We are having a debate on the old blog about a post I made attacking White nationalists for saying that Africans were still living in the Stone Age on contact. In the post, I noted that Africans had not attained a high level of development. A person who has been dosed with Afrocentrism has challenged this, saying that Africans indeed had reached a high level of development, just as good as Europeans.
I don’t want to get on some Africa-bashing high horse here, but this nonsense needs to be answered.
The evidence for a high level of development was a university in Timbuktu along with numerous written material there and the achievement of ironworking. I have already dealt with ironworking on the old blog.
Sadly, many White nationalists refuse to acknowledge that Africans even worked iron. Working iron is pretty good – most Amerindian tribes never made it to the metalworking stage. If you’re working metal, you’re out of the Stone Age – that’s the definition of the Stone Age right there – Stone Age folks are not working metal yet.
Nevertheless, this achievement does need to be seen in perspective. After a lot of research, I concluded that Africans had not developed ironworking de novo as many Afrocentrists believe. For one thing, they completely skipped the typically essential first phases of copper working and bronze working. What seems like a quantum leap is probably more a case of direct cultural borrowing.
Sure, cultures borrow all the time, and de novo development isn’t real common. Europe Proper didn’t even develop metalworking themselves. It started in Asia Minor, in Turkey, with the Hittites, and flowed out to Europe, North Africa, etc. from there. After going through this excellent paper (available on this blog here – 55 pages but worth it if you are interested in the controversy), I conclude1 that Africans got iron from Carthage 2,500 years ago (Alpern 2005).
From there, it went to Niger and Mauritania then south to northern Nigeria.
The Bantus in the Cameroon developed this skill very well, and there is good evidence that this is what enabled the famous Bantu Expansion of 2,500 years ago in which the Bantus expanded across Africa. The Bantus had good agriculture and iron. They used the iron to make spears and farm implements, and this was a good enough advantage that they were able to expand across Africa at the expense of the Pygmies and Khoisan who populated it at the time.
So, for the Afrocentrists, even their “miraculous” ironworking is not as great as it seems. It is here compared absurdly to “steel making,” which it is claimed that Whites only got in the 1850’s. Africans were supposedly making this “steel” for 2,500 years, and White Americans never figured it out until 150 years ago. Not going into the whole complex business of forging metals, but that’s a total misrepresentation of the available data.
One thing that the Africans did do was wildly and amazingly expand on the ironmaking technique they got from Carthage. Their ingenuity in creating seemingly hundreds of ways to forge iron was pretty amazing. However, it must be a blow to Afrocentrists that the technology itself came from the hated White man, Carthaginians being probably at most 13% Black, and therefore a mostly-White grouping.
Further, once one acquires iron, one really ought to set about making some sort of machinery. My understanding is that Africans never invented even the most primitive machine, not even a hinge. That’s not so advanced.
The university at Timbuktu, I will grant, is an achievement for Africans. Malians are clearly Black folks, and it’s impressive that they had a university stacked with books.
However, the script that the people in Timbuktu used was Arabic, so the Timbuktu university cannot be used as evidence that Africans developed writing. They did not. They simply borrowed a script from the mostly-White Arabs of North Africa. Once again, Black man borrowing from hated Whitey. Not quite the smashing achievement that Afrocentrists want to see.
Further, it appears there was little or no education of any sort, much less centers of higher learning, south of the Sahara. Nor was there much advanced thinking going on. Yet in Greece and Rome, in India and the Middle East, in China, in southern Mexico, scholars were advancing medicine, literature, philosophy, mathematics, science, political theory, etc. In Africa? Nothing at all, other than the Dogons figuring out some astronomy.
Further, the Africans in Mali around Timbuktu may be as much as 50% Caucasian. The Whiter Africans were the ones setting up the universities, reading books, writing stuff down and even figuring out astronomy.
A writing script is a very high level of development. The most primitive level are the ideographs and hieroglyphics of the Egyptians.
The first actual alphabet based on sound-symbol correspondence seems to have arisen in the Middle East around the Holy Land maybe 3,000 years ago or so (no, it was not the Hebrew alphabet of the Jews – that is derivative).
From there, it rapidly fanned out all over the world. The other writing systems of the Middle East, Europe, Persia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia, all the way up to Mongolia and the Hangul of Korea, all seem to have stemmed from this first alphabet from the Holy Land.
It was not just scripts that people were borrowing. They were merely borrowing the concept of a script. As everyone spoke different tongues, each group had to adopt the alphabet to their own language in various ways. This often involved radically new sets of symbols.
