World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

History of science and technology in Africa

Article Id: WHEBN0022734942
Reproduction Date:

Title: History of science and technology in Africa  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of science and technology articles by continent, Romanticism in science, History of botany, History of engineering, History of probability
Collection: Science and Technology in Africa
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

History of science and technology in Africa

Map of the regions of Africa.

Science and technology in Africa has unfolded since the dawn of human history. The first evidence of tool use and tool making by our hominid ancestors is interred in valleys across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, forty percent of African-born scientists live in OECD countries, predominantly NATO and EU countries. This has been described as an African brain drain.[1]

Sub-Saharan African countries spent on average 0.3% of their GDP on S&T (Science and Technology) in 2007. This represents a combined increase from US$1.8bn in 2002 to US$2.8bn in 2007. North African countries spend a comparative 0.4% of GDP on research, an increase from US$2.6bn in 2002 to US$3.3bn in 2007. Exempting South Africa, the continent has augmented its collective science funding by about 50% in the last decade. Notably outstripping its neighbor states, South Africa spends 0.87% of GDP on science and technology research.[2][3] Although technology parks have a long history in the US and Europe, their presence across Africa is still limited, as the continent currently lags behind other regions of the world in terms of funding technological development and innovation.[4] Only six countries (Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Madagascar, Tunisia and South Africa) have made technology park construction an integral piece of their development goals.

In recent years, a greater volume of African countries have embraced technology as a driver of development, e.g. Kenya's Vision 2030 and Rwanda's rapid ICT growth. Telecom innovation in particular has broadly improved quality of life across sub-Saharan Africa. Also, continent-wide membership in social networking sites such as Facebook has risen to over 100,000 by 2012.


  • Early humans 1
  • Learning systems 2
    • Nile Valley 2.1
    • Sahelian 2.2
    • Other African traditions 2.3
  • Astronomy 3
    • Nile Valley 3.1
    • Sahelian 3.2
    • Other African traditions 3.3
  • Mathematics 4
    • Nile Valley 4.1
    • Sahelian 4.2
    • Other African traditions 4.3
  • Metallurgy 5
    • Nile Valley 5.1
    • Sahelian 5.2
    • Other African traditions 5.3
  • Medicine 6
    • Nile Valley 6.1
    • Sahelian 6.2
    • Other African traditions 6.3
  • Agriculture 7
    • Nile Valley 7.1
    • Sahelian 7.2
    • Great Lakes 7.3
  • Textile 8
    • Nile Valley 8.1
    • Sahelian 8.2
    • Other African traditions 8.3
  • Maritime 9
    • Nile Valley 9.1
    • Sahelian 9.2
    • Horn of Africa 9.3
    • Other African traditions 9.4
  • Architecture 10
    • Nile Valley 10.1
    • Sahelian 10.2
    • Other African traditions 10.3
  • Communication systems 11
    • Nile Valley 11.1
    • Sahelian 11.2
    • Other African Traditions 11.3
  • Warfare 12
    • Nile Valley 12.1
    • Sahelian 12.2
    • Other African traditions 12.3
  • Commerce 13
    • Nile Valley 13.1
    • Sahelian 13.2
    • Other African traditions 13.3
  • Miscellaneous 14
    • Nile Valley 14.1
    • Other African traditions 14.2
  • See also 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17

Early humans

As modern man first developed in the Great Rift Valley of Africa, the first development of tools is found there as well:

  • Homo habilis, residing in East Africa, developed the first toolmaking industry, the Olduwan, around 2.3 million BCE.
  • Homo ergaster developed the Acheulean stone tool industry, specifically hand-axes, in Africa, 1.5 million BCE. This tool industry spread to the Middle East and Europe around 800,000 to 600,000 BCE. Homo erectus begins using fire.[5]
  • Homo sapiens sapiens or modern humans created bone tools and the back blade around 90,000 to 60,000 BCE, in Southern and East Africa. The use of bone tools and back blades became characteristic of later stone tool industries.[6] The appearance of abstract art is during this period. The oldest abstract art in the world is a shell necklace dated 82,000 years in the Cave of Pigeons in Taforalt, eastern Morocco.[7] The second oldest abstract art and the oldest rock art is found in the Blombos Cave at the cape in South Africa, dated 77,000 years.[8]

Learning systems

Nile Valley

In 295 BC, the Library of Alexandria was founded in Egypt. It was considered the largest library in the classical world.

Al-Azhar University, founded in 970~972 as a madrasa, is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning in the world. The oldest degree-granting university in Egypt after the Cairo University, its establishment date may be considered 1961 when non-religious subjects were added to its curriculum.


Three philosophical schools in Mali existed during her golden age (12th–16th centuries) University of Sankore, Sidi Yahya University, and Djinguereber University.

By the end of Mansa Musa's reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed University with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria . The Sankoré University was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with roughly 1000,000 manuscripts.[9][10]

Timbuktu was a major center of book copying, religious groups,[11][12] the sciences, and arts.[13][14] Scholars and students came throughout world to study in its university. It attracted more foreign students than New York University.[13][15]

Other African traditions

In 859 AD, the Madrasa of al-Karaouine in Fes, Morocco, was founded by the princess Fatima al-Fihri.


Circular cromlech at Nabta

A stone circle located in the Nabta Playa basin may be one of the world's oldest known archeoastronomical devices. Built by the ancient Nubians about 4800 BCE, the device approximately marked the summer solstice.

Nile Valley

Since the first modern measurements of the precise cardinal orientations of the pyramids by Flinders Petrie, various astronomical methods have been proposed for the original establishment of these orientations.[16][17] It was recently proposed that this was done by observing the positions of two stars in the Plough / Big Dipper which was known to Egyptians as the thigh. It is thought that a vertical alignment between these two stars checked with a plumb bob was used to ascertain where North lay. The deviations from true North using this model reflect the accepted dates of construction.[18]

Egyptians were the first to develop a 365-day, 12 month calendar. It was a stellar calendar, created by observing the stars.

During the 12th century, the astrolabic quadrant was invented in Egypt.[19]


Based on the translation of 14 Timbuktu manuscripts, the following points can be made about Timbuktu astronomical science:

  1. They made use of the Julian Calendar.
  2. Generally speaking, they had a helio-centric view of the solar system.
  3. Diagrams of planets and orbits made use of complex mathematical calculations.
  4. Developed algorithm that accurately orient Timbuktu to Mecca.
  5. They recorded astronomical events, including a meteor shower in August 1583.[20]

During the golden age, It had a flourishing of astronomers including emperor and scientist Askia Mohammad I.[21]

Other African traditions

Namoratunga a group of megaliths, dated 300 BCE, was used by Cushitic speaking people as an alignment with star systems tuned to a lunar calendar of 354 days. This discovery was made by B. N. Lynch and L. H. Robins of Michigan State University.[22]

Three types of calendars can be found in Africa: lunar, solar, and stellar. Most African calendars are a combination of the three.[23] African Calendars: Akan Calendar, Egyptian calendar, Berber calendar, Ethiopian Calendar, Igbo calendar, Yoruba Calendar, Shona calendar, Swahili calendar, Xhosa calendar, Borana calendar, Luba calendar

South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometer Array project. South Africa is a finalist, with Australia, to be the host of the SKA.


