Ancient African Art

Ancient African Art developed over the centuries from the start of humankind. Ancient Africa is known as the cradle of the world and where civilization started.

Rock paintings are the earliest known ancient African art found dating back 20,000 years old. Ancient African Art is unique for many reasons including its use, materials, craftsmanship, and themes.
Mask; wood coloured with kaolin

Regions of Ancient Africa Art

The African continent is large and diverse. The continent has gone through many changes since the start of humankind.

Ancient African art is different in northern Africa where much of the art was influenced by Islam.

Ancient African art in areas like the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia relied heavily on Europe and Christianity.

Other important regions that produced ancient African art are the Sahara Desert and ancient Egypt.


Materials played an important role in the preservation of ancient African art. Much of ancient African art was crafted using materials such as wood and plants.

Sudanese basket-tray, tabar of weaved natural plant fibre, coloured in different colours

Ancient African art made from these two materials weathered and do not exist today. The ancient African art that has survived is primarily made from rock, ivory, ceramics, and metals such as bronze and iron.

Forms of ancient African art

There were numerous forms of ancient African art that were crafted. Ancient African art concentrated more on three dimensional figures than two dimensional.

Ancient African art came in many forms including masks, sculptures, jewelry, and pottery. Ancient Africans also produced thousands of pieces of rock art from paintings to carvings.

Masks were constructed mainly of wood. Ancient African masks were during ceremonies and were accompanied by dance.

Head of a scepter; 19th century

There have been masks found crafted of ivory and bronze. Ancient African masks were decorated with gem stones, paint, animal fur, and other items.

Pottery was made of ceramics in ancient Africa. This type of ancient African art was primarily used for everyday household items like plates, bowls, water storage and cooking pots.

Most were not ornate but some were painted with intricate shapes.Sculptures in ancient African art were crafted in wood, ivory, bronze, and terracotta.

Ancient African sculptures were made in the shape of humans and there have been animal sculptures found in ancient Africa.

Jewelry played an important role in ancient African art. Jewelry was a sign of wealth in ancient Africa. Ancient African jewelry was crafted from shells, gold, gem stones, and sometimes silver.

Rock art in ancient Africa came in many forms. Some rock art is painted and other rock art is carved in ancient Africa.

Ancient African rock art portrayed animals and people. The oldest rock art found in Namibia is between 27,000 and 40,000 years old. Rock art has been all around the Africa continent.

Many of the thousands of rock art sites have not been found due to its location in the Sahara or other rarely visited places on the continent.

Themes in ancient Africa art

Ancient African art themes were centered on the human form or body. The main subject of ancient African art was people.

There are examples of the natural human form and examples of the human form being larger-than-life or overstated.

Ancient African art also included animals with humans or a human form that was half animal and half human.

Important facts about ancient African art

  • Rock art is the oldest form of ancient African art.
  • There is rock art in Namibia that is 27,000 to 40,000 years old.
  • Wood was a primary material used in ancient African art.
  • More three dimensional ancient African art such as sculptures and masks have been found more than paintings.
  • The human form or body was more prevalent in ancient African art than animals.
  • Pottery in ancient Africa was rarely painted or etched.
  • Other materials used in crafting ancient African art included ivory and bronze.
  • Jewelry was a form of ancient African art and was a form of wealth.


  1. Where was the oldest rock art in ancient Africa found?


  1. What was the primary material used in ancient African art?


  1. What shape was used most in ancient African art?

Human body

  1. Ancient African art was created in three dimensional shapes such as masks and sculptures instead of what other type of art?

Two dimensional paintings