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The Ancients were once a race of advanced humans who were the original architects of the Stargate network. According to the Asgard, they moved on from our part of space long ago. In fact, the Ancients learned to ascend to a higher plane of existence when a great plague swept across the galaxy. Many died out, but those who learned to ascend shed their corporeal form. The Ancients seeded human life on many hundreds of worlds, as they had once done in our galaxy. They lived there for millions of years -- but then they came upon a planet where a powerful enemy slept. The Ancients have ascended into an omni-present, ethereal beings who feel they must remove themselves from interaction with all cultures beneath their non-corporeal plane. To merely interact with an individual beneath is breaking their law. Assisting a lower being in discovering ascension is punished by banishment. Meddling in circumstances that change the direction of a civilization is by far the most dire offence. Though the Ancients are not physically present, their actions have visibly altered the efforts of SG-1, among others. The Atlantis expedition is living in the Ancients' advanced city. Despite the fact that they are non-corporeal, they are still a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Also known as the Alterans.