Map of Nubia.
African Maps & Diagrams
The history of art in Africa goes far back in time, but we are not sure how far back. Thanks to the work done by the Leakeys in the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, it is generally accepted that human beings first developed in Africa and spread from there into the rest of the known world. A number of distinct racial groups developed in Africa itself, which ranged from the tiny pigmies of the jungle to the tall and willowy Masi herders of East Africa
Paleolithic remains have been found in various parts of Africa. During the Neolithic period we know that many people lived in what is now the Sahara Desert for many paintings have been found in caves that show early hunters as well as herders. The images show both white and negroid peoples, and some show chariots. They clearly were done over a long period of time, but it is extremely difficult to date them. Clearly changes have taken place in the land, since it now is complete desert, possibly the result of both changed weather patterns and overgrazing by animals. The soil layer in much of the upper half of Africa is thin and the desert is relentless. Droughts can be catastrophic since the soil does not allow for production of large surpluses, creating problems that account for many of the difficulties that currently plague Africa.
Below the Sahara desert a broad band stretches from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, first with sparse vegetation (a band referred go as the Sahel), which gradually increases along with the rainfall as one goes south, creating fertile lands that can support a greater population density. The forests gradually increase until we come to the area around the equator, which is covered by dense jungles. From the equator south the vegetative zones reverse themselves. In the south west is another great desert known as the Kalahari, which supports little life.
Although it is becoming increasingly clear that a great deal of art was produced in Africa over a very long time, the vast majority of the African art that we see in museums dates from the 19th and 20th centuries. This is because it is primarily of wood, and wood does not last in the humid climate of the jungle. Stone, ceramic and metal stand up much better, and archeologists are slowing uncovering works in these media which can tell us much more about the early art work of Africa. What becomes more and more clear is the tremendous diversity of African art forms, bringing with it a clear limitation on the validity of any generalizations made in an introduction such as this.
Some of the most interesting early work done by black Africans comes from Nubia, a region just south of Egypt, where the climate was dry and the yearly flooding of the Nile created fertile land that was exploited by the early Nubian farmers. The Nile also served as a great highway which connected the people of Nubia with the Egyptians, which we will see had some very interesting results for both. The works that we will be looking at were primarily created in the area between the 1st and 6th cataracts, important landmarks or rather "river marks" along the Nile. The area lies in Egypt above Aswan and what is present-day Sudan. Ethiopia lies to the south.
The area was known as Nubia by the Romans, as Aethopia by the Greeks, and Kush by the ancient Hebrews. Writers often use the term KUSH or Kushite to refer to the great kingdoms that arose in the area. Note the cities of Kerma, Djebel Barkal and Meroe, which were important centers of empire at different times.
Map of Nubia.