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Ancient Africa's Great Civilizations

With the Cradle of Humankind located in South Africa, it comes as no surprise that Africa is home to the world’s oldest civilizations. Although frequently overshadowed by the popularity and intrigue of ancient Egyptian culture, various kingdoms in Africa have made advancements in many areas from metallurgy to international trade.

 

The Land of Punt:

The Land of Punt was rich in resources and an important trading partner with the Egyptians. Punt was also a source of cultural and religious influence for the Egyptians as they believed it was their place of origin and to be blessed by the gods.


The exact location of the Land of Punt has been disputed. A recent study tracing the geographic origins of mummified baboons in Egyptian sites found that they came from an area that includes the modern-day countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Dijbouti, Somalia, and Yemen, providing new insight into Punt's location.

 

The Kingdom of Kush:

The Kingdom of Kush, which flourished between c.1069 BCE and 350 AD, was an ancient African kingdom located in the upper Nile River Valley.


The Kushites made innovations in iron smelting, agriculture, and building. Over 200 pyramids were built in the Kushite kingdom. They are smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, but their number makes them equally impressive.

 

Ancient Carthage:

Carthage was founded in the 9th century BCE as a Phoenician settlement, but later it grew into a great trading empire. At its peak, it ruled a significant portion of the Mediterranean coast. It remained a major power until its destruction in the Third Punic War, in 146 BCE.

 

The Kingdom of Aksum:

The Kingdom of Aksum flourished from the first to the seventh century AD. The city of Aksum, in present-day Ethiopia, was its center.


Its location provided access to goods imported from both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile allowing it to become a powerful trading hub.

Stelae (large decorated obelisk-like columns) mark the burials of some of the prominent figures of the Aksumite state. The stelae represent magnificent multi-storied palaces with elaborately carved doors and windows often engraved with an emblem denoting the king’s or the noble’s rank.

 

The Kingdom of Benin:

The Kingdom of Benin began around 900 AD when the Edo people settled in the rainforests of West Africa, modern Nigeria.


A feature that would characterize the later kingdom is the guild system of labor along with superb craftsmanship and artistry which was set in place during this period.

The Benin Bronzes (made of brass and bronze) are a group of sculptures, which include cast plaques and figures that were created, from at least the 16th century onwards, by specialist guilds working for the royal court of the Oba (king) in Benin City.

 

Works cited:

Olson, Amy. “Mummified Baboons Shine New Light on the Lost Land of Punt: Dartmouth.” Dartmouth News, 7 Jan. 2021, news.dartmouth.edu/news/2021/01/mummified-baboons-shine-new-light-lost-land-punt.


“Benin Kingdom - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Museum of Art.” Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, africa.uima.uiowa.edu/peoples/show/Benin+Kingdom.


The Lost Kingdom of Kush - JSTOR Daily. daily.jstor.org/the-lost-kingdom-of-kush/.


“Historical City Travel Guide: Aksum, 6th Century AD - British Museum Blog.” British Museum Blog - Explore Stories from the Museum, 20 July 2020, blog.britishmuseum.org/historical-city-travel-guide-aksum-6th-century-ad/.

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