Originally, we all came from Africa. It was there that we first walked upright on two legs, fashioned and grasped tools with our hands, and created new worlds out of the thought made possible by a brain the size and complexity of our own. Africa is humanity's cradle.  
About 70,000 years ago, a person in Blombos, South Africa, imagined and planned out a design, carefully etched it on the piece to the right, and created new meanings we can only imagine.
People had long chipped an increasingly complex kit of functional tools out of stone and other materials.  But this piece is different. It was created some 35,000 years before the beautiful paintings in the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet along the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. A piece of iron ore stone ochre was scraped and ground to produce a flat surface.  Then an artist carved a complex geometric array of carved lines, and viewers must have been transformed by seeing this beauty beyond immediate functionality.  Thinking beyond immediate experience, imagining, abstractly conceiving, deliberately and skillfully transforming nature to better serve our purposes; this artist gave birth in Blombos to culture.
  Culture was born again and again, before and after Blombos.  It was in Africa where we first spoke, shared information with each other, and exchanged  news and ideas.  The shared words and linguistic structure served to enhance the complexity of our relationships.  Humanity's oldest language groups come from Africa: spoken first by the people of the arrow (the Khoisan languages), the hoe (Niger-Congo), and the stick (Nilo-Saharan).

More than 4,000 paintings and carvings from about 8,000 years ago are found at Tassili-n-Ajer, a corpus showing a rich set of perceptions and representations.

Long before the Europeans arrived in Africa, the rulers of Benin oversaw the construction of a city wall seven miles in circumference and 57 feet tall; 1,000 people worked ten hours a day for five years to erect it.  And this was just the start of a far more ambitious set of building projects.  Hundreds of bronze statues and plaques - depicting scenes of ceremony, ritual, and conquest - adorned the oba's palaces.

By the first century A.D., Aksum, Ethiopia was the center of an Empire that stretched from the Red Sea to southern Arabia.  They issued their own coinage in gold, silver, and bronze.  The leaders of Persia, another empire never subdued by the Romans, at that time described the Aksum as one of the four great empires of the world (along with themselves, Rome, and China).
Ethiopia embraced Christianity by 400 A.D., when most of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.  The country built some 20,000 churches, with eleven carved from solid rock. Kebkab Wube Wodemariam (above) is training to become a priest by learning scriptures written in Ge'ez, Africa's oldest written language. 

The door (to the right) at the Narga Selassie Church at Lake Tana is decorated with guardian angels who protect a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.  The original ark, the chest containing the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments, was said to have been brought to Ethiopia and is kept at the Church of St. Mary in Axum.

The physical and cultural story of humanity began in Africa.  It has been repeatedly retold and refashioned there.  Please join us in SAC 300 at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, and hear Lee Cassanelli discuss the rich diversity of early African cultures - and how archaeologists and historians  uncover them.

 
 

Sponsored by the Office of Mission Effectiveness
Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Africana Studies, the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, the Core Humanities Program, the Departments of Biology, Humanities and Augustinian Traditions, Political Science, Theology and Religious Studies.

 

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2005-06 Anthropology Lecture Series


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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