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Dawn of the Iron Age

- Development of Farming Communities in West Africa -

- Bantu Migration -

- Meroe -

- Aksum -

- Ethiopia -

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The first metal worked in Africa was copper, smelted and forged in Egypt before its unification in 3100 bc. Copper and stone remained the main tool-making materials in Egypt until the 17th century bc, when the Hyksos invasion from the Middle East brought bronze, a harder alloy, to North Africa. During Egypt’s New Kingdom, gold was forged into jewelry and elaborate furniture to decorate the pharaohs’ palaces and tombs. Far to the west of Egypt, in the Air Mountains of what is now Niger, copper working was independently invented some time after 3000 bc. These early metalworkers probably spoke a Nilo-Saharan language, perhaps ancestral to modern Songhai. By 1500 bc their copper-working techniques and furnaces were well developed and the technology had spread to other copper-bearing areas of the southern Sahara.

Iron is a much harder metal to smelt than copper, requiring larger quantities of charcoal and much higher temperatures. Its invention, therefore, required considerable expertise in furnace building. While the knowledge of ironworking was first brought to northeast Africa from the Middle East after 670 bc, the techniques had been independently invented in sub-Saharan Africa some 300 years earlier. Presumably building upon furnace techniques developed for the smelting of copper, metalworkers were smelting iron in Chad and the Great Lakes region (an area in East Africa between and around Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika) by 1000 bc. From these centers of development, ironworking spread among the agricultural peoples of West, Central, and East Africa, reaching southern Africa in the early centuries AD.

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