Perhaps the earliest known occurrence of cement was twelve million years ago. A deposit of cement was formed after an occurrence of oil shale located adjacent to a bed of limestone burned due to natural causes. These ancient deposits were investigated in the 1960s and 1970s.

On a human timescale, small usages of concrete go back for thousands of years. Concrete-like materials were used since 6500 BC by the Nabataea traders or Bedouins who occupied and controlled a series of oases and developed a small empire in the regions of southern Syria and northern Jordan. They discovered the advantages of hydraulic lime, with some self-cementing properties, by 700 BC. They built kilns to supply mortar for the construction of rubble-wall houses, concrete floors, and underground waterproof cisterns. The cisterns were kept secret and were one of the reasons the Nabataea were able to thrive in the desert. Some of these structures survive to this day.