The Lebombo bone may be the oldest known mathematical artifact. It dates from 35,000 BCE and consists of 29 distinct notches that were deliberately cut into a baboon's fibula.[24][25]

The Ishango bone is a bone tool, dated to the Upper Paleolithic era, about 18,000 to 20,000 BCE. It is a dark brown length of bone, the fibula of a baboon,[26] with a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end, perhaps for engraving or writing. It was first thought to be a tally stick, as it has a series of tally marks carved in three columns running the length of the tool, but some scientists have suggested that the groupings of notches indicate a mathematical understanding that goes beyond counting. These are the function postulated about the Ishango bones: 1. A tool for multiplication, division, and simple mathematical calculation; 2. A six-month lunar calendar;[27] 3. a construct of a woman, keeping track of her menstrual cycle;[28]

In the book How Mathematics Happened: the First 50,000 Years, Peter Rudman argues that the development of the concept of prime numbers could only have come about after the concept of division, which he dates to after 10,000 BC, with prime numbers probably not being understood until about 500 BC. He also writes that "no attempt has been made to explain why a tally of something should exhibit multiples of two, prime numbers between 10 and 20, and some numbers that are almost multiples of 10."[29] see History of mathematics

Nile Valley

The earliest attested examples of mathematical calculations date to the predynastic Naqada period, and show a fully developed numeral system.[30] The importance of mathematics to an educated Egyptian is suggested by a New Kingdom fictional letter in which the writer proposes a scholarly competition between himself and another scribe regarding everyday calculation tasks such as accounting of land, labor and grain.[31] Texts such as the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus show that the ancient Egyptians could perform the four basic mathematical operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—use fractions, compute the volumes of boxes and pyramids, and calculate the surface areas of rectangles, triangles, circles and even spheres. They understood basic concepts of algebra and geometry, and could solve simple sets of simultaneous equations.[32]

in hieroglyphs
Mathematical notation

was decimal, and based on hieroglyphic signs for each power of ten up to one million. Each of these could be written as many times as necessary to add up to the desired number; so to write the number eighty or eight hundred, the symbol for ten or one hundred was written eight times respectively.[33] Because their methods of calculation could not handle most fractions with a numerator greater than one, ancient Egyptian fractions had to be written as the sum of several fractions. For example, the fraction two-fifths was resolved into the sum of one-third + one-fifteenth; this was facilitated by standard tables of values.[34] Some common fractions, however, were written with a special glyph; the equivalent of the modern two-thirds is shown on the right.[35]

Ancient Egyptian mathematicians had a grasp of the principles underlying the Pythagorean theorem, knowing, for example, that a triangle had a right angle opposite the hypotenuse when its sides were in a 3–4–5 ratio.[36] They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result:

Area ≈ [(89)D]2 = (25681)r2 ≈ 3.16r2,

a reasonable approximation of the formula πr2.[36][37]

The golden ratio seems to be reflected in many Egyptian constructions, including the pyramids, but its use may have been an unintended consequence of the ancient Egyptian practice of combining the use of knotted ropes with an intuitive sense of proportion and harmony.[38]

Based on engraved plans of Meroitic King Amanikhabali's pyramids, Nubians had a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and an appreciation of the harmonic ratio. The engraved plans is indicative of much to be revealed about Nubian mathematics.[39]


All of the mathematical learning of the Islamic world during the medieval period was available and advanced by Timbuktu scholars: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

Other African traditions

One of the major achievements found in Africa was the advance knowledge of fractal geometry and mathematics. The knowledge of fractal geometry can be found in a wide aspect of African life from art, social design structures, architecture, to games, trade, and divination systems.[40] With the discovery of fractal mathematics in widespread use in Africa, Ron Eglash had this to say,

"We used to think of mathematics as a kind of ladder that you climb, and we would think of counting systems – one plus one equals two – as the first step and simple shapes as the second step. Recent mathematical developments like fractal geometry represented the top of the ladder in most Western thinking. But it's much more useful to think about the development of mathematics as a kind of branching structure and that what blossomed very late on European branches might have bloomed much earlier on the limbs of others. When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn't even discovered yet."[41]

The binary numeral system was also widely known through africa before much of the world. It has been theorized that it could have influence western geomancy which would lead to the development of the digital computer. [42]


Most of Sub-Saharan Africa moved from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. The Iron Age and Bronze Age occurred simultaneously. North Africa and the Nile Valley imported its iron technology from the Near East and followed Near Eastern course of Bronze Age and Iron Age development.

Ife bronze casting of a king's head currently in the British Museum

Many Africanists accept an independent development of the use of iron in

  • at Youtube, created and posted by the Ford FoundationTimbuktu: Recapturing the Wisdom and History of a Region
  • at the Library of Congress, USAncient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu
  • African Fractals: Modern computing and indigenous design by Ron Eglash, at
  • brief description of the Yoruba number system at the Prentice Hall website
  • Cambridge Museum: African Textile Collection
  • Profile of William Kamkwamba, TED Fellow, at
  • Influences in Modern ArtAfrican , Metropolitan Museum of Art

