Early African Civilisations

The earliest recorded civilisation began at about 3300 BCE (Before our Common Era), where North Africa’s Egyptian society rose to acclaim in the annals. The Pharaonic civilisation saw the rise of literacy at this time, enabling them to make accurate and multiple records of major events. Ancient Egypt held its powerful position in Africa and, indeed, the world from 3300 BCE until 343 BCE. This domination was strong in North Africa, but was somewhat negotiated (although never negated) in some other places in the world. Its power spread to areas such as Libya, Crete, Canaan, Aksum and Nubia.

It was when Alexander the Great liberated Egypt (formally under Persian control) in 332 BCE that the European influence began. He was the founder of the Ptolemaic capital, Alexandria. When the Romans conquered the entire Mediterranean coastline of North Africa, Egypt was integrated into their system in terms of Roman economic systems and the cultures they boasted. The Romans moved down into the area, mainly into Tunisia. This also brought Christianity into the region, and as far south as Ethiopia. Christian doctrines were very different to the worship of the ancient Egyptians, who had been worshipping pagan gods, nature and even the Nile River.

Islam was introduced in the seventh century BCE as the Arabian Islamic Caliphate entered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The Berber tribes that were indigenous to the area adopted Islamic worship and formed Arab tribes. The capital city of Damascus, Ummayad, fell in the eighth century, and the Islamic capital moved from Syria to Qayrawan. Because Islam formed and affected so many smaller tribes, the Islamic worship in North Africa was diverse, differing from one sub-society to the next. As these tribes migrated south and established trade with other areas in Africa, their customs and doctrines spread as well.

African civilisations, in general, developed from one another. From as far back as 12 000 BCE (as fossils and other, non-written records have born evidence of), they have fought one another, amalgamated, conquered and submitted. Civilisations were most often set up in certain places in response to environmental amenities, such as water and food for humans and animals. Some communities established themselves along the coastline to facilitate effective trade and transport.

The information that is currently available about the earliest civilisations in Africa has been gleaned from a combination of written records and valuable archaeological findings, such as fossils, tools and rock paintings. Societies and kingdoms (such as Kush, Great Zimbabwe and the Swahili Coast) displayed a variety of customs, economy and cultures, and were dispersed throughout Africa. Some were farmers, others traders, and yet others aristocrats. A common ideal within these established societies, however, was the communal ownership of land. No one citizen owned a specified area of land. Rather, the entire community worked together to cultivate the land they occupied for the common benefit of their families and friends.

The workers that sustained the land and the tradesmen that bought and sold goods were recognised for the function they fulfilled. The leaders of these societies set certain rules in place to protect their community and promote the work that sustained them. The governments that existed were obeyed out of obligation and loyalty, rather than out of fear of the consequence. This led to voluntary obedience and a sense of communal pride and cooperation.

However, this time of early African civilisation was also a time of slavery. Many of the major empires in the world of that time (e.g. Greece and China) relied on slaves from Africa to build the infrastructure of their cities and kingdoms and to cultivate / farm their land in order to provide for the societies living in these cities. Even the pyramids were built by slaves. When the Portuguese, followed by other Europeans, arrived in Africa, they began to trade guns, textiles and silver for African resources, including slaves. It was in this way that Africans entered Europe in the 14th century. The slave trade dissipated many of the smaller civilisations of ancient Africa as families were broken up and communities shattered. With the decreased labour force within these kingdoms, farming and trading became less supported and more difficult for those left behind.

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.