Of all the great civilisations known, the oldest is that of Egypt, which - recent discoveries have shown - exceeds in age even ancient Sumer, which developed in the Mesopotamian basin in the fourth century before Christ, and flourished right up until Alexander the Great's conquest in 332 B.C.E.
For some time Egyptian civilisation as thought to have began when the King (or Pharaoh) Menes unified the separate Upper and Lower Kingdoms along the Nile in 3100 B.C.E. Menes was said to have founded the first of thirty-one dynasties (this is the traditional number, according to the enumeration of the late (4th Century B.C.E.) Egyptian priest Manetho. The precise number of dynasties - especially some of the minor ones - has however been disputed by modern scholars. Moreover Manetho, who was forced by the Greek invaders to write a chronology of Egyptian dynasties, puts the 1st dynasty at 3200 b.c., while Champollion puts the 1st dynasty at 5867 b.c..e. Of course most scholars chose to go with Manetho's version.
Recently however earlier archeological remains have been found, pushing the date for the earliest dynasties back some centuries. Announced at the Cairo Debate (Jan. 1999) & to the public Dec. 1999, archaeologist Renee Friedman found a full blown writing system among the pre-dynastic necropolis in Heirokinopolis from 3,500 B.C. Also found there, the earliest example of alphabet writing, much earlier than the Sumerian writing system.
Also recently announced, but found in 1977, "Dynasty O" was found in Abydos with writing much earlier than anything in Sumeria. This writing was tax collection notes of the 2 Lands, indicating unification much earlier than the supposed 1st dynasty King Narmer. In Kusco (on Sudan's edge) there was recently found a hieroglyphic script 200 yrs before Egypt's 1st dynasty that tells of earlier monarchies. There is also Napta Pya, a settlement in the Nile desert found by Univ. of Texas in 1974. This settlement has very large stone workings and among them a small stone calendar (described as a "miniature Stonehenge", because the stone configurations are exactly the same as the one in England), dated around 7,000 B.C.
In a fertile strip of land barely 20 kilometres (12 miles) at its widest, and 500 kilometres (300 miles) in length, nourished by the waters and nutrients of the life-giving Nile, the Egyptians built pyramids and temples to extraordinarily precise proportions - a precision that would be remarkable even with today's technology - and developed an incredibly sophisticated occult knowledge of the after-life state.
From the sixth century before Christ onwards, during which time this mighty civilisation had already been in decay for several centuries, Egypt served as the source of spiritual and occult wisdom for the more intellectually sophisticated world - the Greek civilisation of the North-West Mediterranian - much as today the more sensitive people of the materialistic and technological West look to India as the source of spiritual nourishment. Philosophers, historians, and teachers - Pythagoras, Herodotus, Plato, to name just the best-known - journeyed there to learn the ancient wisdom and sciences, where they looked upon a civilisation as ancient then as the Classical Greek and Roman period is to us today, and returned to the Hellenic world with their knowledge.