External links

  1. ^ Gabara, Nthambeleni. Developed Nations Should Invest In African Universities. Buanews, 12 November 2009
  2. ^ Nordling, Linda. Africa Analysis: Progress on science spending?. ScidevNet, 29 October 2009.
  3. ^ South Africa’s Investment in Research and Development on the Rise. Department of Science and Technology: Science and Technology, 22 June 2006.
  4. ^ [5]
  5. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 4.  
  6. ^ Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, pp. 22, ISBN 0-8139-2085-X.
  7. ^ "Discovery Of The Oldest Adornments In The World". 18 June 2007. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Oldest' prehistoric art unearthed"'". BBC News. 10 January 2002. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  9. ^ See: Said Hamdun & Noël King (edds.), Ibn Battuta in Black Africa. London, 1975, pp. 52–53.
  10. ^ "Lessons from Timbuktu: What Mali's Manuscripts Teach About Peace | World Policy Institute". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Primak, Karen. Jews in Places You Never Thought of. Ktav Publishing.
  12. ^ es Juifs à Tombouctou, or Jews of Timbuktu, Recueil de sources écrites relatives au commerce juif à Tombouctou au XIXe siècle, Editions Donniya, Bamako, 1999 by Professor Ismael Diadie Haidara, page 31
  13. ^ a b "Topics". 5 June 2003. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  14. ^ [6]
  15. ^ "Sankore University". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  16. ^ Belmonte, J. A. (2001). "On the Orientation of Old Kingdom Egyptian Pyramids". Archaeoastronomy: Supplement to the Journal for the History of Astronomy; 32 (26): S1–S20.
  17. ^ Neugebauer, Otto (1980). "On the Orientation of Pyramids". Centaurus; 24: 1–3. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0498.1980.tb00362.x.
  18. ^ Spence, K. (16 November 2000). "Ancient Egyptian Chronology and the astronomical orientation of the pyramids". Nature; 406: 320–324. doi:10.1038/35042510.
  19. ^ Roberto Moreno, Koenraad Van Cleempoel, David King (2002). "A Recently Discovered Sixteenth-Century Spanish Astrolabe", Annals of Science 59 (4), p. 331–362 [333].
  20. ^ Abraham, Curtis. "Stars of the Sahara". New Scientist, issue 2617,15 August 2007, page 39–41
  21. ^ Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis.  
  22. ^ Krupp, E.C. (2003). Echoes of the Ancient Skies The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations. Courier Dover Publications. p. 170.  
  23. ^ Peek, Philip M., and Yankah, Kwesi (2004). African Folklore: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-415-93933-X, 9780415939331
  24. ^ Pegg, Ed, Jr., "Lebombo Bone", MathWorld.
  25. ^ Darling, David (2004). The Universal Book of Mathematics From Abracadabra to Zeno's Paradoxes. John Wiley & Sons.  
  26. ^ "A very brief history of pure mathematics: The Ishango Bone"; University of Western Australia School of Mathematics – accessed January 2007.
  27. ^ Marshack, Alexander (1991) The Roots of Civilization, Colonial Hill, Mount Kisco, NY.
  28. ^ Zaslavsky, Claudia: "Women as the First Mathematicians", International Study Group on Ethnomathematics Newsletter, Volume 7 Number 1, January 1992.
  29. ^ Rudman, Peter Strom (2007). How Mathematics Happened the First 50,000 Years. Prometheus Books. p. 64.  
  30. ^ Understanding of Egyptian mathematics is incomplete due to paucity of available material and lack of exhaustive study of the texts that have been uncovered. Imhausen et al. (2007) p. 13
  31. ^ Katz, Victor J.; Imhausen, Annette (2007). The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam A Sourcebook. Princeton University Press. p. 11.  
  32. ^ Clarke, Somers; Engelbach, Reginald (1930). Ancient Egyptian Construction and Architecture. Courier Dover Publications. p. 222.  
  33. ^ Clarke, Somers (1990); p. 217.
  34. ^ Clarke, Somers (1990); p. 218.
  35. ^ Gardiner, Alan Henderson (1957). Egyptian Grammar Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Griffith Institute. p. 197.  
  36. ^ a b Strouhal (1989) p. 241
  37. ^ Imhausen, Annette (2007); p. 31.
  38. ^ Kemp, Barry J. (1991). Ancient Egypt Anatomy of a Civilization. Psychology Press. p. 138.  
  39. ^ Bianchi, Robert Steven (2004). Daily Life of the Nubians. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 230.  
  40. ^ Eglash, Ron. African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
  41. ^ Nelson, Bryn. "Sophisticated Mathematics Behind African Village Designs Fractal patterns use repetition on large, small scale", San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, 23 February 2009.
  42. ^ "Africa in the Origins of the Binary Code · Virtual Futures". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  43. ^ Iron in Africa: revising the history (2002). Unesco.
  44. ^ Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa — by Stanley B. Alpern (2005). pp. 71
  45. ^ Miller, Duncan E., and Van Der Merwe, N. J. 'Early Metal Working in Sub Saharan Africa' Journal of African History 35 (1994) 1–36
  46. ^ Stuiver, Minze, and Van Der Merwe, N. J. 'Radiocarbon Chronology of the Iron Age in Sub-Saharan Africa' Current Anthropology; 1968.
  47. ^ Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa — by Stanley B. Alpern (2005)
  48. ^ Davidson, Basil (1994). The Search for Africa: History, Culture, Politics. New York: Random House, pp. 57(8), ISBN 0-8129-2278-6
  49. ^ Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, pp. 136, 137 ISBN 0-8139-2085-X.
  50. ^ Collins, Robert O.; Burns, James M. (2007). A History of Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 36.  
  51. ^ Collins and Burns; p. 37.
  52. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 92.  
  53. ^ Davidson, Basil (1994); pp. 31, 34.
  54. ^ Shillington (2005); pp. 126–127.
  55. ^ Davidson, Basil (1971). African Kingdoms. New York: Time-Life Books, pp. 146(7).
  56. ^ Oliver, Roland, and Fagan, Brian M. Africa in the Iron Age, c500 B.C. to A.D. 1400. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 187. ISBN 0-521-20598-0.
  57. ^ "Civilizations in Africa: The Iron Age South of the Sahara". Washington State University. Retrieved 14 August 2007. 
  58. ^ Africa's Ancient Steelmakers. Time Magazine, 25 Sep 1978.
  59. ^ Shillington (2005); pp. 36, 37.
  60. ^ a b Filer, Joyce (1996). Disease. p. 38.  
  61. ^ Strouhal, Eugen (1989). Life in Ancient Egypt. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, pp. 243. ISBN 0-8061-2475-X,
  62. ^ Strouhal, Eugen (1989). Life in Ancient Egypt. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, pp. 244–46. ISBN 0-8061-2475-X.
  63. ^ Strouhal, Eugen (1989). Life in Ancient Egypt. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, pp. 250. ISBN 0-8061-2475-X.
  64. ^ David A. King (1984). "Architecture and Astronomy: The Ventilators of Medieval Cairo and Their Secrets", Journal of the American Oriental Society; 104 (1), pp. 97–133.
  65. ^ Durant, Will (1950), The Story of Civilization IV: The Age of Faith, Simon and Schuster, New York, pp. 330–31
  66. ^ Roach, John. "Antibiotic Beer Gave Ancient Africans Health Buzz", National Geographic News, 16 May 2005
  67. ^ McKissack, Patricia; McKissack, Fredrick (1995). The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay Life in Medieval Africa. Macmillan. p. 104.  
  68. ^ Djian, Jean-Michel (24 May 2007). Timbuktu manuscripts: Africa’s written history unveiled. Unesco, ID 37896.
  69. ^ Waldstreicher, David (2004). Runaway America Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution. Macmillan. p. 40.  
  70. ^ Cesarean Section – A Brief History(2008). National Library of Medicine, part 2
  71. ^ [7]
  72. ^ Hirst, K. Kris.Cattle (Bos spp) History of the Domestication of Cattle.
  73. ^ Weinberg, Bennett Alan; Bealer, Bonnie K. (2001). The World of Caffeine The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug. Psychology Press. p. 3.  
  74. ^ Ingram AL, Doyle JJ, The origin and evolution of Eragrostis tef (Poaceae) and related polyploids: Evidence from nuclear waxy and plastid rps16. American Journal of Botany 90 (1): 116–122, 2003
  75. ^ Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa A History to 1800. University of Virginia Press. p. 139.  
  76. ^ Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa A History to 1800. University of Virginia Press. p. 97.  
  77. ^ Hull, Richard W. (1976). African Cities and Towns Before the European Conquest. New York : Norton.  
  78. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2004). Encyclopedia of African history. p. 1368.  
  79. ^ Finke, Jens (2003). The Rough Guide to Tanzania. Rough Guides. pp. 437–438.  
  80. ^ [8]
  81. ^ "Prestige Panel :Democratic Republic of Congo; Kuba peoples] (1999.522.15) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". 4 September 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  82. ^ "Martin Rakotoarimanana: Textile Mantile (Lamba Mpanjaka) (1999.102) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". 4 September 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  83. ^ "Traditional African Clothing1". Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  84. ^ Khaminwa, Muhonjia. Clothing in Africa,, 7 February 2010.
  85. ^ Clarke, Duncan(2003). African Textiles Introduction 5. History. Adire African Textiles.
  86. ^ Ward, Cheryl. "World's Oldest Planked Boats", in Archaeology (Volume 54, Number 3, May/June 2001). Archaeological Institute of America.
  87. ^ Schuster, Angela M.H. "This Old Boat", 11 December 2000. Archaeological Institute of America.
  88. ^ Schuster, Angela M.H. "This Old Boat", 11 December 2000. Archaeological Institute of America.
  89. ^ Ward, Cheryl. "World's Oldest Planked Boats", in Archaeology (Volume 54, Number 3, May/June 2001). Archaeological Institute of America.
  90. ^ Aksum An African Civilization of Late Antiquity by Stuart Munro-Hay
  91. ^ Aksum by MSN Encarta. Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  92. ^ Abdullahi, Mohamed Diriye (2001). Cultures and Customs of Somalia. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  93. ^ "West African Kingdoms". Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  94. ^ "The Story of Africa". Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  95. ^ A Review by AUSTIN HAY (22 October 1922). "Africa's Part in the Discovery of America - Africa's Part in America - View Article -". New York Times. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  96. ^ Robert Smith, The Canoe in West African History, The Journal of African History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1970), pp. 515–533
  97. ^
  98. ^ Adrian Goldsworthy, The Punic Wars, (Cassell 2001) pp. 17–143
  99. ^ "Eastern and Southern Africa 500–1000 AD". Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  100. ^ "Tanzanian dig unearths ancient secret by Tira Shubart". BBC News. 17 April 2002. Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  101. ^ Newitt, M.D.D. (1995). A History of Mozambique. Indiana University Press.  
  102. ^ "Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325–1354". 21 February 2001. Retrieved 21 April 2009. 
  103. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 24.  
  104. ^ Bianchi, Robert Steven (2004). Daily Life of the Nubians. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 227.  
  105. ^ Wesler,Kit W.(1998). Historical archaeology in Nigeria. Africa World Press pp.143,144 ISBN ISBN 0-86543-610-X, 9780865436107.
  106. ^ Pearce, Fred. African Queen. New Scientist, 11 September 1999, Issue 2203.
  107. ^ Eglash, Ron (1999). African Fractals Modern Computing and Indigenous Design.  
  108. ^ Donald Routledge Hill (1996), "Engineering", p. 766, in (Rashed & Morelon 1996, pp. 751–95)
  109. ^ Dierks, Klaus (1992). Khauxa!nas.  
  110. ^ Thulamela
  111. ^ 4-Description of the Site
  112. ^ PanAfriL10n,African localisation wiki, 13 July 2008.Arabic script & "Ajami"
  113. ^ Time. Drum Telegraphy. Monday, 21 Sep 1942
  114. ^ Davidson, Basil(1971). African Kingdoms. New York:Time-Life Books, p. 149
  115. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, History of Science and Technology in Islam.
  116. ^ "Arms and Armour". Arms and Armour at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Pitt Rivers. Retrieved 29 October 2015. 
  117. ^ Robert July, Pre-Colonial Africa, p. 97–119, 266–270
  118. ^ Myron J. Echenberg, "’’Late Nineteenth-Century Military Technology in Upper Volta’’", The Journal of African History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1971), pp. 241–254
  119. ^ Museum of Anthropology, College of Arts and Science, University of Missouri
  120. ^ African Knives, Axes, Swords, Spears and Weapons
  121. ^ John Pike. "Nuclear Weapons Program - South Africa". Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  122. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 34.  
  123. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 40.  
  124. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa, Revised 2nd Edition. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 69.  
  125. ^ a b Stiansen, Endre; Guyer, Jane I. (1999). Credit, Currencies, and Culture African Financial Institutions in Historical Perspective. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 88.  
  126. ^ "JHE: Resources". Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  127. ^ Davidson, Basil (1994). The Search for Africa, History, Culture, Politics. New York: Random House, pp. 31, 34, ISBN 0-8129-2278-6
  128. ^ "African Currencies". Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  129. ^ Davidson, Basil(1971). African Kingdoms. Time Life Books:New York p. 83, Library of Congress catalog number, 66-25647.
  130. ^ Bosworth, C. E. (Autumn 1981), "A Mediaeval Islamic Prototype of the Fountain Pen?",  
  131. ^ The New York Times (2004). The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind. Macmillan. p. 99.  
  132. ^ Crutchfield, Ryan (20 December 2010). "A Brief History of The Congolese Space Program". Retrieved 23 February 2011. 


