Azerbaijan was home to one of the world’s earliest Paleolithic settlements and is acknowledged as a centre of ancient civilisation. Such sites as Gobustan are a testament to this. This is a unique landmark, featuring rock paintings (petroglyphs), and is the location of many archaeological discoveries. It has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Azykh Cave complex, located in the Armenian-occupied Fuzuli region, was home to one of the most ancient proto-human habitations in Eurasia. A jawbone from over 300,000 years was found there, and some finds date back approximately 1.5m years.
The earliest state on Azerbaijani territory emerged in the 3rd millennium BC, and from the 9th–6th centuries BC it developed as one of the foremost states in the ancient world, known as Manna, located on the banks of Lake Urmiya. Following the death of Alexander the Great and the dissolution of his empire, the state of Albania (Caucasus) emerged in the north, with Atropatena in the south.
Caucasian Albania (not to be confused with modern Albania) was one of the first Christian states, known for its alphabet and writing systems and for its extensive trade links. Islam began to spread across Azerbaijan in the 7th century, and traditional culture benefited from the innovations of Islamic civilisation. Newly independent states were formed in Azerbaijan from the 9th–11th centuries, with the land later becoming part of the Seljuk Empire. From the 12th–13th centuries, many strong states evolved within Azerbaijan, such as the Atabeys and Shirvanshahs.
The 9th–12th centuries are regarded as the period of Azerbaijani renaissance period. At this time, Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209), the renowned poet, created his famous Khamsa (five works). In addition, the eminent architect Ajami Abubakr established a school of architecture in Nakhchivan, designing the Mausoleum of Momina Khatun (1186) and other monuments. From the 13th–14th centuries, Azerbaijan occupied an important position in the Mongol empire.
During the 15th century, the Qaraqoyunlu and Aghqoyunlu states emerged alongside the Shirvanshahs. In 1501, Shah Ismail, the eminent statesman and thinker, created the centralised Safavid State (1501–1736) and Azerbaijani became the official state language. The empire of the Nadir Shah Afshar emerged after the fall of the Safavid State. Following the collapse of that empire, Azerbaijan was covered by a number of independent khanates. Thereafter, the territories of Azerbaijan were divided between the Russian Empire and Iran under the provisions of the Gulustan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) treaties.
After more than a century of Tsarist Russian rule in northern Azerbaijan, the first democratic republic in the East – the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918–20) – was established.
Despite being recognised de facto by the international community, it was invaded by Soviet Russia, leading to the establishment of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Azerbaijan SSR was part of the USSR from 1922, redeclaring its independence on 18 October 1991.