Prehistory of Africa

Archaeological evidence indicates that the coastal plain of ancient Libya was inhabited by Neolithic peoples from as early as 8000 BC, 10,000 b2k.

Prehistoric Libyan rock paintings in Tadrart Acacus reveal a Sahara once lush in vegetation and wildlife. Credit: Roberto D'Angelo (roberdan).{{free media}}

The Ancient Libyans were skilled in the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops.[1]

Recent history of Africa

This is a geographical map that approximately locates the contemporary political nation of Libya. Credit: Asav.{{free media}}
This is a satellite image of the contemporary political nation of Libya. Credit: Soerfm.{{free media}}
The map shows colonial rule in Africa as of 1914, especially Libya. Credit: Darby and Fullard, Modern History Atlas, and Robert Stock, Africa South of the Sahara.{{fairuse}}
This map depicts various anachronisms and despite the stated publication date (1898) of its work, was drawn between 1911 and 1914. Credit: Claude Augé. Paris, Librairie Larousse.{{free media}}

The vector, geographical map that approximately locates the political nation of Libya relative to other political nations such as Egypt, Sudan, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia, and to physical geography features like the Mediterranean Sea are shown at the right.

At the left is a satellite image of the Earth's surface that corresponds currently with the political nation of Libya.

Colonial claims:

  • British possessions are in yellow
  • French possessions in pink
  • Belgian in orange
  • German in green
  • Portuguese in purple
  • Italian in striped pink
  • Spanish in striped orange
  • independent Ethiopia in brown

This map on the left depicts various anachronisms and despite the stated publication date (1898) of its work, was drawn between 1911 and 1914:

  • Belgian Congo includes the Lado enclave, which was ceded to Anglo-Sudan in 1910.
  • Occupation of Libya by Italy started in 1911, and the colony was established in 1912.
  • "Cameroun" is depicted with the territory of German Neukamerun, ceded from France 1911.
  • Similarity with an actual map from 1914 on the right.


African human mitochondrial descent is included from 200 kya - 55 kya. Credit: Maulucioni.{{free media}}

The apparent origin and migration of hominins is traced in the mitochondrial descent of the prehistory of Africa in the map on the right from 200 kya to 55 kya (200,000 - 55,000 b2k).

Iron Age

Photographs of three of the originally nine iron beads from Gerzeh, Lower Egypt, from left UC10738, UC10739 and UC10740. Credit: Thilo Rehren, Tamás Belgya, Albert Jambon, György Káli, Zsolt Kasztovszky, Zoltán Kis, Imre Kovács, Boglárka Maróti, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Gianluca Miniaci, Vincent C. Pigott, Miljana Radivojević, László Rosta, László Szentmiklósi, Zoltán Szőkefalvi-Nagy.
Comparison of neutron radiography and an optical photograph of an iron bead is shown. Credit: Thilo Rehren, Tamás Belgya, Albert Jambon, György Káli, Zsolt Kasztovszky, Zoltán Kis, Imre Kovács, Boglárka Maróti, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Gianluca Miniaci, Vincent C. Pigott, Miljana Radivojević, László Rosta, László Szentmiklósi, Zoltán Szőkefalvi-Nagy.
The slag blocks shown are at Otobo Dunoka, Lejja, Nigeria. Credit: Pamela Eze–Uzomaka.{{fairuse}}

The Iron Age in Africa began approximately 2000 BC (4000 b2k) and ended 500 AD (1500 b2k).

The Bantu expansion spread the technology to Eastern and Southern Africa during c. 500 BCE to 400 CE, as shown in the Urewe culture[2] of the Lake Victoria region.

The Nok culture of Nigeria may have practiced iron smelting from as early as 1000 BCE.[3][4]

Evidence exists for earlier iron metallurgy in parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Central Africa, possibly from around 2,000 BCE.[5]

Evidence for Iron smelting in West Africa was found in Lejja, dating back to 2000 BC.[6]

The inception of iron metallurgy in Africa occurred between 3000 and 2500 BCE.[7][8]

"The earliest known iron artefacts are nine small beads securely dated to circa 3200 BC, from two burials in Gerzeh, northern Egypt."[9]

"Since both tombs are securely dated to Naqada IIC–IIIA, c 3400–3100 BC (Adams, 1990: 25; Stevenson, 2009: 11–31), the beads predate the emergence of iron smelting by nearly 2000 years, and other known meteoritic iron artefacts by 500 years or more (Yalçın 1999), giving them an exceptional position in the history of metal use."[9]

The image on the left uses neutron radiography to show the metal underneath the corrosion.

