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African Ingenuity

Did You Know That These 10 Inventions Actually Originated From Africa?

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Here is an interesting fact; when Alexander Graham Bell died in August 1922, all telephones in the US and Canada stopped ringing for one minute as a tribute to him. How astonishing, right? This gesture shows that inventors are highly valued. However, this is not always the case. It appears the level of respect an inventor commands depends on the color of their skin.

Several inventors never receive credit for their inventions. For instance, several inventions were developed by Africans who never got full credit for it. The fact that not much is known about these inventions paints a picture of an uncivilized continent. Today we want to highlight ten of the numerous inventions that originated from Africa. This is in a bid to inspire young talent and give credit where it’s due.

#1 – Math was an ancient Egyptian invention

ancient math inventions

The Rhind Mathematics Papyrus dates 1550 BC as Evidence of ancient Egyptians Mathematics. (Image source: Britannica)

Archaeology has revealed that the earliest forms of counting were used in Egypt. Also, the modern-day concepts taught in school borrow greatly from the minds of the early Africans. This includes divisions, multiplications, fractions, and area calculation. Furthermore, it was the Egyptians who predicted the circle to have 360 degrees and estimated pi to at 3.16.

Similarly, the Yoruba and Zaire people developed their numeric system. In fact, the oldest known mathematics artifact was found in Swaziland and it dates back to 35,000 years. These are some of the compelling historical facts that point the origin of mathematics to Africa.

#2 – Navigation systems

early navigation systems

The traverse board was used for navigation in the sea by early Africans. (Image source: Curious Science)

Navigation, particularly on the sea, has its roots in North Africa. Water transport is one of the oldest means of transportation dating back to early civilization. The traverse board present in most sailing ships was first used in Egypt. Notwithstanding that the technology we have today was nonexistent then, they had to think critically on how to navigate the seas.

Heavenly bodies such as moons were relied upon for measuring latitudes, longitudes, and locations. Other tools for navigation were the hourglass, quadrants, and nautical charts. As colonists, Westerners quickly claimed ownership of those inventions. During the colonialism period, the Europeans built on the ideas they found in Africa.

#3 – Medicine 

invention of medicine in africa

This picture shows Isis on a birthing stool in ancient Egypt. (Image source: Medical News Today)

Early methods of treatment such as trepanning have been seen in skulls of ancient Africans. The popular belief back then was that illness and death were not natural occurrences. Thus, they believed they were possessions from an offended god or demons. Trepanation, the act of drilling holes on the skulls of people was deemed a remedy for illnesses. Although unclear, these methods seemed to work well for our ancestors.

Trepanation was not only found in skulls exhumed from Africa. In Russia, an archeologist known as Batieva has studied several skulls bearing similar holes. The difference with her discovery was that the people seemed healthy. Thus, trepanation could have been made for ritual purposes.

#4 – International trade

The Indian Ocean trade routes. (Image source: World History Blog)

Trade among countries dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries during the periods of barter trade systems. According to historians, the first trade route was developed between Africa and Asia. Commonly known as the Indian Ocean trade, this route facilitated the movement of goods between the two continents. It dates back to 800 A.D.

These trade routes led to the development of towns such as Mombasa and Malindi. As the world started interacting more, this type of trade grew. Eventually, other parts of the world started adopting international trade. In fact, in places like London and Amsterdam, there are remains of establishments that facilitated trade.

#5 – Writing and language

ancient writing inventions in Egypt

Hieroglyphic writing on a temple wall at Karnak, Egypt. (Image credits: uwimages/Fotolia)

Africa being the cradle of mankind means a lot for humanity. Proto-Saharan, which was the oldest form of writing was developed between 5000 and 3000 B.C. in Africa. Artifacts were found in caves that had ancient writings to prove the origin of writing.

Likewise, research shows that sub-Saharan African ancestors were the first to develop a language system. Every language in the world—from English to Mandarin—evolved from a prehistoric ‘mother tongue’ first spoken in Africa tens of thousands of years ago, a new study reveals. The evolution of language in Africa birth the different dialects we have today.

#6 – Metallurgy 

Iron smelting in Africa from a drawing of 1831 and ironworking in Madagascar in 1853. (Image source: History of Africa)

The Copper Age (5000 – 3000 BCE) is the oldest record time of metal usage in our lifetime. This age was preceded by the Stone Age also known as Neolithic. During the Copper Age, Egyptians primarily used copper for metalworking. They discovered the endless possibilities of this material and used it for weapons, decoration, and other tools. Similarly, the use of copper gave way for the use of bronze.

The early man experimented with these metals to see which fitted his needs well. Consequently, heavy mining started taking place in the continent. In fact, the oldest mine cave known as the Lion Cave was found in Swaziland. Also, this reliance on metals led to the invention of locomotives such as steam engines. Thus, metallurgy was a worthwhile African invention that shaped the future.

#7 – Architecture and engineering

African top tourist destinations

The Great Pyramids of Giza. (Image credits: Trafalgar Tour)

The great pyramids of Giza and Sphinx date back 4,500 years. Prior to their creation, complex structures were nonexistent. These pyramids have stood the test of time. To date, archaeologists still cannot wrap their heads around the feats of engineering used to build the pyramids. One thing is clear that it was a complicated process that involved a lot of architectural designs and engineering. This paved way for modern-day architecture.

#8 – Use of fire

Michael Chazan (left), Francesco Berna (right), and their colleagues found evidence of 1-million-year-old wood ash inside Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, which was used by hominins as far back as 2 million years ago. (Photo credits: Wonderwerk Cave Research Project)

Archaeological records show that the first interaction of fire with humans dates back to 1.5 million ago in Africa. During this time, the fire was used to provide warmth, lighting, and to frighten predatory animals. However, the most common knowledge of fire in Africa is the smoke signals. As humans evolved more, the applications of fire increased. Were it not for the invention of fire, humanity could not have figured out the benefits of cooked food. African inventions such as this, shaped the future of humanity.

#9 – The Civil Calendar

Egyptian inventions

Evolution of the Egyptian calendar. (Credits: Print Collector/Getty Images)

The history of calendar dates is long. However, the Bronze Age is known to have the earliest calendar system. This period was predominant in the ancient Near East, particularly Egypt, Mesopotamia, Middle East, and ancient Iran. In addition to inventing writing, Egyptians contributed greatly to the modern-day calendar system. The Egyptian calendar was the first to popularize that the year has 365 days. This calendar formed the basis for which we use today to keep track of time.

#10 – Astronomy

astronomy inventions in africa

The Nabta Playa Site is the oldest known astrological observatory site. (Image source: African News)

Ancient Africans had a profound knowledge of the universe. This knowledge was obtained from observation and curiosity. As such, they represented the movement of heavenly bodies in organized fashions. Egyptians charted the movement of the sun and the cycles of the moon. Consequently, this formed the basis of the modern-day calendar. In regions such as Mali, the ancient Dogon people had already known of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter moons, the Milky Way, and so on. Discoveries such as these paved way for astronomy as a discipline. Subsequently, most of what is known today about astronomy was derived from the ancient Africans.

Conclusion

In western culture, Africans are portrayed as primitive and illiterate because most African regions are underdeveloped or developing. However, were it not for Africans, most of the advancements in sciences would be nonexistent. Also, most of these early African inventions remain are essential to humanity.

Sadly, Africans don’t get enough credit for them. Thus it often seems like to create anything meaningful, Africans must leave the continent and move to a western country. This mindset kills the zeal of potential inventors on the continent. Therefore, it is time to rewrite the narrative. The challenge now is for Africans to keep inventing. Your solutions could change the world for millennia from now.

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