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The development and advancement of human civilization has been greatly spurred by tech sharing (or spying) between cultures and peoples as ideas are traded. While some have advanced socially, culturally and/or technologically faster than others thanks to internal stability and enlightened rulers, it's rare for a single society (much less city-state) to advance leaps and bounds ahead of its neighbors while keeping all its advances to itself.

Except in fiction, that is.

A common setting in Pulp stories is the search or surreptitious discovery of an Advanced Ancient Acropolis. Hidden beneath the Earth in a Lost World, an Atlantis under the sea, or concealed with advanced technology or magic, the Advanced Ancient Acropolis is the last city of an empire that reached space age levels of technology and/or mythic magical powers. In some cases, it is an isolated city-state rather than one of an empire. Their claim to fame is that while the rest of the world was living in mud huts they had built a society of Crystal Spires and Togas and parked it in a Medieval comfortable Technological Stasis. All while never revealing its existence, though ancient legends of The Time of Myths may speak of them.

Bonus trope points for avoiding all social decay while being completely insular, double bonus if they use Cultural Posturing on the "inferior" civilization the heroes hail from. One common variation has the Advanced Ancient Acropolis be in the same abandoned and ruined state as the one in Greece, having been destroyed, abandoned, or wrecked from civil war, plague or some other misfortune. There might however be a last survivor in the form of a robot, golem, ghost, or immortal citizen. Heroes visiting these sites are advised that any ancient relics found are likely of the dangerous cursed or Forgotten Superweapon varieties.

Of course, all of this can be explained if the founders of the city were aliens or from a Higher-Tech Species, or the survivors of a cataclysm that reduced the rest of the world to a lower level.

Common deconstructions frequently focus on just how decadent and out of repair such a society can become, which may in fact be what leads to their ruin. Frequently, this is because their slave race of robots (or actual slaves) rebelled.

See also Schizo-Tech. Compare City of Gold and Temple of Doom. A specific form of Older Is Better.

Examples of Advanced Ancient Acropolis include:


Anime and Manga

  • The demon world Pandaemonium in Chrono Crusade[1] has technology leaps and bounds ahead of humanity. Of course, this is because Pandaemonium is actually a giant living spaceship under the ocean and the demons are actually aliens.
  • The ancient floating city in Laputa : Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
  • The Mykene from Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger inhabited the Greek island of Bardos in ancient times. Their technologic level was miles ahead of any other culture of the same time, and the rest of the world would need millennia to catch up. However, one earthquake shook their island and destroyed their cities, and they were forced to seek shelter underground. They founded another civilization Beneath the Earth, but on the surface the only remainder left of their presence were abandoned, decaying ruins, and old legends about the Humongous Mecha they used to defend their land.
  • The Yamatai Kingdom from Kotetsu Jeeg. Slightly subverted, since they used advanced technology as well as magic.
  • The Protoculture City in Macross DYRL.


Comic Books


Film


Literature

  • Conan the Barbarian was chock full of these.
  • HP Lovecraft's 'At the Mountains of Madness' features an example of this, notably of the alien civilisation subtrope.
  • In Shane Johnson's novel Ice, two stranded astronauts find an advanced moon base built by humans from before Noah's flood. The technology is far beyond anything they've seen.
  • Dinotopia has the lost civilization of Poseidos, which in its heyday had robot dinosaurs, remote control drones, computers, and all sorts of other Schizo-Tech.


Live Action Television

  • Played straight and then subverted in Stargate SG-1. Our heroes discover references to the lost city of Atlantis and set out to find it. They think they've found it buried under the ice in Antarctica, but eventually they figure out that Atlantis is in another galaxy.
  • Wonder Woman TV Series: Paradise Island is an uncharted island within the devil’s triangle. At 1942, The amazons wear togas and use arcs and arrows, but they had an invisible plane, a truth serum, and guns to use in her “Bullets and bracelets” challenge.


