Ancient African Writing

Ancient African writing is a large collection of the oldest writing systems in the world. Long before the ancient Greeks developed their writing system in 1,400 B.C.E. there were numerous ancient African writing systems in place.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

In fact ancient Greek writing is based on older ancient African writing. Not even ancient Asia can lay claim to the oldest form of writing in ancient societies. Ancient Asian writing was created around 3,000 B.C.E.

How do we know about ancient African writing?

Over the years archeologists have worked with linguists to solve the many puzzles of ancient African writing.

Archeologists have unearthed numerous samples of ancient African writing on rocks, temples, stelae, pottery, and other artifacts.

The primary way for ancient Africans to write was on rock until papyrus tablets were used as a form of paper.


Types of ancient African writing

Of course, the first form of writing and communication in ancient Africa was rock art. The pictographs created told a story of when, where, who, what, and why.

Largely created by symbols, rock art is the earliest form of ancient African writing. Combining pictures with symbols started around 5,000 B.C.E. in Nubia or present-day Sudan.

Ancient Egypt developed three ancient African writing systems called hieroglyphics around 4,000 B.C.E., hieratic was created around 3200 B.C.E and demotic around 650 B.C.E.

The ancient writing systems were used by numerous kingdoms such as Kemet and Kush. Demotic writing gained its name from legendary historian Herodotus and means common people.

Nsibidi is an ancient African writing that was created in West Central Africa around 5,000 B.C.E. The system was widely used in ancient areas of present-day Nigeria and Cameroon.

This ancient African writing relies on symbols and is independent of Arabic, Latin or Roman influence.

Tifinagh was first found in rock art that was created around 3,000 B.C.E. in present-day southern Algeria.

Also known as Lybico-Berber or Mande, this ancient African writing is still used today by tribes in West and North African countries.

Vai is an elaborate ancient African writing with more than 200 symbols that represent distinct characters.

The Phoenician alphabet.

The writing system includes consonants and vowels. Inscriptions of this writing were found in Mali dating back to 3,000 B.C.E.

Meroitic also known as Napatan was developed around 800 B.C.E. in Nubia. It is unknown if this ancient African writing has been fully deciphered.

Ge’ez is an ancient African writing that consists of 231 characters. Ge’ez is the oldest continually used writing system in the world and was created around 800 B.C.E. in present-day Ethiopia.

Important facts about ancient African writing

  • The earliest form of writing was rock art.
  • Ancient African writing is the largest collection and oldest of all written script in the world.
  • Ancient African writing dates back to around 5,000 B.C.E.
  • Most ancient African writing contained symbols and pictures.
  • Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were created around 4,000 B.C.E.
  • Nsibidi was invented around 5,000 B.C.E. and is independent of Arabic, Roman or Latin influence.
  • Ge’ez writing contains more than 200 characters that include vowels and consonants.
  • Meroitic writing is the least understood ancient African writing and it is not known whether the writing has been deciphered.


  1. What is considered to be the oldest form of ancient African writing?

Rock art

  1. What do most ancient African writing systems use as consonants and vowels?

Symbols, characters, and pictures

  1. What ancient African writing uses more than 200 characters that include consonants and vowels?


  1. How many types of ancient African writing did the ancient Egyptians develop?