"Bead UC10738 [in the image on the right] has a maximum length of 1.5 cm and a maximum diameter of 1.3 cm, bead UC10739 is 1.7 cm by 0.7 cm, and bead UC10740 is 1.7 cm by 0.3 cm. All three beads are of rust-brown colour with a rough surface, indicative of heavy iron corrosion. Initial analysis by [proton–induced X–ray fluorescence] pXRF indicated an elevated nickel content of the surface of the beads, in the order of a few per cent, and their magnetic property suggested that iron metal may be present in their body (Jambon, 2010)."[9]

Bronze Age

Map of the world is for the late Bronze Age, 1300 BC. Credit: Thomas Lessman.{{free media}}
Colossal statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel, Egypt, date from around 1400 BC. Credit: Francisco Anzola.

The bronze age history period began between 5,300 and 2,600 b2k.

Name Capital/s Type Existed
Aithiopia (Aethiopia) Adulis Kingdom c. 13th – 5th century BC
Ancient Egypt (Egypt) Memphis, Thebes Kingdom 3150 – 1550 BC
New Kingdom of Egypt (Egyptian Empire) Akhetaten, Pi-Ramesses, Thebes, Empire 1550 – 1069 BC
Kingdom of Kerma (Nubia) Kerma Principalities[10] 2500 – 15th century BC
Libu Not specified Tribal chiefdoms 1550 – 630 BC[11]
Land of Punt (Punt) Not specified Kingdom 2400 – 1069 BC

At about 3300 BC, the historical record opens in Northern Africa with the rise of literacy in the Pharaonic civilization of Ancient Egypt.[12] One of the world's earliest and longest-lasting civilizations, the Egyptian state continued, with varying levels of influence over other areas, until 343 BC.[13][14] Egyptian influence reached deep into modern-day Libya and Nubia, and, according to Martin Bernal, as far north as Crete.[15]

An independent centre of civilization with trading links to Phoenicia was established by Phoenicians from Tyre, on the north-west African coast at Carthage.[16][17][18]

Copper Age


The copper age history period began from 6990 b2k.

The "oldest securely dated evidence of copper making, from 7,000 years ago [6990 b2k], at the archaeological site of Belovode, Serbia."[19]

The "Scandinavian [end of the last ice age was] 2000 years earlier [8,000 b2k]."[20]

Evidence for copper smelting furnaces was found near Agadez, Niger that has been dated as early as 2200 BC.[21] However, evidence for copper production in this region before 1000 BC is debated.[22][23][21]

Sub-Saharan Africa


Iron and copper smelting appeared around the same time in most parts of Africa.[23][24] As such, most Classical African civilizations outside of Egypt did not experience a distinct Bronze Age. Evidence for iron smelting appears earlier or at the same time as copper smelting in Nigeria c. 900–800 BC, Rwanda and Burundi c. 700–500 BC and Tanzania c. 300 BC.[24][21][25]

There is a longstanding debate about whether the development of both copper and iron metallurgy were independently developed in sub-Saharan Africa or were introduced from the outside across the Sahara Desert from North Africa or from the Indian Ocean.[24] Evidence for theories of independent development and for outside introduction are scarce and subject to active scholarly debate.[24] Scholars have suggested that both the relative dearth of archeological research in sub-Saharan Africa as well as long standing prejudices have limited or biased our understanding of pre-historic metallurgy on the continent.[21][26][27] One scholar characterized the state of historical knowledge as such: “To say that the history of metallurgy in sub-Saharan Africa is complicated is perhaps an understatement.”[27]



