8.5 Early Civilizations of Africa

Africa is the world's second largest continent, larger than Europe, China, and the United States combined. Its geography is immensely varied, but certain features have had a major impact on its development. Its size and location have contributed to its range of climates, vegetation, and terrains as well as the diverse cultures that developed within Africa.

Photo of a desert plain with ruins of bricked buildings each with a tall solid gate.

The Nubian capital of Meroë was once a center of trade. Today, its ruins bake in the hot sun.

Objectives

  • Understand how geography affected migration, cultural development, and trade in Africa.
  • Describe the rise and decline of Nubia.
  • Explain how outside influences led to change in North Africa.

Key Terms

  • Sahara
  • savanna
  • cataract
  • desertification
  • Bantu
  • Nubia
  • Meroë
  • Piankhi
  • Septimius Severus

The Geography of Africa

Climate and Vegetation Zones

As shown on the map, Africa's vegetation regions create wide bands that stretch across the continent. Along the equator is a band of tropical rain forest. Moving north and south from this band are the continent's largest and most populated regions, the savannas, or grassy plains. Beyond the savannas lies the Sahara, the largest desert in the world. Although the Sahara did become a highway for migration and trade, its size and harsh terrain limited movement. The Kalahari and Namib deserts in the south are smaller but equally forbidding.

Although the Sahara did become a highway for migration and trade, its size and harsh terrain limited movement. The Kalahari and Namib deserts in the south are smaller but equally forbidding.

Along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa and the tip of southern Africa lie areas of fertile farmland. The fertile Nile Valley, for example, offered a favorable environment to early farmers.

Geographic Features

In addition to deserts and rain forests, other geographic features have acted as barriers to easy movement of people and goods.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments