The hidden history of pre-colonial African urbanism

Africa has a human history that stretches back further than any other continent on Earth. But in the 1950s and 60s, the prevailing opinion amongst experts and scholars was that cities were imported from surrounding continents and cultures.

Five decades on and academic opinion has conclusively proven that cities appeared in Africa much earlier than original estimates surmised – and that the continent actually developed the metropolitan concept independently of non-African cultures. Sites in the Nile Delta region previously thought of as mere towns or communes have been upgraded, with major African cities like Armana, Thebes and Memphis sitting amongst other distinctly African metropolitan areas; ‘Jazira’ settlements built on islands in the Niger, as well as cities constructed on dykes and artificial hills.

Even so, the mistaken colonial sentiment appears to still have an impact on human opinion today, with many amateur historians making the same mistake while discussing African history and urbanism online.

‘Commustar’ is a Reddit user and moderator of popular subreddits African History and Middle East History. In a new podcast for Ask Historians (another subreddit he moderates), Commustar discusses this common mis-opinion as part of a continent-wide, millenia-spanning overview of the development, influences and functions of urban society in Africa. It’s a fascinating listen; beginning in ancient Egypt, rolling down the coast and through time towards the Horn of Africa, the Swahili Coast, Great Zimbabwe and Ghana, before tackling the emerging colonial influence of European states at the end of the 15th century.

Listen in on the podcast here.

Image via kairoinfo4u / cc

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