The long strange trip
The Ancients were a major race or society whose civilization apparently ceased to exist many tens of thousands of years before the Vilani empire was established. The Ancients had technology whose level was apparently unmatched by the Imperium, and seeded sentient beings including Humaniti across various worlds of the galaxy. Available information about the Ancients has grown over the centuries as new excavations have been completed and as newly available artifacts have been analyzed.
Scattered throughout known space are the ruins of a civilization which once dominated this region of the galaxy. Early explorations by the Vilani thought each ruined site to be representative of a different race, but excavations and explorations soon showed that this was not so- they were all examples of the same civilization.
The antiquity of these sites (showed by various dating methods) gave rise to the term Ancients to generally describe this vanished race. All sites have been dated as established at around -300,000. The allowance for error in the dating methods is about 10,000 years: the conclusion is that the Ancient civilization lasted less than 20,000 years in total.
This Ancient civilization was wide ranging. Confirmed Ancient sites have been found in every sector of the Imperium, as well as throughout Vargr and Aslan territory. It is reported, but unconfirmed, that Ancient sites also occur with great frequency in Zhodani territory. The total number of confirmed Ancient sites visited by the Imperium is more than 200.
The Ancients never had a very large population. The planets they settled usually had only one, or at most a handful, of bases. Estimates of population vary, but do not exceed one million per world.
Some investigators believe that their high population worlds held billions, and that these were reduced to asteroid belts; that only low population worlds were not completely destroyed. Others counter that none of the evidence found in the asteroid belts confirms this.
If the asteroid belts created by the Ancients were worlds with populations in the billions or tens of billions, then total population of the Ancients at their height could have been in the trillions. If those worlds, like other Ancient sites, held no more than one million each, then the total population of the Ancients has been estimated at less than one billion.
The Ancient Homeworld
No one has found the Ancient homeworld.
Investigators always hope that the next Ancient site they discover will be the homeworld; theoretically there would be fossil evidence that the Ancients had evolved on such a world and the evidence would confirm the find.
Some propose that the search is futile: the homeworld was undoubtedly reduced to an asteroid belt during the Final War.
Others have at least conjectured as to what the Ancient homeworld would be like. They have analyzed the Droyne and determined that that race evolved on a small world (size 3 to 6) with a standard or dense atmosphere (6 or 8) and at least some water (hydrographics 3 +). They base this on the fact that the Droyne have wings and can fly if the world is small enough and the atmosphere dense enough. The requirement for water is dictated by the initial evolutionary needs as well as the continuing need for water for survival.
The Final War
The Ancients’ civilization was destroyed in a cataclysmic war. Over a period of about 2,000 years, they fought with such ferocity that archeologists today work under a severe handicap trying to piece together the bits and fragments that remain.
The Final War was fought with technology far beyond that available to the Imperium, or to any civilization extant. Estimates place the resources used at tech level 25 or greater: a level virtually incomprehensible to those investigating the war.
The weapons of the Final War were brutal in their power. They were capable of great destruction; entire planets were reduced to asteroid belts by what must have been planet-buster bombs. In other cases, planetoids and small moons were seized, moved, and directed toward planets to obliterate what must have been bases, cities, and installations. Many worlds still bear the marks of such attacks.
The weapons of the Final War were also sophisticated. Entire worlds appear to have escaped unscathed from the war; only when an Ancient site is discovered does it become apparent that that particular site was the target of an attack. There is no evidence of misses, no pattern bombing, no random attacks. What was attacked was hit; high technology controlled the attacks.
Imperial studies of the reported locations of Ancient sites have produced some statistical data. The results are purely statistical, but point toward certain conclusions.
Overall, the frequency of Ancient sites declines with distance from a central point.
That central point is somewhere in the Spinward Marches.
The most striking aspect of Ancient technology is not its high level, but its diversity. Of the hundreds of Ancient sites which have been excavated and analyzed, each appears to express a different type of technology. It would be easy to take each site as a different culture or technology.
One site might use familiar screw fasteners, while another would depend on adhesives for the same tasks. Still others depend on rivets, or interlocking ellipsoids, or silicon plastic clamps.
One site might show evidence that it used silicon chip circuits; another performed the same function with fiber optics, still another used fluid dynamics, yet another used channeled heat transfer.
It appears that each site involved the near total re-invention of even basic technology as it was constructed.
Even writing, data formats, recording formats, systems and standards vary between sites. The high technology equipment is entirely compatible within a site, but rarely do artifacts from different sites show any ability to function together.
The Ancients had great capabilities as genetic engineers. They were capable of altering living matter to perform specific tasks or fill specific functions. Many life forms still exist today which have been shown to be the result of Ancient genetic tampering.
It has been fairly well established that the Ancients were responsible for transporting humans from Terra to a number of other worlds. It is estimated that humans were taken to more than a hundred worlds, with evidence of their presence on at least 90 worlds. On about 40 worlds, humans took root, surviving a period of barbarism before achieving civilization.
Once the Solomani Hypothesis (which theorized that all humaniti came originally from Terra) was accepted, it was a simple matter to analyze the gene pools available to each of the distinct human races found on worlds other than Terra. Those studies have concluded that the Ancients visited Terra many times, taking groups of between 1,000 and 10,000 humans to each of perhaps 100 planets.
The reason for Ancient interest in humaniti is unknown. Theories involving humans as slaves, assistants, workers, even as pets have been advanced, but there is not enough evidence to support any specific conjecture.
At approximately the same time that the Ancients snatched human samples from Terra, they took samples of dogs. Those dogs were genetically engineered to produce an upright posture, an opposed thumb, and intelligence.
Just as the reason for Ancient interest in humaniti is unknown, so is the reason for the Ancients interference in creating the Vargr.