The Bronze Age in Nubia, started as early as 2300 BC.[28] Copper smelting was introduced by Egyptians to the Nubian city of Meroë, in modern-day Sudan, around 2600 BC.[23] A furnace for bronze casting has been found in Kerma that is dated to 2300–1900 BC.[28]

West Africa


Evidence for Iron smelting in West Africa was found in Lejja, dating back to 2000 BC.[29]Evidence for copper smelting furnaces was found near Agadez, Niger that has been dated as early as 2200 BC.[21] However, evidence for copper production in this region before 1000 BC is debated.[22][23][21] Evidence of copper mining and smelting has been founded at Akjoujt, Mauretania that suggests small scale production c. 800 to 400 BC.[21]

Ancient history


The ancient history period dates from around 8,000 to 3,000 b2k.

Early settlement of Igboland (Southeastern Nigeria) dates back to 8,000 b2k based on early pottery work found in the Okigwe, Oka Igwe, and known today as Awka. Some local Villagers retain the Original name, like Umuzuoka, The Blacksmiths Ezioka, Okigwe, Imoka, etc. Oka ,igwe-Nsukka axis.[30] There is, however, evidence of Palaeolithic man settling in southern Nigeria from at least 10,000 years ago. Much of the pottery excavated at Nsukka in 1978 uncovered a rock quarry which was a mine for tool and pottery making for a 'stone civilisation' nearby at Ibagwa. Fossils and use of monoliths date back to 8,000 b2k at Ugwelle-Uturu in the Okigwe area. Further evidence of ancient settlements were uncovered at a hypothesised Nsukka metal cultural area from 5000 b2k and later settlements attributed to Ngwa culture at 1992-1982 b2k.

Boreal transition

This is a picture of a smaller Nsude pyramid, ancient Igbo pyramid, in Udi, Enugu state Nigeria. Credit: G. I. Jones.{{fairuse}}

"In some cores a narrow band of clay interrupts the organic muds, at the horizon of the Boreal Atlantic transition."[31]

"In recent years, the German oak chronology has been extended to 7938 BC [9938 b2k]. For earlier intervals, tree-ring chronologies must be based on pine, because oak re-emigrated to central Europe at the Preboreal/Boreal transition, at about 8000 BC [10,000 b2k]."[32]

"The age range, 7145-7875 BC [9145-9875 b2k], is represented by the oak chronology, 'Main9'."[32]

"The age range, 7833-9439 BC [9833-11439 b2k], is covered by the 1784-yr pine chronology."[32]

On the right is a black and white photograph of a smaller Nsude pyramid, ancient Igbo pyramid, in Udi, Enugu state southeastern Nigeria.

"In 1935, G. I. Jones, an anthropoligist and colonial administrator took pictures of the Nsude pyramids, ancient Igbo pyramids, in Udi, Enugu state Nigeria with a Roloflex camera which he acquired and developed a system for immediate developing which produced negatives of such high quality that they continue to produce excellent prints six decades later. It was at this time that he built up the extraordinary photographic record of Southeastern Nigerian culture."[33]

"The pyramids, numbering 10 [...] are circular and stepped and were made of clay."[33]

The original positive image made from Jones' negative for the image on the right is here:

"The first base section was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala/Uto, who was believed to reside at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god’s residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction."[33]

Pre-Boreal transition

Algerian cave paintings depict hunting scenes. Credit: Helen Chapin Metz.

The last glaciation appears to have a gradual decline ending about 12,000 b2k. This may have been the end of the Pre-Boreal transition.

"About 9000 years ago the temperature in Greenland culminated at 4°C warmer than today. Since then it has become slowly cooler with only one dramatic change of climate. This happened 8250 years ago [...]. In an otherwise warm period the temperature fell 7°C within a decade, and it took 300 years to re-establish the warm climate. This event has also been demonstrated in European wooden ring series and in European bogs."[20]

"The Pre-boreal period marks the transition from the cold climate of the Late-glacial to the warmer climate of Post-glacial time. This change is immediately obvious in the field from the nature of the sediments, changing as they do from clays to organic lake muds, showing that at this time a more or less continuous vegetation cover was developing."[31]