Video Games

  • Atlantis, of course, in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the cinematic game formerly known as Indy 4, with half human hybrids and Bronze Age Orichalcum-powered Lost Technology.
  • Shevat and its rival Solaris in Xenogears.
    • To be fair, they were mostly just hoarding tech from the super-advanced starship that brought Humans to their world in the first place.
      • Lets not forget the Zeboim Civ.
  • Played straight with Atlantis in Journeyman Project 3. While El Dorado and Shangri La were somewhat advanced in comparison to neighbors, Atlantis was a self-contained city-state that enslaved the crew of any ship that discovered their location.
  • Golden Sun uses Lemuria, which was formerly the most advanced civilization in Weyard. After the powers of Alchemy were sealed by the lighthouses, the island closed itself off in an attempt to keep the remaining alchemy to themselves. Lemuria makes for an interesting case because, like the traditional Elf village setting, the citizens live for a very long time, and many of them deny that any decay has taken place at all. The king, however, shows the player's party maps of the world prior to the sealing of Alchemy and after, and there's a visible level of decay on a continental scale. This actually serves as a major turning point for the game.
  • The Final Fantasy series likes this trope:
    • Final Fantasy I: The flying fortress in the original NES version was obviously high-tech and patrolled by a robotic Bonus Boss. Later versions gave it a more medieval look.
    • Final Fantasy IV: The Crystal Spires and Togas Lunarian city.
    • Final Fantasy V: The Ruins Lonka/Ronka Ruins were highly advanced, considering that upon activation they began to fly with the Crystal of Earth and had teleporters and anti-air cannons installed. They also created the airship maintenance base Catapult.
    • Final Fantasy VIII: The Centra Ruins, though there's only one structure left from the ancient magitech culture.
    • Final Fantasy X: All over the place. The two main examples are huge subversions of the usual trope.
      • Bevelle is a living city that abandoned its Lost Technology for religious reasons. Except that they didn't.
      • Zanarkand is the summoned dream of an ancient, lost technological civilization created as a way of keeping them all "alive" in the face of a war of extinction.
    • Final Fantasy XII: Mild subversion. The game is definitely once in the throes of a major industrial revolution, and almost all technology in the setting is modern innovation, but the ancient ruins in the game have teleporters. No one in the party really knows how they work nor cares for that matter. It's just something you'd expect ancient ruins to have.
      • Ivalice games that are set after FF 12 probably have that game to thank for their examples. The Clockwork City of Goug is a Moogle city in Final Fantasy Tactics a 2 in which old technology is excavated, and new technology is created. Long in the future in Final Fantasy Tactics, it's also a city where ancient machine relics are dug up and examined.
  • Atlantis, again in Ecco the Dolphin, where the Atlanteans invented a time machine and escaped into the past when their city was destroyed. The machine remained until Ecco destroyed it after defeating the Vortex.
  • Any place where Titan structures remain intact in World of Warcraft is this by default. Most are concentrated on areas of land close to the north and south poles. The dwarves have taken particular interest in these old Titan leftovers after relatively recent discoveries of a connection between their race and some of the old Titan constructed races, and make it a point to try and find and excavate such sites.
  • Arguably played straight in Rapture, the setting of the first two Bioshock games. The city was built immediately after World War Two, yet sports a number of technologies that are impossible, even by today's standards. Discounting those created by ADAM, there are free-flying security drones and mounted turrets capable of indepent Friend-or-Foe recognition, a citywide vacuum mail system, a computer capable of predicting the future (the MacGuffin of the Minerva's Den DLC), and watertight, bulletproof Powered Armor (as shown by the Big Daddies). It all appears very strange to the outside observer. Incidentally, this is an Advanced Ancient Acropolis that is fast on its way to being a ruin; it's just not quite there yet.
  • Inverted with the City of shinto in Asura's Wrath as well as the rest of the Shinkoku Trastrium civilization. All the buildings and sculptures fits the look of Ancient Hindu and buddhist buildings and sculptures that would seem far too advanced for their time, but in a twist, the story takes place several thousands, if not millions of years in the future that merely is made to look like an ancient civilization.
    • The DLC ending reveals that the game in fact took place 870 million years in the past!
  • In the Rance Series, the Floating Island of Irapyu is this. At least until it crashes onto the ground in Rance IV.


Web Comics


Real Life

  • Africa was actually home to many advanced civilizations. One such civilization even managed to irrigate the Sahara and grow dates.
  • The deserts of Saudi Arabia and the Sahara contain lost cities that are only now being discovered. One city in the deep desert, Iram of the Pillars was assumed to be just a fanciful myth but was in fact a major metropolis with multi-story high-rises completely buried in sand. Another in Yemen is still inhabited.
  • Just about every continent contains lost civilizations we know little about because the remains got scattered. Most of ancient Persian architecture and civilization is lost, for instance.
  • Specifically some Native American peoples were quite advanced. Keeping with the spirit of the trope the Cohokia and their neighbors along the Mississippi River had perfected technologies that rivaled the Egyptians while many European countries had their people living in their own refuse. (As reflected by Monty Python and The Holy Grail, "bring out your dead" and all that.) Justified in this case because there was a whole ocean separating the two civilizations so they developed along completely different lines.
    • On that note, the Olmec. It would be quite some time after they fell that the Mayans would come and rival their glory - and we don't even know what caused the fall. As far as we can tell, everybody just... left.


Western Animation

Notes

  1. manga version only!
  2. or don't, actually.
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