P314 Earlier Prehistory of Africa

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Week 1

Historical Context:

Until recently, PREHISTORY was something really only studied by wealthy Europeans. Before Darwin, antiquities were collected and considered as curiosities -- evidence of pre-flood "ante-dilluvian" worlds. In fact, 19th century European impressions of Africa were dichotomous...

The literate civilizations of North Africa were looked at in a Biblical context, or in terms of the classical world of Greece, Rome and Babylon. The Romans and Greeks had traded across the Sahara, and, in fact, the first MAPS of Africa were produced by Arabian traders (e.g. the gold trade). (See other maps produced by the Majorcan Cartographic School in the fourteenth century in the Catalan Atlas.). Indians and Arabs traded down the East Coast, and Portuguese established colonies on the west coast.

Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, was viewed largely in the racist context of the slave trade -- and Europeans were convinced that Africa and Africans had NO HISTORY or culture. They were only beginning to explore the continental interior...

e.g. quote from German Philosopher Hegel:

Western thought has learned alot since that time (though we still live with rampant racism), in part through systematic (scientific) research that began in the early part of this century, launched by natural historians and geologists.

Geography of Africa:

First, Africa is BIG...an isolated land mass with limited contact with other lands, coming close to the Eurasian continent in 3 places: the Straits of Gibraltar, the isthmus of Suez, the southern end of the Red Sea

Link to diverse MAPS of Africa

Prominent topography, a "highland backbone" along the eastern margin, an area of geological uplift and faulting, the Great Rift Valley. Mountains particularly high in northeast (Ethiopian plateau). The rest of the continent has low relief, with folded mountain ranges at southern and northern tips of continent

Rainfall is heaviest in west (Zairean basin): tropical rainfall in dense forests, and caught on western face of highlands (with rain shadow to the east)... a central soggy core, with a symmetrical series of arcs of decreasing rainfall radiating out, until one reaches extreme N & S tips of continent, where rainfall gets heavier again (and rainfally regime is different)

Vegetation patterns correspond almost exactly with rainfall patterns

View directly the current satellite images (visible image or infrared image) that show today's cloud cover and storm patterns across the African continent TODAY!

Africa's climate has fluctuated through time,

For the first half of this century, prehistorians were mainly interested in documenting the antiquity of prehistoric cultures in Africa. This was challenging because there was no objective way to measure that actual age of artifacts... no dating techniques had been invented. So archaeologists worked to establish sequences of cultures through stacks of geological layers = relative dating. In contrast, Chapter 2 in your Human Beginnings text outlines a nice sample of the modern dating techniques we now have access to.

Some stratigraphic sequences are easy to decipher... others are more difficult. We'll look at examples from South Africa next week.

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 Professor Jeanne Sept
 (812) 855-5395 ; email: SEPT  
 Office Hours Student Bldg 038

TH 1:00-3:00, or by appt.

   Lectures: Student Bldg 150

TuTh 11:15-12:30

Human Origins in Africa | African Resources | Archaeology Links |
Sept teaching interests | IU Anthropology
Sept research | Sept Home Page


Last updated: 29 August, 2000
URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/teach/p314/xxx.html
Comments: sept@indiana.edu
Copyright Jeanne Sept 1998 : do not cite without permission

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