"At the beginning of the Pre-boreal the pollen curves of the herbaceous species have high values, and most of the genera associated with the Late-glacial fiora are still present e.g. Artemisia, Polemomium and Thalictrum. These plants become less abundant throughout the Pre-boreal, and before the beginning of the Boreal their curves have reached low values."[31]

Domestication of sheep and goats reached Egypt from the Near East possibly as early as 6000 BC.[34][35][36]

"The first indisputable evidence for domestic plants and animals in the Nile valley is not until the early fifth millennium BC in northern Egypt and a thousand years later further south, in both cases as part of strategies that still relied heavily on fishing, hunting, and the gathering of wild plants. [... ] These subsistence changes were not due to farmers migrating from the Near East but was an indigenous development, with cereals either indigenous or obtained through exchange."[37] Other scholars argue that the primary stimulus for agriculture and domesticated animals (as well as mud-brick architecture and other Neolithic cultural features) in Egypt was from the Middle East.[38][39][2]

Younger Dryas


The "Alleröd/Younger Dryas transition [occurred] some 11,000 years ago [11,000 b2k]."[40]

Jebel Sahaba (also Site 117) is a prehistoric cemetery site in the Nile Valley (now submerged in Lake Nasser), near the northern border of Sudan, associated with the Qadan culture, dated to the Younger Dryas (some 12,000 to 14,000 years old).[41]

One skeleton was radiocarbon dated to approximately 13,140-14,340 years old.[42]

Newer apatite dates indicate that the site is at least 11,600 years old.[41]



The Holocene starts at ~11,700 b2k and extends to the present.

Allerød Oscillation


The "Allerød Chronozone, 11,800 to 11,000 years ago".[40]



The base of the Neolithic is approximated to 12,200 b2k, ending between 6500 and 4000 b2k.



The mesolithic period dates from around 13,000 to 8,500 b2k.

In regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, the Stone Age was followed directly by the Iron Age.[43]

Older Dryas

Comparison of the GRIP ice core with cores from the Cariaco Basin shows the Older Dryas. Credit: Konrad A Hughes, Jonathan T. Overpeck, Larry C. Peterson & Susan Trumbore.{{fairuse}}

"Older Dryas [...] events [occurred about 13,400 b2k]".[44]

"The most negative δ 18O excursions seen in the GRIP record lasted approximately 131 and 21 years for the [inter-Allerød cold period] IACP and [Older Dryas] OD, respectively. The comparable events in the Cariaco basin were of similar duration, 127 and 21 years. In addition to the chronological agreement, there is also considerable similarity in the decade-scale patterns of variability in both records. Given the geographical distance separating central Greenland from the southern Caribbean Sea, the close match of the pattern and duration of decadal events between the two records is striking."[44]

In the figures on the right, especially b, is a detailed "comparison of δ 18O from the GRIP ice core24 with changes in a continuous sequence of light-lamina thickness measurements from core PL07-57PC. Both records are constrained by annual chronologies, although neither record is sampled at annual resolution. The interval of comparison includes the inter-Allerød cold period (12.9-13 cal. kyr BP) and Older Dryas (13.4 cal. kyr BP) events (IABP and OD from a). The durations of the two events, measured independently in both records, are very similar, as is the detailed pattern of variability at the decadal timescale."[44]

Bølling Oscillation


The "intra-Bølling cold period [IBCP is a century-scale cold event and the] Bølling warming [occurs] at 14600 cal [calendar years, ~ b2k] BP (12700 14C BP)".[45]

MIS Boundary 1/2 is at 14 ka.[46]

Oldest Dryas


"During the Late Weichselian glacial maximum (20-15 ka BP) the overriding of ice streams eventually lead to strong glaciotectonic displacement of Late Pleistocene and pre-Quaternary deposits and to deposition of till."[47]

