Special Report

The 50 Oldest Things in the World

From family heirlooms to antique shops to museums, many Americans share an obsession for old and extremely old things. Such old things might include man-made artifacts hundreds of thousands of years old, millions-of-years-old fossils, and even older natural relics

Here, 24/7 Tempo offers a glimpse at 50 of the oldest things in the world. We compiled a diverse list of extremely old things, from drawing to modern inventions such as automobiles to the oldest known star, which predates our own planet by billions of years. We reviewed scientific journals, record collecting organizations, newspapers, and sources such as smithsonianmag.com to identify the oldest known item in each of a number of categories.

While history books can be abstract, these relics give us a tangible peek into another time. The early cave paintings, like the 40,000-year-old ones in El Castillo, Spain, lack some of the later-developed perspective techniques and drawing tools. Thousands of years later, we see the earliest example of panel paintings, which were precursors to classic works from painters like Picasso and Van Gogh. Such arts masters and their works are studied at institutions of higher learning. These are the oldest universities in the world.

In other cases, humankind’s first attempts at photography, architecture, and music can be regarded as either beautiful in their simplicity or impressive in their ingenuity. The earliest known photograph, Nicéphore Niépce’s “View from the Window at Le Gras,” isn’t a breathtaking landscape or a poignant look at a subject. But capturing the first image paved the way for entirely new ways for people to express themselves. The first commercially successful photographic process was named daguerreotype, after its inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. Here are famous inventions named after their creator.

Of course, many of the oldest items on Earth do not invite any artistic analysis because they were either here long before humanity was around or because they were naturally created. This includes the oldest tree, which is more than 5,000 years old, and the oldest known rock, which is a bit older than that — by about 230 million years.

Click here to see the 50 oldest things in the world.

Methodology

24/7 Tempo reviewed scientific journals, record collecting organizations, newspapers, and other sources to identify the oldest known item in each of a number of categories. Often, there is less than a historical or scientific consensus as to which is the actual oldest item. These are not necessarily the first item made in a particular category, rather, they are the oldest surviving version.