The main features and evolution of some ancient societies that existed from the Mesolithic period (12,000 BC) to the first millennium BC are analyzed from an economic point of view. Most cases that are studied belong to southwest Asia, Europe, and Australia, but examples from others regions and continents (North America, Africa, Asia) are also provided. The diversity of the pre-Neolithic hunting and gathering economies is highlighted, as well as the influence on them of various bio-geographic conditions. Theories related to the Neolithic transition are presented and critically examined and the role of the domestication process is stressed as a central feature leading to the advent of agriculture. The socio-economic development as well as the sustainability of early economies existing after the commencement of agriculture are analyzed. Social inequalities and surplus extraction are the main distinctive features of these palatial economies in which handcraft production, such as metalworking, and trade with abroad started to gain in importance.