The Kingdom of Kush
The legendary Kingdom of Kush (now northern Sudan) helped define the political and cultural landscape of north-eastern Africa for more than a thousand years. Ancient Nubian cultures were sophisticated and cosmopolitan, as the region served as a major trading centre for goods from the African interior, Arabian desert, and Mediterranean basin. From sub-Saharan Africa, Nubian communities traded gold, ivory, ebony, and animal pelts and imported olive oil, timber and bronze from Arabia, Egypt and the Mediterranean. African animals such as monkeys, elephants, and giraffes were exported to private zoos across Europe and the Near East.
Modern Sudan is forced to balance its economic and political growth with its archaeological history. Sudan’s population is growing, with more Sudanese seeking a better way of life. This has resulted in larger urban areas and a much greater demand for electricity to power homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals. At least three dams planned on Sudan’s Upper Nile would later drown Nubian archaeological sites. Urban development, meanwhile, has uncovered Nubian sites and artifacts—including mummies.
The Mali Empire
From the 13th century, West Africa was home to the great Mali Empire. Established by King Sundiata Keita, the kingdom united several smaller, Malinké Kingdoms near the Upper Niger River. Mali expanded its territory, influence, and culture over the course of four centuries, and at its peak it was one of the jewels of the African continent and was known the world over for its wealth and luxury which allowed the kingdom to enjoy the benefits of being at the centre of trade in Africa. An abundance of gold dust and salt deposits helped to expand the empire’s commercial assets. The Mali Empire eventually disintegrated in the 16th century when the Moroccan Empire occupied the area.
Today, some believe the former ruler Mansa Musa could have been the richest man in history. Islamic learning centres, schools, and universities, and the grandest library in all of Africa were a direct result of his rule and made Mali into a multilingual and multi-ethnic kingdom.
The Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe is the name of the stone ruins of an ancient city near modern day Masvingo, Zimbabwe. People lived in Great Zimbabwe beginning around 1100 C.E. but abandoned it in the 15th century. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe and also ruled over modern day Botswana and Mozambique.
Great Zimbabwe was part of a large and wealthy global trading network, it was particularly rich in cattle and precious metals, and stood astride a trade route that connected the region’s gold fields with ports on the Indian Ocean coast. Archaeologists have found pottery from China and Persia, as well as Arab coins in the ruins there. The city at the Great Zimbabwe was mysteriously abandoned sometime in the 15th century but in its heyday it was home to an estimated 20,000 people. The legacy of Great Zimbabwe lives on as one of the largest and most culturally important archaeological sites of its kind in Africa.