Africa Prehistory

By | January 3, 2023

In Africa there are the oldest traces of human activity. The continent has housed many peoples who over time have merged and split up, expanded and wiped out, and some ethnic groups are during the 1900’s. arising from the administrative measures of the European colonial powers. Our knowledge of the history of Africa is based on a combination of written sources, oral traditions and archaeological, linguistic and ethnological analyzes.

In Africa, man can be traced further back in time than anywhere else on Earth. From the Rift Valley in East Africa and from limestone caves in South Africa, numerous finds of skeletal parts come from a now extinct human species, Australopithecus species, which lived for between 4 and 1 million. years ago. The most famous Australopithecus find is the skeleton of a slender female, Lucy, from Hadar, Ethiopia. However, there is no evidence that she and her relatives used tools.

Older Paleolithic (Approximately 2 million to 120,000 years ago)

Between 2 and 1.8 million. years ago lived the species Homo habilis, which is considered the ancestor of man (see human), and whose remains have been found at the Koobi Forums in Kenya and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania along with primitive stone tools, pebble tools. Finds of these oldest tools, the so-called Oldowan culture, are also known from Ethiopia, from the Omodalen in the south and Hadar in the north.

The oldest finds of hand wedges are also from Olduvai and Koobi Fora in East Africa and are 1.5 million. years old. They belong to the acheulene culture that spread across most of Africa. The older stages are linked to the species Homo erectus, the younger to archaic or early sapiens types. Settlements were found by the lakes and along the great rivers Vaal, Zambezi and the Upper Nile. In periods of humid climate in the Sahara, elephants and wild oxen have been hunted in an environment that had the character of a savannah. From the coast of Casablanca in Morocco, settlements and bones of Homo erectus are known in caves from the middle and younger acheules, for example by Sidi Abd al-Rahman. Similar finds are known from Ternifine in Algeria. Visit Countryaah for detailed information about East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa.

Middle and Late Paleolithic (approximately 120,000-10,000 years ago)

From the beginning of this period, a more developed set of tools appears, with slices of prepared blocks in so-called levallois technique, small hand wedges and triangular tips, which characterize the moustéri in Europe and Asia. Traces of settlement include found in caves at the mouth of the Klasies River in South Africa, where seafood was fished, collected and wild bulls and antelopes hunted. One of the earliest finds of Homo sapiens known at all comes from here. During the inter-Paleolithic period, markedly different tool cultures developed. There was no single-stranded development that makes it possible to define a clear transition from the Middle to the Late Paleolithic in Africa. Tips made in micro-splitting technique, microliters, known from Europe in the Mesolithic after 9500 BC, occurs in Africa earlier than in other continents. At the mouth of the Klasies River and in the Border Cave in South Africa, microliters have been found in layers that are at least 38,000 years old. Elsewhere, the older tradition of making tools continued, for example in the Apollo 11 cave in Namibia, where one also finds the oldest rock art in Africa with an age of approximately 27,500 years.

After a period of dry climate, the Sahara was repopulated for approximately 100,000 years ago by a population that used tools of the moustéri type. Gradually, a special tool tradition was created: the Atéria, which was especially characterized by slender, finely chopped tips with shaft tongues.

Until for approximately 44,000 years ago, in southwestern Egypt, gazelles could be hunted on the savannah. But during the most severe period of the last ice age, between 38,000 and 13,000 years ago, the Sahara dried up again, and the glacier ice covered the highest of the Atlas Mountains.

Oldest food production

In Eastern Sahara, 19000-16000 years ago, there were various approaches to the collection of wild grasses and grains as well as selective hunting and perhaps beginning taming of animals. The oldest millstones are approximately 16,000 years old. Collection of wild barley may have taken place for approximately 12,000 years ago, but it did not lead at that time, as in West Asia, to the development of permanent farming communities. On the other hand, you look for approximately 9500 BC settlements both along the Nile, on Lake Turkana in East Africa and along the rivers of the Sahara, where the dominant occupation was fishing and hunting. The humid climate at the beginning of the current warming season may have created a wealth of natural resources that made it possible to live as resident hunters, fishermen and gatherers. Pottery production began in the Sahara 7500-6500 BC. and at Khartoum approximately 6000 BC In Egypt, pottery first appears approximately 4500 BC


From approximately 7000 BC emerged in Eastern Sahara the first permanent agricultural communities, whose population subsisted on millet, barley and dates and kept sheep and goats. This peasant culture is believed to have originated locally in contrast to later communities in the Nile Valley, whose knowledge of agriculture and cattle breeding may have originated in West Asia. In the central Sahara there is evidence of cattle farming from approximately 5000 BC Images of cattle as well as hunting scenes have been retained in numerous rock paintings.

