Ancient African Science

Since Africa is the birthplace of mankind, it only makes sense that the earliest developments for tool making and science also happened there. The various cultures of Africa began creating their own boats as early as 100,000 BC. and they continued to invent an astounding number of things through the Middle Ages.

From beer to making glass, Ancient Africans were inventive and imaginative. As traders expanded into other lands, they took their inventions with them and introduced them to other cultures.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

Pottery, Iron, Steel and Silver

Science must be developed from earlier inventions and around 1000 BC, women in Africa were more involved in technology and science than those of the same period in West Asia, Rome or Greece. In 400 BC, women made African pottery that was used to smelt iron.

Metal-smiths in Carthage, North Africa found out how to mix the lesser cost tin with copper, and through a slow cooling process, they could make it so thin that it looked like silver.


Early African cultures used natural herbs and mixtures to help heal many ailments. Thanks to their documentation, we know that Ancient Egyptians set up schools for medicine, with each new group adding to the knowledge of the previous ones.

They had the ability to accomplish complex surgeries, heal digestive problems, mend broken bones, and handle a variety of problems with both the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Around 300 BC the Ptolemies established a library and university in Alexandria, Egypt.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region


The incredible sophistication of mathematic abilities are demonstrated with the design and construction of many of the Egyptian structures, especially the pyramids. The ancients used what are known as “tally sticks” for precise measurements. These were long pieces of wood or bone that had markings on them for quantities. Some that have been found were as old as 43,000 years.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region


The discovery and use of metal is one of the highest priorities for survival as well as many of the daily functions in ancient Africa. Ancient Africans were making use of metals long before people in other parts of the world. As far back as 2,500 years ago they were smelting iron and 2,000 years ago impressive metallurgists in Tanzania were found to craft exceptional metals.

Around 500 CE, ancient Africans made carbon steel, something that was not done by industrial England until the 19th century.

The Calendar

Many cultures around the globe looked to the stars to guide them on their journeys. Ancient Africans studied astronomy very early on to create calendars for the movement of the seasons as well as the Earth, moon, sun, and stars. Some archeologists have found the earliest evidence dating back to stone circles that are similar to those found in Stonehenge, but much older.

These have been dated up to 75,000 years old and are possibly some of the oldest human-constructed in the world. Aristarchus had figured out that the earth went around the sun in the 200s BC. A scholar named Frastothenes from Libya had calculated the earth’s circumference in Alexandria as well as the distance to the moon.


Archeologists are learning that the ancient Africans established trade routes, navigating small boats and larger sailboats throughout Africa and all the way to South America. They used both the star routes and navigational calculations to travel thousands of miles. Some evidence indicates that they may have gone as far as Asia.

Other examples of Ancient African Science:

This alphabet is still used today in different areas of trade and more modern forms for Berber languages. A variation known as Neo-Tifinagh has around 55 characters.

  • Around 10 BC, in what is now modern-day Morocco, Juba II and wife Cleopatra Selene worked together to write quite a few science books.
  • Cleopatra and Juba II also sent expeditions to the Canary Islands for scientific research.
  • Even when Africa was controlled by Rome, any African scientists contributed to the library in Alexandria.
  • Ptolemy was an Egyptian geographer born around 90 AD and worked at Alexandria at the university to draw a map of the world.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region


Why was developing the use of metal an important scientific discovery for Ancient Africans?

survival and daily functions

What were two of the medical procedures that Ancient Africans perfected?

complex surgeries, heal digestive problems, mend broken bones, and handle a variety of problems with both the cardiovascular and nervous systems

What were ancient African women contributing to for the success of iron smelting in 400 BC?

making the pottery to smelt the iron

How far back is it thought that Ancient Africans were building boats?

100,000 BC

What are “tally sticks?”

These were long pieces of wood or bone that had markings on them for quantities

How old are some of the earliest ancient African stone calendar structures believed to be?

75,000 years old