The diverse cultural life of Africa has been expressed through everyday objects and unique works of art since ancient times. The Museum’s collection of over 200,000 African items encompasses archaeological and contemporary material from across the continent.
Introduction to Africa
Humans first evolved in Africa, walking upright about five million years ago, and making the first tools about two and a half million years ago using the opposable thumb. The British Museum collection includes objects dating from this time, but also represents historic and contemporary societies across the continent.
Towards the end of the fourth millennium B.C.E. several independent city-states were unified to form a single state, marking the beginning of over 3,000 years of pharaonic civilization in the Nile Valley. Fertile earth left behind after the yearly Nile flood provided the basis for Egypt’s agricultural prosperity, a key factor in the longevity of the civilization.
Aksum was the name of a city and a kingdom which is essentially modern-day northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Aksum was a major naval and trading power from the 1st to the 7th centuries C.E. As a civilization it had a profound impact upon the people of Egypt, southern Arabia, Europe and Asia, all of whom were visitors to its shores, and in some cases were residents.
Ife is today regarded as the spiritual heartland of the Yoruba people living in Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and their many descendants around the world. It is rightly regarded as the birthplace of some of the highest achievements of African art and culture, combining technical accomplishment with strong aesthetic appeal.