Pre-Historic African Development Bibliography

Pre-Historic African Development

The concept of Africa has been of “the dark continent” and this concept has been spread by the European invaders there. At the same time, there is historical evidence to suggest that human civilization developed in Africa much before it developed in Europe.

The development of man takes place in a direction that is determined by the geographic conditions there, and this is true not only for Africa, but for the entire world. The first question is of defining the term prehistory. If this is viewed as the period before the development of men into the form as we know men to be today, then there is no doubt that development of men have been influenced by geography and geography only. This is also true for Africa and it is a very large continent located in the south of Europe and the southwest of Middle-east. This is a continent with different environments from desert wastes to tropical rain forests, savannas, vast swamps, and even snow capped mountains. Naturally the diverse flora and fauna, which has of course changed over the ages, have given rise to different types of human communities and they have adopted different strategies for survival in terms of economic, social, cultural and political methods adopted. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500)

At the same time, the country is now broken up in 50 different countries and there is a wide difference in sizes among them, both in terms of area as also in terms of population. At the same time, the continent is huge enough to contain United States, China, India and Argentina together. The diversity and difference from other continents is sustained by the fact that it is bisected by the equator. There are many different types of lands, but the greatest portion of it is either desert or open plains. The continent also has snow capped mountains in Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. The continent also has four different river systems of the Nile, Niger, Congo or Zaire and Zambezi. As was the situation in other world regions, human development in Africa also first took place in areas where there was good availability of natural resources in the form of soils and required water supply. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500) This is the first importance of geography in the prehistory of man in Africa.

The savanna or grasslands regions of east Africa are actually home to the human species. There are also other well-watered savanna regions of the Continent, particularly the Sudan which is not the country, but the regions which lie north of the great equatorial forest. These areas have supported diverse for a long time populations of farmers, herders, crafts people and traders. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500) This area is south of that of Sahara which divides the continent into two areas-namely that of North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The southern border of the Sahara is considered as a semiarid savanna which is called the Sahel and south of the Sahel is the better region which is called as the Sudan. That is the Sudan which we are referring to here. The Sahel is considered as the boundary in Africa which falls between the Sahara towards the northern part and the more fertile region is towards that of the south and this is known as the Sudan and this is not to be confused with the country which has the same name. (Encyclopedia: Sahara)

There is archeological proof that humans have lived on the edge of the desert for almost 500,000 years. Before the last ice age, the Sahara was a much wetter place, much like East Africa. Over 30,000 petroglyphs of river animals such as crocodiles have survived and half have been found in the Tassili n’Ajjer in southeast Algeria and to add further fossils of dinosaurs have also been found in this place. The modern Sahara, even though, is devoid of vegetation, other than that in the Nile Valley and also at a few oases and also in some mountains which are scattered and this has been so since about 3000 BC. (Encyclopedia: Sahara) Thus it is clear that the population who used to live there have been forced to shift, and the reasons were geographical changes over historical periods.

The fertile Nile valley was the cradle of one of the earliest civilizations which are known, namely that of the ancient Egyptians. Even though it could be said that there are people who are living in mountain valleys, along the large lakes or seacoast, in areas of swamps or on islands, in Africa, the majority are found to be living in the tropical savannas, the Nile Valley or Mediterranean climate zones which are found to be either towards the far north or the far south. Recent archaeological research show that early proto-humans, which are called the hominids, were producing and utilizing stone tools in the northern and eastern parts of Africa three million or more years ago! This places Africa as the birthplace for humans as there is no solid proof for similar trends outside Africa around one million years ago. Thus it seems likely that the first two million or so years of human development in took place on the continent of Africa. This concept is bolstered up by genetic research which informs us that all living members of our species, which means the Homo sapiens, might have had either a common ancestor who was ten thousand times removed. This ancestor of us all might have lived in Africa between 60,000 and 200,000 years ago. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500)

The evolution of Homo erectus had taken place around a million years ago. He had a large brain of 1,000 cc; he mastered the African plains, fabricating about a variety of stone tools that put him on par as a hunter equal to the top level predators. Further man had mastered the technique of making fire. He was the first hominid to leave Africa, which brought about the colonization of the entire Old World, and later provided the rise to Homo floresiensis. The fossil record shows that there were Homo sapiens who were living in the southern and eastern Africa between the periods of about 100,000-150,000 years ago. The earliest human exodus evolving out of Africa and within the continent is shown through the available linguistic and cultural evidence. Linguistic evidence shows that the Bantu people for example, the Xhosa and Zulu have come from the north and migrated southwestward into the former Khoisan ranges and has displaced them. Bantu populations are still used to a distinct suite of crops which are suited to tropical Africa, inclusive of the cassava and yams. This farming culture is in a position to support more persons according to per unit area in comparison to hunter-gatherers who were the earlier civilizations there. The traditional inhabitation of Bantus range is from the northern deserts which go right down to the temperate regions of the south. And in the south Bantu crops fail from frost. The primary weapons of Bantus were bows and stabbing spears with shields. (Encyclopedia: History of Africa)

From the view of African history the most significant development of the late Stone Age was the start of more settled societies. These probably started first along the banks of the Upper Nile in the Cataracts region, in the modern day southern Egypt and in the northern Sudan or which is known as ancient Nubia. Evidence of barley being harvested there dates from as early as 16,000 BCE. The development of the capacity to make increased use of abundant wild grains, together with increased exploitation of aquatic resources, made way for a more settled existence for certain individuals. These sedentary peoples are known together as the African Aquatic Culture. This mode of living spread from the Upper Nile into a much enhanced area of Africa at the time of the last great wet era of African climate history. This started about 9,000 and was at its highest in about 7,000 BCE. The higher rainfall levels of this period generated several very large shallow lakes which are now known as the arid southern borderlands of the Sahara desert. The evidence is found in the form of crafted microlithic tools to exploit a marine environment for the purpose of fishing and trapping aquatic animals in these areas. This created food supplies and supported the earlier known permanent settlements. Culturally and linguistically related people, who were ancestors of the modern day Black Africans, made their settlements through this wide and ancient great lakes area. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500) This again is an influence of geography on history.