See also

African art was highly influential on the Modernist art movement. African art was very influential on the works of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jacques Lipchitz.[131] The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a rocketry program called Troposphere.[132]

Other African traditions

Ahmed Zewail, in 1999 won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, methods that allow the description of change states in femtoseconds or very short seconds.

In 953, the earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates back to 953, when Ma'ad al-Mu'izz, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib, as recorded by Qadi al-Nu'man al-Tamimi (died 974) in his Kitdb al-Majalis wa'l-musayardt.[130]

Around 650 Calid, an Umayyad prince, translated the literature of Egyptian alchemy into the Arabic language.

Nile Valley


Cowries have been used as currency in West Africa since the 11th century when their use was first recorded near Old Ghana. Its use may have been much older. Sijilmasa in present-day Morocco seems to be a major source of cowries in the trans-Saharan trade.[125] In western Africa, shell money was usual tender up until the middle of the 19th century. Before the abolition of the slave trade there were large shipments of cowry shells to some of the English ports for reshipment to the slave coast. It was also common in West Central Africa as the currency of the Kingdom of Kongo called locally nzimbu. As the value of the cowry was much greater in West Africa than in the regions from which the supply was obtained, the trade was extremely lucrative. In some cases the gains are said to have been 500%. The use of the cowry currency gradually spread inland in Africa. By about 1850 Heinrich Barth found it fairly widespread in Kano, Kuka, Gando, and even Timbuktu. Barth relates that in Muniyoma, one of the ancient divisions of Bornu, the king's revenue was estimated at 30,000,000 shells, with every adult male being required to pay annually 1000 shells for himself, 1000 for every pack-ox, and 2000 for every slave in his possession. In the countries on the coast, the shells were fastened together in strings of 40 or 100 each, so that fifty or twenty strings represented a dollar; but in the interior they were laboriously counted one by one, or, if the trader were expert, five by five. The districts mentioned above received their supply of kurdi, as they were called, from the west coast; but the regions to the north of Unyamwezi, where they were in use under the name of simbi, were dependent on Muslem traders from Zanzibar. The shells were used in the remoter parts of Africa until the early 20th century, but gave way to modern currencies. The shell of the land snail, Achatina monetaria, cut into circles with an open center was also used as coin in Benguella, Portuguese West Africa.

