Ancient Africa’s Contributions to Modern Science and Built Environment

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The world we live in is one that is constantly on the ascension of technology in a bid to answer a plethora of life’s questions or to make certain tasks easier. It is quite sad that the African genius is not credited for being the first pioneers in most areas that we continuously strive to understand and advance. The first mathematics formulas, astronomy, medicine and architecture principles amongst other things find their origin in Africa but this is seldom heralded.

The African contribution to modern day is immense, more than 35,000 years ago, Egyptians scripted textbooks about math that included division and multiplication of fractions and geometric formulas to calculate the area and volume of shapes. Distances and angles were calculated, algebraic equations were solved, and mathematically based predictions were made of the size of floods of the Nile. The oldest mathematical instrument is the Lebombo bone, a baboon fibula which was found in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland. The device is at least 35, 000 years old it has 29 distinct markings which could have been used for tracking menstrual or lunar cycles or mere measurements.

An evidence of modern algebra and geometry is clear in the “Moscow Papyrus” (2000 BC). It was purchased by Vladimir Golenishchev sometime in the 1890s. It is written in hieratic from perhaps the 13th Kemet dynasty the document contains approximately 25 mathematical problems, including how to calculate the length of a ship’s rudder and various ways of solving difficult math.

Modern astronomy finds its birthplace in Africa as noted through the Egyptians who charted the movement of the sun and constellations and the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into 12 parts and developed a yearlong calendar system containing 365 ¼ days.  The African Stonehenge in present-day Kenya (constructed around 300 B.C.) is a remarkably accurate calendar. The Dogon people of Mali although their events are mainly marked around space events are also credited with knowledge of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, the spiral structure of the Milky Way and the orbit of the Sirius star system. Hundreds of years ago, they plotted orbits in this system accurately through to the year 1990.

The architectural brilliance of the Africans is in full display not only through the pyramids in Egypt but right across the continent. The Great Zimbabwe monument is a revelation of a mastery and brilliance in architecture as never seen before. It is even more astounding to note that the strong foundations of these structures are still intact after hundreds of years post their construction. In the 13th century, the empire of Mali boasted impressive cities, including Timbuktu, with grand palaces, mosques and universities. The timing of the construction of most structures shows that Africa was ahead of the rest of the world in erection of structures of such quality.

Medicines that are used in the modern world had been in use in Egypt, Nigeria and across Africa before the European invasion of Africa. Van Sertima in the lost sciences of Africa alludes to the use of the use of plants with salicylic acid for pain (as in aspirin), kaolin for diarrhoea (as in Kaopectate), and extracts that were confirmed in the 20th century to kill gram positive bacteria. This shows the strides that had been made pre colonial invasions in Africa and immense contributions to modern day medicine to which there is little credit given for such. Instead most of the credit goes to Europeans who only heralded what they had seen in practice in Africa. 

In the ancient cities not only did the African cities have rooms for specific trades but there is evidence of strides taken in tool making and metallurgy as well. Advances in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago surpassed those of Europeans then and were astonishing to Europeans when they learned of them. Ancient Tanzanian furnaces could reach 1,800°C — 200 to 400°C warmer than those of the Romans.

African contributions to the modern day built environment and science is easily thrown at the back of discussions if noted at all, whereas it is the Africans who started with some mathematical formulas and helped advances in most spheres of the modern world.

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