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African Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Africa

The pre-history of Africa contains a far longer period of human habitation than any other area on Earth, thanks to it being the cradle of humankind's evolution. Much of this pre-history involves a great deal of uncertainty in which small windows of opportunity to view events can be gained through archaeology.

Masses of material are found each year by archaeologists, and a system was long ago needed to help organise all these findings (especially those which flourished after around 60,000-40,000 BC, when humans in Africa began exhibiting a noticeable progression towards eventual civilisation). The earliest cultures saw basic stone tools used across Africa, the Near East, Europe, and Asia, including early China, Japan, and Siberia, before subtle changes began to appear.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right). Archaeological cultures remain the framework for global prehistory.

Researchers in 2014 published the biggest-ever comparative study of stone tools which were dated between 130,000 and 75,000 BC and which has been found in the region between sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia. It was discovered that there are marked differences in the way stone tools were made, reflecting a diversity of cultural traditions.

The study has also identified at least four distinct populations, each relatively isolated from the others with their own different cultural characteristics. The research also suggested that early populations took advantage of rivers and lakes which criss-crossed the Saharan desert.

A climate model which was coupled with data about these ancient water courses was matched with the new findings to reveal the fact that populations which were connected by rivers bore similarities in their cultures. The picture of Africa around 100,000 BC shows that there were a number of populations, varying in size and degree of genetic contact, which were distributed over a wide geographical area.

This population model supports other recent theories which together confirm the idea of anatomically modern humans first successfully leaving Africa earlier than the usual window around 70,000-60,000 BC, albeit in small groups which may or may not have been successful.

Australopithecus afarensis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), and from External Link: Before they left Africa, early modern humans were 'culturally diverse' (University of Oxford News).)


King list Palaeolithic Cultures
(2.5m - 100,000 BC)

The first truly recognisable human cultures of the Mesolithic developed out of several tool-making industries of the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic.

King list Aterian Culture
(c.145,000 - 30,000 BC)

The Aterian gathered pace around 130,000 BC, showing fossil similarities with contemporary early humans in the Levant.

King list Near East Cultures

It is difficult to document the earliest Homo sapiens cultures in the Near East without also documenting the Neanderthal cultures into which they integrated.

King list Khormusan Industry
(c.40,000 - 16,000 BC)

Khormusan people developed advanced tools not only from stone but also from animal bones and hematite, for hunting and fishing along the banks of the Nile.

King list Halfan & Kubbaniyan
(c.18,000 - 15,000 BC)

The Halfan was a development of the earlier Khormusan, while the Kubbaniyan was in essence the same cultural expression as the Halfan.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.