Greatest Achievements of Ancient Africans
As descendants of African people, we’re constantly saturated with negative portrayals. Popular culture and the education system are often times the primary culprits. Despite these visual messages being sent our way, whether it’s in reference to beauty standards, intelligence or overall value, there tends to be a dominate overarching theme: that Black people contributed nothing to world culture or human civilization. Even though this is an obvious lie, individuals in the African diaspora have internalized this adulterated idea.
Thus, we wanted to illuminate the darkness and clear the muddy waters created by the disingenuous narratives of African history. So let’s talk about the greatest achievements of ancient Africans. There aren’t many lists out there regarding this topic so we wanted to add our own personal take on the very best things our ancestors contributed to the world. We’re hoping that by the end of this article the African diaspora would have approved these tangible achievements and would have validated all the ancient African receipts if you will.
One of the first ancient African achievements on the continent has to be astronomy. The early African realization that humans were not the center of the universe was a giant leap in progressive thinking. Ancient Africans were willing to set aside their egos and look at the hard evidence. An early sign of an astronomical observatory was in Ancient Nubia at a place called Nabta Playa. In or around 4800 BC stone circles were aligned to understand our astronomical place. There are many scholars who actually don’t support the idea of Nabta Playa being an astronomical observatory, but we thought we’d still mention it just in case.
However, significant astronomical knowledge in Africa comes from the Dogon people of Mali. The Dogon have some of the most intricate knowledge concerning aspects of the universe. They appeared to be aware of the many rings of Saturn, the various moons of Jupiter and even Sirius B, which is a white dwarf star, a star that’s invisible to the human eye. The Dogon’s astronomical knowledge is such a great achievement for ancient Africa because they observed or possibly even inherited this ancient knowledge without modern technology. Who knows, perhaps the Dogon’s ancient knowledge is evidence that Nabta Playa indeed had some astronomical relevance. The Dogon’s brilliant system of the universe reveals exact information on cosmological facts known only through the development of modern astronomy. This is no doubt an achievement second to none.
--> Dogon people
One of the most valuable achievements in human history is the creation and manipulation of elements. The metallurgic sciences have advanced humanity greatly. It’s been used to advance warfare, agriculture and the building of nations. The science of metallurgy was a tool of human innovation and Africans were masters of it. In West Africa, the mastery and manipulation of Iron, brass and bronze are surprisingly well known largely due to the delightful art of the Yoruba and Edo peoples. Because of the development of metallurgy in West Africa, the people of Ile-Ife (the Yoruba capital) were able to create magnificent pieces of art. Later, the Edo people borrowing from the Yoruba tradition mastered bronze, producing sculptures and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process.
In Eastern Africa, in the ancient city of Meroe, the Kushite’s around 500 BC became a major manufacturer and exporter of iron. The Kushite’s understood the art of iron making so well that they became mass producers of it. Moreover, right in the heart of Africa, in ancient Kongo, the Esikongo people had an extensive and advanced knowledge of the metallurgic sciences. A French scholar by the name of Georges Balandier had this to say about metallurgy in ancient Kongo.
Another great tradition of metallurgy in Africa comes out of Tanzania amongst the Haya people. The Haya people in Tanzania were reportedly forging steel for nearly 2000 years. An Anthropologist named Peter Schmidt was so amazed by this discovery that he inquired about how they did this. Accordingly, he was brought to a tree which was said to be the location of an ancestral furnace used to forge steel. Even though the Haya people had not used this steel producing method for centuries the elders still knew how to accomplish this elaborate task. The Haya were forging steel of a grade that didn’t appear in other parts of the world until much later. The invention of the metallurgical sciences in various parts of Africa is an absolutely brilliant contribution to human civilization.
The human body is perhaps one of the most complex things in the universe. All humans have attempted to understand the design of the body and therefore treat illness through medicinal means. Medicine in Africa is undoubtedly the most ancient human accomplishment and it most certainly originated in Africa. One example of the confidence ancient Africans had in their knowledge of the human body was the practice of cesarean section. European travelers to the Great Lakes region of Africa during the 19th century reported cases of surgery in a kingdom located in western Uganda called Bunyoro. One observer expressed seeing a “surgical skill which had reached a high standard”.