In the period 5000-3000 BC. There were agricultural cultures in West Africa where it is believed that the cultivation of African rice and yam root may have begun. Sustained settlement in northeastern Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon led to the formation of urban mounds.

In East Africa, a resident population of cattle breeders has existed from approximately 3000 BC and until less than 1000 years ago. Dehydration – which is still taking place – then forced the population to live as nomads.


Along the lower Nile were found from approximately 5000 BC a people who grew wheat, barley and flax, and who kept cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys. In al-Fayyum and in the Nile Delta, settlements with small oval houses have been found. During the pre-dynastic period in Egypt, until approximately 3100 BC, centers developed along the Nile with increasing occupational specialization and social division, forming the basis for the emergence of Egyptian civilization.

Well-organized farming communities existed from approximately 4000 BC along the Upper Nile in Sudan, for example at Kadero, where the inhabited area covered four hectares. Finds from Nubian burial sites from the same period testify to prosperity and connection with the northern regions along the lower Nile, from which objects of flint and copper originate. In Sudanese Nubia, approximately 1700 BC a significant center in Kerma, whose rulers allowed themselves to be buried in giant burial mounds up to 80 m in diameter.



Describing the common features of an entire continent’s theater is an approximation, and in order for this to be possible, it must be clarified that this is exclusively African theater south of the Sahara, as the Muslim-influenced Arab performing traditions from the areas north for the Sahara is markedly different. Closer descriptions of the distinctive features of the different regions can be seen in the articles on theater in resp. West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa.

The traditional starting point for an African conception of the concept of performance can be understood from the East African Swahili term ngoma, which is the collective concept from which music, song and dance are understood. In addition, a traditional African concept of performance is also always associated with a greater or lesser degree of audience participation; either in the form of the audience simply participating in the session being played out or of the audience being involved as an active debating forum. The foundation of the African musical accompaniment dance drama is the ritual, the most important of which are tied to the great transitions of life; birth, initiation and death. Because the African philosophy of life and religion are tied to a cyclical principle, in which the ancestors and the unborn still play as important a role as the living ones, it is important to constantly relate publicly to these bodies. In many of these dance dramas, it is simply ancestral manifestations, who, as masked dancers, appear and speak and thereby act as a mouthpiece and moral guide for the participants. The drums, the dance circle and the masking are the most important parts of this traditional starting point for an African theater.

The African theater is thus in its basic form instructive and moral. Of course, the quality of the workmanship matters a lot, but it is the content before the form that counts. This has meant that an actual avant-garde theater is rarely found on the continent. It has also meant that it has been relatively easy for African playwrights to incorporate Western literary forms into the traditional template.

However, modernization, Westernization, colonial times, independence and globalization have shaken this foundation and led to the disappearance of many traditional forms and the emergence of new ones in the cultural encounters that have taken place. An actual conservative attitude is difficult to find in today’s Africa, where most active theater people after independence probably work on maintaining the old traditions in the few existing theater schools, but equally concentrate on the work with the new theater forms that come out of the encounters with Western culture. There is little developed professional and commercial theater, as all sorts of interest groups have always been interested in having propaganda theater produced on a commission basis. That’s why large sections of the African audience are used to theater being free – and theater people are used to being paid for anything other than ticket revenue. There are not many actual theater schools. On the other hand, song, dance and music are an active part of African everyday life, and the political/moral/pedagogical amateur theater is widespread. Most African theorists in the field are simultaneously performing artists and therefore work up semi-professional ensembles at educational institutions.