shrift in world history. Here are a handful of long-lost cultures that don’t get the name recognition they deserve.
You know a culture is obscure when archaeologists name it based on its artifacts alone. The Bell-Beaker culture made pottery vessels shaped like upside-down bells. The makers of these distinctive drinking cups lived across Europe between about 2800 B.C. and 1800 B.C. They also left behind copper artifacts and graves, including a cemetery of 154 graves located in the modern-day Czech Republic.
The Bell-Beakers were also responsible for some of the construction at Stonehenge, researchers have found: These people likely arranged the site’s small bluestones, which originated in Wales.
The mysterious and little-known Nok culture lasted from around 1000 B.C. to A.D. 300 in what is today northern Nigeria. Evidence of the Nok was discovered by chance during a tin-mining operation in 1943, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Miners uncovered a terra-cotta head, hinting at a rich sculptural tradition. Since then, other elaborate terra-cotta sculptures have emerged, including depictions of people wearing elaborate jewelry and carrying batons and flails — symbols of authority also seen in ancient Egyptian art, according to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Other sculptures show people with diseases such as elephantiasis, the Met said.
Contributing to the mystery surrounding the Nok, the artifacts have often been removed from their context without archaeological analysis. In 2012, the United States returned a cache of Nok figurines to Nigeria after they were stolen from Nigeria’s national museum and smuggled into the U.S.
The Indus is the largest-known ancient urban culture, with the people’s land stretching from the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and the Ganges in India. The Indus civilization persisted for thousands of years, emerging around 3300 B.C. and declining by about 1600 B.C.
The Indus, also known as the Harappans, developed sewage and drainage systems for their cities, built impressive walls and granaries, and produced artifacts like pottery and glazed beads. They even had dental care: Scientistsfound 11 drilled molars from adults who lived between 7,500 to 9,000 years ago in the Indus Valley, according to a study published in 2006 in the journal Nature. A 2012 study suggested that climatic change weakened monsoonal rains and dried up much of the Harappan territory, forcing the civilization togradually disband and migrate to wetter climes.
The Etruscans had a thriving society in northern Italy from about 700 B.C. to about 500 B.C., when they began to be absorbed by the Roman Republic. They developed a unique written language and left behind luxurious family tombs, including one belonging to a prince that was first excavated in 2013.
Etruscan society was a theocracy, and their artifacts suggest that religious ritual was a part of daily life. The oldest depiction of childbirth in Western art — a goddess squatting to give birth — was found at the Etruscan sanctuary of Poggio Colla. At the same site, archaeologists found a 4-foot by 2-foot (1.2 by 0.6 meters) sandstone slab containing rare engravings in the Etruscanlanguage. Few examples of written Etruscan survive. Another Etruscan site, Poggio Civitate, was a square complex surrounding a courtyard. It was the largest building in the Mediterranean at its time, said archaeologists who haveexcavated more than 25,000 artifacts from the site.