"The synchronous and nearly uniform lowering of snowlines in Southern Hemisphere middle-latitude mountains compared with Northern Hemisphere values suggests global cooling of about the same magnitude in both hemispheres at the [Last Glacial Maximum] LGM. When compared with paleoclimate records from the North Atlantic region, the middle-latitude Southern Hemisphere terrestrial data imply interhemispheric symmetry of the structure and timing of the last glacial/interglacial transition. In both regions atmospheric warming pulses are implicated near the beginning of Oldest Dryas time (~14,600 14C yr BP) and near the Oldest Dryas/Bølling transition (~12,700-13,000 14C yr BP). The second of these warming pulses was coincident with resumption of North Atlantic thermohaline circulation similar to that of the modern mode, with strong formation of Lower North Atlantic Deep Water in the Nordic Seas. In both regions, the maximum Bølling-age warmth was achieved at 12,200-12,500 14C yr BP, and was followed by a reversal in climate trend. In the North Atlantic region, and possibly in middle latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, this reversal culminated in a Younger-Dryas-age cold pulse."[48]

Meiendorf Interstadial

Temperature curve of late glacial period, from NGRIP greenland ice core oxygen isotope ratio. Credit: Merikanto.{{free media}}

The period spans starting at the far right of the image on the right from Lascaux interstadial to Heinrich event H1, and to Meiendorf/Bölling warm stage, and Allegöd warm stage, to Younger dryas and early holocene.

The Meiendorf Interstadial is typified by a rise in the pollens of dwarf birches (Betula nana), willows (Salix sp.), sandthorns (Hippophae), junipers (Juniperus) and Artemisia.

The beginning of the Meiendorf Interstadial is around 14,700 b2k.

Heinrich event H1


This stadial starts about 17.5 ka, extends to about 15.5 ka and is followed after a brief warming by H1.

Lascaux interstadial


The Lascaux interstadial begins about 21 ka and extends to about 18 ka.

Jylland stade


"After c. 22 ka BP [which is] during the Jylland stade (Houmark-Nielsen 1989), Late Weichselian glaciers of the Main Weichselain advance overrode Southeast Denmark from the northeast and later the Young Baltic ice invaded from southeasterly directions. Traces of the Northeast-ice are apparently absent in the Klintholm sections, although large scale glaciotectonic structures and till deposits from this advance are found in Hjelm Bugt and Møns Klint (Aber 1979; Berthelsen 1981, 1986). At Klintholm, the younger phase of glaciotectonic deformation from the southeast and south and deposition of the discordant till (unit 9) were most probably associated with recessional phases of the Young Baltic glaciation. In several cliff sections, well preserved Late Glacial (c. 14-10 ka BP) lacustrine sequences are present (Kolstrup 1982, Heiberg 1991)."[47]

Laugerie Interstadial

Diagram showings the position of the Lascaux interstadial (marked in red and orange) within the time range 10 to 30 ky BP. Credit: Rudolf Pohl.{{free media}}

The weak interstadial corresponding to GIS 2 occurred about 23.2 kyr B.P.[49]

"GIS 2 (start) 21.556 [to] GIS 2 (end) 21.407 ka BP".[50]

Heinrich Event 2


Heinrich Event 2 (H2) extends "22-25.62 ka BP".[50]

The δ18O values from GISP-2 follow the diagram of Wolfgang Weißmüller. The positions of the Dansgaard-Oeschger events DO1 to DO4 and the Heinrich events H1 to H3 are also indicated. DV 3-4 and DV 6-7 are cold events marked by ice wedges in the upper loess of Dolní Veštonice.

Letzteiszeitliches Maximum


This glacial advance begins about 26 ka and ends abruptly at about 23.4 ka.

"Stadial Duration 3.781 ka".[50]



The stronger GIS 3 interstadial occurred about 27.6 kyr B.P.[49]

It begins abruptly at 29 ka and ends about 26 ka.

