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Part six: The first civilisations

5,000 years ago to 1,000 years ago

The sixth part of our series is the first to be based – at least in part – on written sources. We are, in other words, entering the realms of recorded history. In terms of Earth-time, we are as near as makes no difference to the present day – yet in human terms we are still in the remotest mists of time.

These are worlds that remain tantalisingly elusive. Little but ruins and fragments remain of the lost civilisations of Sumer, Egypt, Babylon, Minoan Crete and the Indus valley. Yet they were once among the mightiest the world has seen. What caused their rise and fall? How did their lives differ from ours? For those who seek to understand today's world, such questions matter very much. This is, in other words, a crucial stage in our planet's story.

There are still eight more booklets to come in this series – published daily with The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. Each examines a different world-changing chapter in our history. Collect them all and you will have a unique reference resource, describing the story of our world in terms of history, natural history, physics, biology, culture, economics and much else besides.