Cowry money

Numerous metal objects and other items were used as currency in Africa.[128] They are as follows: cowrie shells, salt, gold(dust or solid), copper, ingots, iron chains, tips of iron spears, iron knives, cloth in various shapes(square, rolled)etc.[129] Copper was as valuable as gold in Africa. Copper was not as widespread and more difficult to acquire, except in Central Africa, than gold. Other valuable metals included lead and tin. Salt was also as valuable as gold. Because of its scarcity, it was used as currency.

The Swahilis served as middlemen. They connected African goods to Asian markets and Asian goods to African markets. Their most in demand export was Ivory. They exported ambergris, gold, leopard skins, slave, and tortoise shell. They imported from Asia oriental pottery and glassware. They also manufactured items such as cotton, glass and shell beads. Imports and locally manufactured goods were used as trade to acquire African goods. Trade links included the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, India, and China. The Swahili also minted silver and copper coins.

Islamic North Africa made use of the Almoravid dinar and Fatimid dinar, gold coins. The Almoravid dinar and the Fatimid dinar were printed on gold from the Sahelian empires. The ducat of Genoa and Venice and the florine of Florence were also printed on gold from the Sahelian empires.[127]

Carthage imported gold, copper, ivory, and slaves from tropical Africa. Carthage exported salt, cloth, metal goods. Before camels were used in the trans-Saharan trade pack animals, oxen, donkeys, mules, and horses were utilized. Extensive use of camels began in the 1st century CE. Carthage minted gold, silver, bronze, and electrum(mix gold and silver) coins mainly for fighting wars with Greeks and Romans. Most of their fighting force were mercenaries, who had to be paid.[126]

Other African traditions

In Kanem cloth was the major currency. A cloth currency called dandi was in widespread use.[125]

Some of the currencies used in the Sahel are as follows: 1. Paper debt or IOU's were used for long distance trade. 2. Gold coins were also in use. 3. The mitkal(gold dust) currency was in use. It was gold dust that weighed 4.6 grams equivalent to 500 or 3,000 cowries. 4. Square cloth, four spans on each side, called chigguiya was used around the Senegal River.

The Ghana Empire, Mali Empire, and Songhay Empire were major exporters of gold, iron, tin, slaves, spears, javelin, arrows, bows, whips of hippo hide. They imported salt, horses, wheat, raisins, cowries, dates, copper, henna, olives, tanned hides, silk, cloth, brocade, Venetian pearls, mirrors, and tobacco.


Aksum exported ivory, glass crystal, brass, copper, myrrh, and frinkincense. She imported silver, gold, olive oil, and wine.[124] The Aksumites produced coins around 270 CE, under the rule of king Endubis. Aksumite coins were issued in gold, silver, and bronze.

Nubia exported gold, cotton/cotton cloth, ostrich feathers, leopard skins, ivory, ebony, and iron/iron weapons.[123]

Ancient Egypt imported ivory, gold, incense, hardwood, and ostrich feather.[122]

Nile Valley


From the 1960s to the 1980s, South Africa pursued research into weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Six nuclear weapons were assembled. With the anticipated changeover to a majority-elected government in the 1990s, the South African government dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, the first nation in the world which voluntarily gave up nuclear arms it had developed itself.[121]

Battle of Isandhlawana, Zulu army defeats British invading troops, on 22 January 1879.

African infantry did not just include men. The state of Dahomey included all female units, who were personal body guards of the king. The Queen Mother of Benin had her own personal army,'Queens Own'.

Fortification was a major part of defense, integral to warfare. Massive earthworks were built around cities and settlements in West Africa, typically defended by soldiers with bow and poison tipped arrows. The earthworks are some of the largest man made structures in Africa and the world such as the wall of Benin and Sungbo's Eredo. In Central Africa, the Angola region, one find preference for ditches, which were more successful for defense against wars with Europeans.

Most of tropical Africa did not have a cavalry. Horses would be wiped out by tse-tse fly. The zebra was never domesticated. The army of tropical Africa consisted of mainly infantry. Weapons included bows and arrows[119] with low bow strength that compensated with poison tipped arrows. Throwing knives[120] were made use of in central Africa, spears that could double as thrusting cutting weapons, and swords were also in use. Heavy clubs when thrown could break bones, battle axe, and shields of various sizes were in widespread use. Later guns, muskets such as flintlock, wheelock, and matchlock. Against popular perception guns were in widespread use in Africa. They typically were of poor quality, a policy of European nations to provide poor quality merchandise. One reason the slave trade was so successful was the widespread use of guns in Africa.

The first use of cannons as siege machine at the siege of Sijilmasa in 1274, according to 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun.

Other African traditions

The Sahelian military consisted of cavalry and infantry. Cavalry consisted of shielded, mounted soldiers. Body armor was chain mail or heavy quilted cotton. Helmets were made of leather, elephant, or hippo hide. Imported horses were shielded. Horse armor consisted of quilted cotton packed with kapok fiber and copper face plate. The stirrups could be used as weapon to disembowel enemy infantry or mounted soldiers at close range. Weapons included the sword, lance, battle-axe, and broad-bladed spear.[117] The infantry were armed with bow and iron tipped arrows. Iron tips were usually laced with poison, from the West African plant Strophantus hispidus. Quivers of 40–50 arrows would be carried into battle.[118] Later, muskets were introduced.

Mossi cavalry in the sahel


There are also a breastplate armor made of the horny back plates of Crocodile from Egypt, Africa which given to Pitt Rivers Museum of archaeological Founding Collectionin 1884.[116]

Aksumite weapons were mainly made of iron: iron spears, iron swords, and iron knives called poniards. Shields were made of buffalo hide. In the latter part of the 19th century, Ethiopia made a concerted effort to modernize her army. She acquired repeating rifles, artillery, and machine guns. This modernization facilitated the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at the Tigray town of Adwa in the 1896 Battle of Adwa. Ethiopia was one of the few African countries to use artillery in colonial wars.

In 1260, the first portable hand cannons (midfa) loaded with explosive gunpowder, the first example of a handgun and portable firearm, were used by the Egyptians to repel the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut. The cannons had an explosive gunpowder composition almost identical to the ideal compositions for modern explosive gunpowder. They were also the first to use dissolved talc for fire protection, and they wore fireproof clothing, to which Gunpowder cartridges were attached.[115]

Ancient Egyptian weaponry include bows and arrow, maces, clubs, scimitars, swords, shields, and knives. Body armor was made of bands of leathers and sometimes laid with scales of copper. Horse-drawn chariots were used to deliver archers into the battle field. Weapons were initially made with stone, wood, and copper, later bronze, and later iron.

Nile Valley


On the Swahili coast, the Swahili language was written in Arabic script, as was the Malagasy language in Madagascar.

Adamorobe Sign Language is an indigenous sign language developed in the Adamorobe Akan village in Eastern Ghana. The village has a high incident of genetic deafness.

Griots are repositories of African history, especially in African societies with no written language. Griots can recite genealogies going back centuries. They recite epics that reveal historical occurrences and events. Griots can go for hours and even days reciting the histories and genealogies of societies. They have been described as living history books.

