A 17.5cm high statue of a priest or king, found in Mohenjo-Daro in 1927, and that is now displayed in the National Museum of Pakistan. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Mamoon Mengal

We all know about the big hitters in history – ancient Grecians, Romans and Egyptians all left behind evidence of their culture and politics. But there are other historic civilisations that once flourished, but then disappeared without a trace.

Click start to play today’s Spell It where we hunt in the ‘ruins’ for any sign of these once-great civilisations.

Elusive and mysterious, these cultures have long been surrounded by myth and legend. It’s only recently that archaeologists have begun discovering their long-lost secrets. Here are some of their findings, according to a December 2022 report in the National Geographic:

1. Indus Valley civilisation

Reigning between 2,500BC and 1,700BC in the region that is now mainly Pakistan, the Indus Valley civilisation was once as powerful as Mesopotamia and Egypt. It was, in fact, the largest of the three, but at some point in history, it vanished, and no one knows why. The civilisation’s two major cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were at the peak of sophistication at the time – their inhabitants were farmers, artisans and traders. They were literate, and were responsible for important innovations, like standardised weights. But in 1,900BC, invaders wiped out Mohenjo-Daro. And the latest analysis of river sediment in the Arabian Sea has finally uncovered that heavy monsoons during an Arctic freeze may have caused the civilisation to run for shelter to the hills. Archaeologists continue to look for answers.

2. El Dorado

In the 1500s, Spanish explorers in South America were hearing a strange tale. In the Andes, there lived the indigenous Muisca people, who welcomed their new chief by dusting his entire body with gold, and tossing gold and emeralds into a sacred lake. The chief was called El Dorado, or ‘the golden one’. Blinded by greed, the Spanish, German, Portuguese and English set out into the wilds of Colombia, Guyana and Brazil to look for this legendary treasure. Over time, the term El Dorado transformed from a man to a city paved with gold, waiting to be discovered. While it was never found, archaeologists have now found what could be the lake mentioned in the Muisca story – Laguna Guatavita, near Bogota, Colombia. Some gold and jewels have been dredged from the lake, but if there are any more treasures in there, they remain undisturbed.

3. Helike

An ancient Greek city-state, Helike was once a hub of commerce, culture and religion. It was named as one of King Agamemnon’s allies in Homer’s epic poem The Illiad, and was powerful enough to establish colonies in various places, like Italy. However, in 373BC, Helike fell. History books recount how, for five days, mice, snakes and other small creatures deserted the city and scampered to higher grounds. Then, an earthquake rocked the city, flattening it, and the ocean swept over it, killing any remaining residents. The city faded into legend, until finally, in 2001, an archaeological team found remnants of fourth century BC walls, coins and pottery, buried under centuries of silt, in a delta in the Gulf of Corinth. The long-lost city is still being excavated.

What do you think of these ancient civilisations? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at