The Ghana Empire is the earliest historically documented kingdom in the West African Sahel. In historical terms, this is the second complex political system that started in this area. The difficulty is of historical records and the historical records of Ghana come from Arab sources dating between 800 and 1650 AD, but Ghana had been prevalent for long before that period. It had started in the present-day Sahel region of south-eastern Mauritania and western Mali. (The similarities and differences between the rise of complex societies in West and East Africa) The evidence for this is again not in written records, but archeological evidence, and this also makes it clear that the history of Ghana has been influenced a lot by geographical changes. A similar situation exists with Egypt. There was a discovery by archeologists in the late 20th century that there was human habitation before 8000 BC in an area in the southwestern corner of Egypt, which is near the border with Sudan. Who are these people? They are likely to have been nomads attracted to this area of Egypt because of the hospitable climate and environment. Now it is exceptionally dry, but once that area had grassy plains and temporary lakes which were caused by seasonal rains. (Encyclopedia: History of Ancient Egypt)

The climate has changed again. Why? Scientific analysis of the remains of their culture indicates that by 6000 BC they were herding cattle and constructing large buildings. (Encyclopedia: History of Ancient Egypt) This behavior is again similar to areas in the Middle East and not Africa. Written history had started in Ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian calendar is still used as the standard. How did this come about? Ethiopia preserved a very unique or distinct, ancient culture which had an intermittent history of contact with that of Eurasia. This resulted in a bringing about a unique language, culture and crop system. The crop system is suited only to those parts of the dry northern highlands and it should be noted that the most famous member of this crop system is coffee, but the most useful plants are that of sorghum, which is a dry-land grain. (Encyclopedia: History of Africa) Why did they start on this crop? The greatest difficulty in historical research for this area is the absence of written records, and most of the decisions are made of archeological evidence. At the same time, there is no likelihood of any written records existing of that time also.

With the evolution of Homo sapiens in Africa between the periods of 200,000 and 60,000 years ago, more specialized tools were devised by them to cope with a new range of environments. Tools for actual hunting were created by these men. Probably there was also a conscious division of labor on the basis of gender, with men creating the groups required to track and kill large animals. Women on the other hand defended their camps and continued to provide the bulk of the fundamental diet of the plants and that of the small animals. Shelters were constructed and fishing was being started and the population also increased. There was also development of foraging groups, which were called bands, by the anthropologists, and these were of the size of about 30-75 people which is still found in surviving gatherer-hunter societies. The starting of art has been seen in cave shelters, and this tells us that people were concerned with beauty and the meaning of things. The meaning of things has now probably taken on the name of science and religion. This tells us that these concerns are fundamental to our survival and growth as humans. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500)

Yet there is very less information about how Africans who inhabited the vast lands of the modern Saharan and Sudan regions during the 6000 BCE lived. We have proof that there were prosperous fishing communities on the banks of the several lakes and the great rivers had emerged. They were probably not dependent on agriculture, since they did not need to be! They collected enough to eat by means of fishing, collecting seasonal fruits, and harvesting wild grains. To add further, the initial signs of livestock raising and grain cultivation in Africa show as to what is now known in the mid of the Sahara desert. These people do not reside there now and clearly geography has influenced their history. In 6000 BCE, and up to 3000 BCE, this huge area was habitable savanna country, with thick grass and abundant wildlife. This was an environment that provided sustenance for suitable animal and plant species for domestication. Yet the methods as to how cattle were raised in the Sahara are not known. With regard to the areas of domestication and cultivation of plants, the Sahara and the Nile valley areas also produced crops which were similar to that of the Middle East, with which they shared similar climatic backgrounds. The animals and plants which were originally domesticated in this region were that of goats, sheep, cattle, wheat, barley, olives, and dates. (Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500)

We see clearly that changes had been taking place in the history of Africa from the beginning and the reasons and results have not been studied enough as the continent has always been viewed as the Dark Continent. To a certain extent this is due to the views of the early colonizers, and this is irrespective of the country from where the colonizers came from – Britain, Germany, Portugal, and the Arabian countries. To a certain extent only the Arabs treated these countries as other human beings, while the West has always treated them as slaves and their land as territories to be plundered.


Some truths are hard but they have to be accepted and in the case of Africa it is a question of your father being treated as a slave. It is time that something is done for their development.


Brass, Mickey. The similarities and differences between the rise of complex societies in West and East Africa. Retrieved at Accessed 14 September, 2005

Encyclopedia: History of Africa. Retrieved at Accessed 14 September, 2005

Encyclopedia: History of Ancient Egypt. Retrieved at Accessed 14 September, 2005

Encyclopedia: Sahara. Retrieved at Accessed 14 September, 2005

Herlin, Susan. J. Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500. 2003. Retrieved from Accessed 14 September, 2005

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