Niger-Congo Languages are tonal in nature. Talking drums exploit the tonal aspect of Niger-Congo languages to convey very complicated messages. Talking drums can send messages 15 to 25 miles (40 km). Bulu, a bantu language, can be drummed as well as spoken. In a Bulu village, each individual had a unique drum signature. A message could be sent to an individual by drumming his drum signature.[113] It has been noted that a message can be sent 100 miles (160 km) from village to village within two hours or less using a talking drum.[114]

A talking drum

Vai is syllabic script invented by Mɔmɔlu Duwalu Bukɛlɛ in Liberia during the 1830s.

Adinkra is a set of symbols developed by the Akan(Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire), used to represent concepts and aphorisms.

Nsibidi is ideographic set of symbols developed by the Ekpe people of Southeastern coastal Nigeria for communication. A complex implementation of Nsibidi is only known to initiates of Ekpe secret society.

Nsibidi symbols

Other African Traditions

N'Ko a script developed by Solomana Kante in 1949 as a writing system for the Mande languages of West Africa. It is used in Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, and actively used by the Bambara in Mali.

With the arrival of Islam, came the Arabic alphabet in the Sahel. Arabic writing is widespread in the Sahel. The Arabic script was also used to write native African languages called Ajami. The Ajami languages include Hausa, Mandinka, Fulani, Wolofal, Tamazight, Nubian, Yoruba, Songhai, and Kanuri.[112]


The other direct offspring of Egyptian hieroglyphs was the Meroitic alphabet. It began in the Napatan phase of Nubian history, Kush (700–300 BCE). It came into full fruition in the 2nd century, under the successor Nubian kingdom of Meroë. The script can be read but not understood, with the discovery at el-Hassa, Sudan of ram statues bearing meroitic inscriptions might assist in its translation.

Out the Phoenician Alphabet came tifinagh, the berber alphabet mainly used by the Tuaregs.

Out of the South Arabian alphabet came the Ge'ez alphabet which is used to write Blin(cushitic), Amharic, Tigre, and Tigrinya in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Africa's first writing system and the beginning of the alphabet was Egyptian hieroglyphs. Two scripts have been the direct offspring of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Proto-Sinaitic script and the Meroitic alphabet. Out of Proto-Sinaitic came the South Arabian alphabet and Phoenician alphabet, out of which the Aramaic alphabet, Greek alphabet, the Brāhmī script, Arabic alphabet were directly or indirectly derived.

Hieroglyphs on an Egyptian funerary stela

Nile Valley

Communication systems

In Southern Africa one finds ancient and widespread traditions of building in stone. Two broad categories of these traditions have been noted: 1. Zimbabwean style 2. Transvaal Free State style. North of the Zambezi one finds very little stone ruins.[109] Great Zimbabwe, Khami, and Thulamela[110] uses the Zimbabwean style. Tsotho/Tswana architecture represents the Transvaal Free State style. ||Khauxa!nas[111] stone settlement in Namibia represents both traditions. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (1075–1220) was a pre-colonial Southern African state located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers which marked the center of a pre-Shona kingdom which preceded the culmination of southeast African urban civilization in Great Zimbabwe.

Around 1000 AD, cob (tabya) first appears in the Maghreb and al-Andalus.[108]

One common theme in much traditional African architecture is the use of fractal scaling: small parts of the structure tend to look similar to larger parts, such as a circular village made of circular houses.[107]

Other African traditions

Sungbo's Eredo is the second largest pre-colonial monument in Africa, larger than the Great Pyramids or Great Zimbabwe. Built by the Yoruba people in honour of one of their titled personages, an aristocratic widow known as the Oloye Bilikisu Sungbo, it is made up of sprawling mud walls and the valleys that surrounded the town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun state, Nigeria.

"They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet."[106]

The Walls of Benin City are collectively the world's largest man-made structure and were semi-destroyed by the British in 1897.[105] Fred Pearce wrote in New scientist:

The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud brick or adobe building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, albeit with definite Islamic influences.

Adobe, mudbrick, and earth were the medium of West African and Sahelian architecture. Some notable structures are as follows:

Tichit is the oldest surviving archaeological settlements in West Africa and the oldest all-stone settlement south of the Sahara. It is thought to have been built by Soninke people and is thought to be the precursor of the Ghana empire.


Aksumites built in stone. Monolithic stelae on top of the graves of kings like Church of Saint George at Lalibela.

Sudan, site of ancient Nubia, has more pyramids than anywhere in the world, even more than Egypt, a total of 223 pyramids exist.

The earliest style of Nubian architecture included the speos, structures carved out of solid rock, an A-Group (3700–3250 BCE) achievement. Egyptians made extensive use of the process at Speos Artemidos and Abu Simbel.[104]

The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.

The Egyptian step pyramid built at Saqqara is the oldest major stone building in the world.[103]

Nile Valley


Middle Age Swahili kingdoms are known to have had trade port islands and trade routes[99] with the Islamic world and Asia and were described by Greek historians are "metropolises".[100] Famous African trade ports such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mogadishu and Kilwa[101] were known to Chinese sailors such as Zheng He and medieval Islamic historians such as the Berber Islamic voyager Abu Abdullah ibn Battuta.[102] The dhow was the ship of trade used by the Swahili. They could be massive. It was a dhow that transported a giraffe to Chinese Emperor Yong Le's court, in 1414. Although the dhow is often associated with Arabs, it is of Indian roots.

Construction and repair of dhows, near Mtoni, Zanzibar

Carthage's fleet included large numbers of quadriremes and quinqueremes, warships with four and five ranks of rowers. Its ships dominated the Mediterranean. The Romans however were masters at copying and adapting the technology of other peoples. According to Polybius, the Romans seized a shipwrecked Carthaginian warship, and used it as a blueprint for a massive naval build-up, adding their own refinement – the corvus – which allowed an enemy vessel to be "gripped" and boarded for hand-to-hand fighting. This negated initially superior Carthaginian seamanship and ships.[98]

Other African traditions

During the Age of the Ajurans, the sultanates and republics of Merca, Mogadishu, Barawa, Hobyo and their respective ports flourished and had a lucrative foreign commerce with ships sailing to Arabia, India, Venetia,[97] Persia, Egypt, Portugal and as far away as China.

Horn of Africa

Some canoes were 80 feet (24 m) in length, carrying 100 men or more. Documents from 1506 for example, refer to war-canoes on the Sierra Leone river, carrying 120 men. Others refer to Guinea coast peoples using canoes of varying sizes – some 70 feet (21 m) in length, 7–8 ft broad, with sharp pointed ends, rowing benches on the side, and quarter decks or focastles build of reeds, and miscellaneous facilities such as cooking hearths, and storage spaces for crew sleeping mats.