Cesarean sections were performed frequently with the use of antiseptics and anesthetics. The pregnant mother to be was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and other plant-based mixtures were used to encourage the healing process. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, it was assumed that these Africans had been using this skill for quite some time. The surgical art of cesarean section was practiced in ancient Africa for a very long time and European visitors were simply introduced to it upon arrival.
Various other ailments and illnesses were treated in Ancient Africa. Interestingly enough, the knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known amongst the Akan people. One enslaved African reportedly called Onesimus explained this procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century; he stated that he received this knowledge from his home in Ghana. This historical event not only provides insight into the developed medicinal knowledge of ancient Africa, but it proves that well educated Africans were unfortunately enslaved, debunking a lot of stereotypes.
The architectural wonders of Ancient Egypt are well known and frequently discussed. However, the rest of Africa remains under the outdated banner of the “Dark Continent” trope. Ancient Africans built in mud and stone. The architectural form of stone masonry was later used in the development and construction of medieval sites like the structures of Great Zimbabwe, the grand castles of Gondar in Ethiopia and the palaces of the Swahili Coast. The ancient stone structures at Dhar tichett in Mauritania prove the advanced stone building prowess of ancient West Africa. Dhar Tichett is a marvelous collection of more than 400 stone masonry settlements, with a clear street plan.
---> Great Zimbabwe
Some of the stone settlements had colossal surrounding walls while others remained simple. The ancient stone settlements of Dhar Tichett are believed to have been founded by the Soninke people. Also, the ancient Nubian temples and pyramids are often neglected. There are over 200 hundred pyramid structures in Nubia or modern-day Sudan: brilliantly designed and well ordered. The architectural skills of Ancient Africans are there in plain sight for the world to see, but often times we forget to look.
One of the major signs of an advanced civilization according to Western ideology is writing. Parts of medieval Africa did write things down but most of ancient Africa relied on oral tradition and this is why popular culture devalues their civilization. Nonetheless, there were some ancient Africans who did write things down. These Africans were mostly in the Nile Valley region. In fact, they were one of the first humans to write things down.
When we think of Nile Valley writing, we tend to think of the Egyptians exclusively and their hieroglyphs, but the Nubians also invented their own script called Meroitic. Despite this, at one time the Nubians and the Egyptians shared a writing form. How do we know this? Well, according to an ancient Greek perspective, it was actually the Nubians who invented writing and the Egyptians simply borrowed it. Now, this perspective is shocking because it’s the total opposite of our Western perspective. Diodorus Siculus advances the following ancient perspective:
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who claimed to have sat at the feet of Egyptian priests. Now for Diodorus, that statement is common knowledge, but for us in the Western world its mind blowing. As you can see he says it so casually. Keep in mind that whenever Diodorus says the word “Ethiopian” he’s not talking about modern-day Ethiopia he’s talking about ancient Nubia which is located in Sudan. He goes on to say:
So according to Diodorus, the invention of writing by the Nubians was apparently common knowledge. The idea of Africans writing before the overwhelming majority of people on the planet is simply one of the greatest achievements of ancient Africa.
And last but not least, we have the spirit of exploration. It’s largely believed that Africans were the first humans and without their spirit of exploration planet Earth would not have been populated. All of humanity is in debt to the pioneering force of ancient Africa. They were the spark to the many flames we see today in our civilized world. They had the audacity to move from their comfort zone into totally unknown and possibly hostile territories, bringing with them knowledge, agriculture and most of all the building blocks of civilization.
Let’s remember that these achievements aren’t just something that happened in the past. We, as Afro-descended people have a majestic inheritance pulsing through our veins. Its value is readily available for us to build right now in the present. We’ve done it in the past and now we know we’re able to do it in the future. Our community is its own asset. Lets continue to invest in it.
All credits for this article go to afrographics.com
A History of Sub-Saharan Africa
by Robert O. Collins and James M. Burns
Astronomy at Nabta Playa, Egypt
History of Medicine: Cesarean Section – A Brief History
In search of cosmic order: Astronomy and culture in Ancient Egypt
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Science: Africa’s Ancient Steelmakers
The Development Of `Scientific’ Medicine in the African Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara
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The Dogon of the French Sudan
by Griaule, M. and G. Dieterlen
The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology
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