It appears that Africans never got around to doing this – feel free to look over the data yourself. There were books in Timbuktu, but they were in Arabic script. Africans never looked at that alphabet and tried to make a sound-symbol corresponding alphabet for any of their own multiplicity of tongues.
It is true that in the last 200 years, some African alphabets have been invented. Some of them are pretty good – the Vai script is one of them. But the Vai script seems to have been borrowed from Sequoia’s Cherokee script. In the past century, more scripts have been developed, but not that many. It seems that quite a few African languages are not even written down to this day.
Egypt is routinely trotted out as a great Black civilization. It is almost pitiful the way Afrocentrists so long to grab this society for themselves. It doesn’t take a lot of digging to figure out that Egypt was only a Black civilization in the last 200 years, as it was declining towards collapse.
In its final days, Black Nubians (actually ~60% Caucasian) did conquer Ancient Egypt and proceed over its final death throes. They didn’t do much to advance Egyptian civilization. They were more bed-watchers at the hospice of Ancient Egypt.
The great achievements of Egyptian civilization were accomplished by people with approximately the same racial background as the Egyptians of today – about 91% Caucasian and 9% Black. The Black is derived from Ethiopic stock. “Black Athena” is complete nonsense2.
White Nationalists typically use these arguments to hit Black people over the head and call them a failed race, as if the past automatically predicts the future. Were that true, Germans would be running around in bearskins destroying every building they saw. So that is not my intention here.
While WN’s grotesquely exaggerate the relatively low level of African civilization, Afrocentists hallucinate great things out of thin air. They are both wrong. Africans were surely out of the Stone Age and they had the full array of agriculture, which advances them at least beyond most Amerindians.
Let’s give credit where it’s due. But they’re no challengers to the Chinese, Hittites, East Indians, Greeks or Romans. In many ways, they were bested even by Filipinos and Indonesians.
What does this hold for the future. Who knows? The past is dead and gone. Blacks in the US at least are the smartest, most accomplished and most advanced Blacks on Earth, and now they’ve even seated a Black man at the head of our nation.
Even Africa has modern cities, modern medicine, universities, scholars and world-class mathematicians. The past is the past, nothing can be done about it. What’s important is the achievements of today and especially tomorrow, not beating people up over their report card centuries or millenia ago.
- 1.The Iron Age in East and South Africa extends certainly from 1,100 YBP, probably to 1,800 YBP, and possibly to 2,500 YBP. There are many Iron Age sites in Kenya. Madagascar was using iron in 1,100 YBP. Iron was also forged in the Kivu in Zaire. Near Lake Chad are Iron Age sites going back 2,000 years. (Shaw et al, p. 456.)Ironworking technology was introduced to Africa 2,500 years ago in many forms, then underwent a remarkable period of development and change over the next 2,500 years. This is the best synthesis of the data.
A new site from southeastern Nigeria goes back 2,500 years. Buhaya in NW Tanzania goes back 2,900 years. (Shaw et al, p. 434.). Copper was mined and worked in Mauritania at Akjoujt 2,900 YBP and in Agadez in Niger around the same time. This is in the same area (Tok) as the earliest iron working dates.
In Taruga in Nigeria and Kagera in NW Tanzania, there could have been a copper-iron transition 3000 YBP. (Shaw et al, p. 433.)
2.“The biological affinities of the ancient Egyptians were tested against their neighbors and selected prehistoric groups as well as against samples representing the major geographic population clusters of the world. Two dozen craniofacial measurements were taken on each individual used.
“The raw measurements were converted into C scores and used to produce Euclidean distance dendrograms. The measurements were principally of adaptively trivial traits that display patterns of regional similarities based solely on genetic relationships.
“The Predynastic of Upper Egypt and the Late Dynastic of Lower Egypt are more closely related to each other than to any other population. As a whole, they show ties with the European Neolithic, North Africa, modern Europe, and, more remotely, India, but not at all with sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Asia, Oceania, or the New World.” (Brace 1993)
- Alpern, S. 2005. Did They or Didn’t They Invent It? Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa. History in Africa 32:41-94 (Download on this site here).
Brace, C. Loring. 1993. Clines and Clusters Versus “Race:” A Test in Ancient Egypt and the Case of a Death on the Nile.
Shaw, Thurston, Sinclair, Paul, Andah, Bassey, Okpoko, Alex and others. 1993. The Archeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns. London: Routledge.