Numerous sources attest that the inland waterways of West Africa saw extensive use of war-canoes and vessels used for war transport where permitted by the environment. Most West African canoes were of single log construction, carved and dug-out from one massive tree trunk. The primary method of propulsion was by paddle and in shallow water, poles. Sails were also used to a lesser extent, particularly on trading vessels. The silk cotton tree provided many of thesui most table logs for massive canoe building, and launching was via wooden rollers to the water. Boat building specialists were to emerge among certain tribes, particularly in the Niger Delta.[96]

Bagandan War Canoe

In the 14th century CE King Abubakari II, the brother of King Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire is thought to have had a great armada of ships sitting on the coast of West Africa.[93] This is corroborated by ibn Battuta himself who recalls several hundred Malian ships off the coast.[94] The ships would communicate with each other by drums. This has led to great speculation, that Malian sailors may have reached the coast of Pre-Columbian America under the rule of Abubakari II, nearly two hundred years before Christopher Columbus.[95]


It is known that ancient Axum traded with India, and there is evidence that ships from Northeast Africa may have sailed back and forth between India/Sri Lanka and Nubia trading goods and even to Persia, Himyar and Rome.[90] Aksum was known by the Greeks for having seaports for ships from Greece and Yemen.[91] Elsewhere in Northeast Africa, the 1st century CE Greek travelogue Periplus of the Red Sea reports that Somalis, through their northern ports such as Zeila and Berbera, were trading frankincense and other items with the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula as well as with the then Roman-controlled Egypt.[92]

Early Egyptians also knew how to assemble planks of wood with treenails to fasten them together, using pitch for caulking the seams. The "Khufu ship", a 43.6-meter vessel sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza in the Fourth Dynasty around 2500 BCE, is a full-size surviving example which may have fulfilled the symbolic function of a solar barque. Early Egyptians also knew how to fasten the planks of this ship together with mortise and tenon joints.[89]

Egypt's earliest known boat goes back 5000 years. Early Egyptians knew how to assemble planks of wood into a ship hull as early as 3000 BC. The Archaeological Institute of America reports [86] that the oldest ships yet unearthed, a group of 14 discovered in Abydos, were constructed of wooden planks which were "sewn" together. Discovered by Egyptologist David O'Connor of New York University.[87] woven straps were found to have been used to lash the planks together, and reeds or grass stuffed between the planks helped to seal the seams. Because the ships are all buried together and near a mortuary belonging to Pharaoh Khasekhemwy, originally they were all thought to have belonged to him, but one of the 14 ships dates to 3000 BC, and the associated pottery jars buried with the vesse The ship dating to 3000 BC was 75 feet (23 m) long and is now thought to perhaps have belonged to an earlier pharaoh. Professor O'Connor, the 5,000-year-old ship may have even belonged to Pharaoh Aha.[88]

Nile Valley

In 1987 the third oldest canoe in the world and the oldest in Africa was discovered in Nigeria by fulani herdsmen, near the Yobe river, in the village of Dufuna. It was dated 8000 years, cut out of African mahogany. Based on "stylistic sophistication", the tradition of canoe building must have gone further back in time, noted one archaeologist.


Three types of looms are used in Africa: the double heddle loom for narrow strips of cloth, the single heddle loom for wider spans of cloth, and the ground or pit loom. The double heddle loom and single heddle loom might be of indigenous origin. The ground or pit loom is used in the Horn of Africa, Madagascar, and North Africa and is of Middle Eastern origins.[84][85]

In Southern Africa one finds numerous use of animal hide and skins for clothing. The Ndau in central Mozambique and the Shona mixed hide with barkcloth, cotton cloth. Cotton weaving was practiced by the Ndau and Shona. Cotton cloth was referred to as machira. The Venda, Swazi, Basotho, Zulu, Ndebele, and Xhosa also made extensive use of hides.[83] Hides came from cattle, sheep, goat, elephant, and from jangwa( part of the mongoose family). Leopard skins were coveted and was a symbol of kingship in Zulu society. Skins were tanned to form leather, dyed, and embedded with beads.

Camel hair was also used to make cloth in the Sahel and North Africa.

Other African indigenous textile traditions included djellaba, kente cloth, raffia cloth,[81] barkcloth, kanga, kitenge, and lamba mpanjaka.[82] The Djellaba was made typically of wool and worn in the Maghreb. Kente used silk from the Anaphe moth and was produced by the Akan people (Ashante, Fante, Enzema) in the countries of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Raffia cloth was the innovation of the Kuba people, present day Democratic Republic of Congo. It used the fibers of the leaves on the raffia palm tree. Barkcloth was used by the Baganda in Uganda from the Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis). Kanga are Swahili cloth that comes in rectangular shapes, made of pure cotton, and put together to make clothing. It is as long as ones outstretch hand and wide to cover the length of ones neck. Kitenges are similar to kangas and kikoy, but are of a thicker cloth, and have an edging only on a long side. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan are some of the African countries where kitenge is worn. In Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, kitenge is known as Chitenge. Lamba Mpanjaka was cloth made of multicolored silk, worn like a toga on the island of Madagascar.

Other African traditions

By the 12th century, so-called Moroccan leather, which actually came from the Hausa area of northern Nigeria, was supplied to Mediterranean markets and found their way to the fairs and markets of such places as Normandy and Britain.

Bògòlanfini(mudcloth) is cotton textile dyed with fermented mud of tree sap and teas, hand made by the Bambara people of the Beledougou region of central Mali.

Bogolan Mud Cloth

The textile of choice in the sahel is cotton. It is widely used in making the boubou (male) and kaftan (female), a style of West African clothing.

Boubou worn by Kora musician


Shemma, shama, and kuta are all cotton base cloth used for making Ethiopian clothing.

Nubians mainly wore cotton, beaded leather, and linen. Nubia was also a center of cotton manufacturing. Cotton was domesticated 5000 BCE in eastern Sudan near the Middle Nile Basin region, and cotton cloth was being produced.

Egyptians wore linen from the flax plant, which were beaten and combed. The priest and pharaohs wore leopard skin. The ancient Egyptians used looms as early as 4000 BCE.[80]

Nile Valley


Engaruka is a ruined settlement on the slopes of Mount Ngorongoro in northern Tanzania. Seven stone terraced villages along the mountainside comprised the settlement. A complex structure of stone channel irrigation was used to dike, dam, and level surrounding river waters. The stone channels run along the mountainside and base. Some of these channels were several kilometers long channelling and feeding individual plots of land. The irrigation channels fed a total area of 5,000 acres (20 km2).[77][78] Construction of Engaruka has traditionally been credited to the ancestors of the Iraqw, a Cushitic-speaking group of cultivators residing in the Mbulu Highlands of northern Tanzania. The modern Iraqw practice an intensive form of self-contained agriculture that bears a remarkable similarity to the ruins of stone-walled canals, dams and furrows that are found at Engaruka.[79]

Great Lakes

Pottery was first made in the Sahel around 9000 to 8000 BCE, making it one of the earliest region of independent pottery development.

Between 6500 and 3500 BCE knowledge of domesticated sorghum, castor beans, and two species of gourd spread from Africa to Asia, later pearl millet, black-eyed peas, watermellon and okra to the rest of the world.[76]

West Africans were probably the first people to start using the method of fish lines and hook in fishing. The hooks were made of bone, hard wood, or shell between 16,000 to 9000 BCE.

Yam was domesticated 8000 BCE in West Africa. Between 7000 and 5000 BCE, pearl millet, gourds, watermelons, and beans, and farming and herding practices were spread westward across the southern Sahara.

African method of cultivating rice was used in North Carolina introduced by enslaved African. african rice cultivation was a factor in the prosperity of the North Carolina colony.[75]

Sorghum domesticated in the Sahel

The first instances of domestication of plants for agricultural purposes in Africa occurred in the african rice (Oryza glaberrima) began to be cultivated. Around this time, and in the same region, the small Guineafowl was domesticated. Other African domesticated plants were oil palm, raffia palm, black-eyed peas, groundnuts, and kola nuts.

Agriculture was developed independently in the Sahel.


Teff is believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 BCE. Genetic evidence points to E. pilosa as the most likely wild ancestor.[74] Noog (Guizotia abyssinica) and ensete (E. ventricosum) are two other plants domesticated in Ethiopia.

Cotton domesticated 5000 BCE in Sudan

(Gossypium herbaceum Linnaeus) was domesticated 5000 BCE in eastern Sudan near the Middle Nile Basin region, and cotton cloth was being produced.


Ethiopians, particularly the Oromo people, were the first to have discovered and recognized the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant.[73]

The donkey was domesticated in the Red Sea Hill and the Horn of Africa in 4000 BCE and spread to southwest Asia.

Between 13,000 and 11,000 BCE wild grains began to be collected as source of food in the cataract region of the nile, south of Egypt. The collecting of wild grains as source of food spread to Syria, parts of Turkey and Iran by the eleventh millennium BCE. By the tenth and ninth millennia southwest Asians domesticated their wild grains, wheat and barley after the notion of collecting wild grains was spread from the nile.

Africa may have been the third region of independent cattle domestication and also the first. The first location of cattle domestication in Africa agreed upon is Capeletti, Algeria, about 6500 BP, but Bos cattle remains have been found in Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba as far back as 9000 BP, making it the first location of domestication. Scholars are divided as to independent and earliest domestication of cattle.[72]

Donkey domesticated in the Horn of Africa
Ethiopians were first to discover coffee's edible properties

Nile Valley


South African, Allan McLeod Cormack developed the theoretical underpinnings of CT scanning and co-invented the CT-scanner.

During the 1960s, South African Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques, in which a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target.

The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967, however he was white and had received training in England. This procedure was not developed in Africa.

A South African, Max Theiler, developed a vaccine against Yellow Fever in 1937.[71]

European travelers in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda and Rwanda) during the 19th century observed Caeserean sections being performed on a regular basis. The expectant mother was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, European observers concluded that they had been employed for some time.[70]

The knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known to West Africans, more specifically the Akan. A slave named Onesimus explained the inoculation procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century, he reported to have gotten the knowledge from Africa.[69]

Successful Caesarean section performed by indigenous healers in Kahura, Uganda, as observed by R. W. Felkin in 1879

Other African traditions

The dangers of tobacco smoking were known to African Muslim scholars, based on Timbuktu manuscripts.[68]

In Djenné the mosquito was identified to be the cause of malaria, and the removal of cataracts was a common surgical procedure.[67]


Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid 20th century. The theory is earthen jars containing grain used for making beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed people fared better by drinking beer. According to Charlie Bamforth, a professor of biochemistry and brewing science at the University of California, Davis, said "They must have consumed it because it was rather tastier than the grain from which it was derived. They would have noticed people fared better by consuming this product than they were just consuming the grain itself."[66]

In 1285, the largest hospital of the Middle Ages and pre-modern era was built in Cairo, Egypt, by Sultan Qalaun al-Mansur. Treatment was given for free to patients of all backgrounds, regardless of gender, ethnicity or income.[65]

Around 1100, the ventilator is invented in Egypt.[64]

Around 800, the first psychiatric hospital and insane asylum in Egypt was built by Muslim physicians in Cairo.

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned in the ancient Near East for their healing skills, and some, like Imhotep, remained famous long after their deaths.[60] Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists.[61] Training of physicians took place at the Per Ankh or "House of Life" institution, most notably those headquartered in Per-Bastet during the New Kingdom and at Abydos and Saïs in the Late period. Medical papyri show empirical knowledge of anatomy, injuries, and practical treatments.[62] Wounds were treated by bandaging with raw meat, white linen, sutures, nets, pads and swabs soaked with honey to prevent infection,[63] while opium was used to relieve pain. Garlic and onions were used regularly to promote good health and were thought to relieve asthma symptoms. Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs, but they recognized that some injuries were so serious that they could only make the patient comfortable until he died.[60]

Nile Valley


Two types of iron furnaces were used in Sub-Saharan Africa: the trench dug below ground and circular clay structures built above ground. Iron ores were crushed and placed in furnaces layered with the right proportion of hardwood. A flux such as lime sometimes from seashells was added to aid in smelting. Bellows on the side would be used to add oxygen. Clay pipes on the sides called tuyères would be used to control oxygen flow.[59]

Anthropologist Peter Schmidt discovered through the communication of oral tradition that the furnace using mud and grass which when burnt provided the carbon needed to transform the iron into steel. Later investigation of the area yielded 13 other furnaces similar in design to the recreation set up by the elders. These furnaces were carbon dated and were found to be as old as 2000 years, whereas steel of this caliber did not appear in Europe until several centuries later.[57][58]

Besides being masters in iron, Africans were masters in brass and bronze. Ife produced lifelike statues in brass, an artistic tradition beginning in the 13th century. Benin mastered bronze during the 16th century, produced portraiture and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process.[55] Benin also was a manufacturer of glass, glass beads.[56]

Other African traditions

The Swahili traders in East Africa, were major suppliers of gold to Asia in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade routes.[54] The trading port cities and city-states of the Swahili East African coast were among the first African cities to come into contact with European explorers and sailors during the European Age of Discovery. Many were documented and praised in the recordings of North African explorer Abu Muhammad ibn Battuta.

Africa was a major supplier of gold in world trade during the Medieval Age. The Sahelian empires became powerful by controlling the Trans-Saharan trade routes. They provided 2/3 of the gold in Europe and North Africa.[52] The Almoravid dinar and the Fatimid dinar were printed on gold from the Sahelian empires. The ducat of Genoa and Venice and the florine of Florence were also printed on gold from the Sahelian empires.[53] When gold sources were depleted in the Sahel, the empires turned to trade with the Ashante Kingdom.


The Aksumites produced coins around 270 CE, under the rule of King Endubis. Aksumite coins were issued in gold, silver, and bronze.

Around 500 BCE, Nubia, in her Meroitic phase, became a major manufacturer and exporter of iron. This was after being expelled from Egypt by Assyrians, who used iron weapons.[51]

Nubia was a major source of gold in the ancient world. Gold was a major source of Kushitic wealth and power. Gold was mined East of the Nile in Wadi Allaqi and Wadi Cabgaba.[50]

Nile Valley

In the Aïr Mountains region of Niger, copper smelting was independently developed between 3000 and 2500 BCE. The undeveloped nature of the process indicates that it was not of foreign origin. Smelting in the region became mature around 1500 BCE.[49]

[48] methods were instituted.European, until more advanced Brazil Before the 19th century, African methods of extracting iron were employed in [47][46][45]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.