"GIS 3 (start) 25.571 [to] GIS 3 (end) 25.337 ka BP".[50]

Heinrich Event 3


Heinrich Event 3 (H3) "occurs at 26.74 ka BP, coincident with the start of the transition into GIS 4."[50]

MIS Boundary 2/3 is at 29 ka.[46]

"Stadial duration 0.768 ka".[50]

Møn interstadial


The Møn interstadial corresponds to GIS 4.[49]

"GIS 4 (start) 26.627 [to] GIS 4 (end) 26.339 ka BP".[50]

Klintholm advance


This advance occurred after the Møn and ended with GIS 6.[49]

"Stadial duration 2.899 ka".[50]



GIS 5 interstadial occurred during the Klintholm advance about 33.5 kyr B.P.[49]

"GIS 5 (start) 30.013 [to] GIS 5 (end) 29.526 ka BP".[50]



Stadial duration 0.836 ka""[50]

Ålesund Interstadial


The Ålesund interstadial began with GIS 6 and ended after GIS 8.[49]

"GIS 6 (start) 31.218 [to] GIS 6 (end) 30.849 ka BP".[50]



"Stadial duration 0.932 ka".[50]

GIS 7 interstadial


"GIS 7 (start) 32.896 [to] GIS 7 (end) 32.15 ka BP".[50]



"Stadial duration 0.642 ka".[50]

Huneborg interstadial


The Huneborg interstadial is a Greenland interstadial dating 36.5-38.5 kyr B.P. GIS 8.[49]



Heinrich Event 4 "33-39.93 ka BP".[50]

Hengelo interstadial


The "Hengelo Interstadial [is] (38–36 ka ago)."[51]

Hasselo stadial


The "Hasselo stadial [is] at approximately 40-38,500 14C years B.P. (Van Huissteden, 1990)."[52]

Moershoofd interstadial

These three maps show a succession of artefacts in western and southern Europe. Credit: Catherine Brahic.{{fairuse}}

The Moershoofd interstadial has a 14C date of 44-46 kyr B.P. and corresponds to GIS 12 at 45-47 kyr B.P.[49]

Another likely stadial


Glinde interstadial


The Glinde interstadial has a 14C date of 48-50 kyr B.P. and corresponds to GIS ?13/14 with a GIS age of 49-54.5 kyr B.P.[49]

Ebersdorf Stadial


"Genetics suggests Neanderthal numbers dropped sharply around 50,000 years ago. This coincides with a sudden cold snap, hinting climate struck the first blow."[53]

Oerel interstadial


The Oerel interstadial has a 14C date of 53-58 kyr B.P. and corresponds to GIS 15/16 with a GIS age of 56-59 kyr B.P.[49]

Karmøy stadial


The Karmøy stadial begins in the high mountains of Norway about 60 kyr B.P. and expands to the outer coast by 58 kyr B.P.[49]

Odderade interstadial


The Odderade interstadial has a 14C date of 61-72 kyr B.P. and corresponds to GIS 21.[49]

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA have estimated that the recent African origin of modern humans, i.e., exodus from Africa, the major migration from Africa, occurred 60,000–70,000 years ago,[54] consistent with dating of the Toba eruption to around 75,000 years ago.

The populations of the Eastern African chimpanzee,[55] Bornean orangutan,[56] central Indian macaque,[57] cheetah, and the tiger,[58] all recovered from very low numbers around 70,000–55,000 years ago.

Wisconsinian glacial


Wisconsinian glacial began at 80,000 yr BP.[59]

The largest known volcanic eruption in the history of the human species did not significantly alter the climate of East Africa.[60][61]

"We examined smear slides at a 2-mm interval, corresponding to subdecadal resolution, and X-ray fluorescence scans run at 200-µm intervals correspond to subannual resolution. We observed no obvious change in sediment composition or Fe/Ti ratio, suggesting that no thermally driven overturn of the water column occurred following the Toba supereruption."[62]

There was "no significant cooling associated with Mount Toba".[63]

Cores from Lake Malawi dating to the period of the Toba supereruption showed no evidence of a volcanic winter, and there was no apparent effect on African humans.[64] Evidence from a variety of studies shows that the Toba eruption did not have a major climatic effect or any effect on human numbers.[65]

The Toba eruption or Toba event occurred at the present location of Lake Toba in Indonesia, about 75,000 ± 900 years Before Present (BP) according to potassium argon dating.[66] This eruption was the last and largest of four eruptions of Toba during the Quaternary period, and is also recognized from its diagnostic horizon of ashfall, the youngest Toba tuff (YTT).[67] It had an estimated volcanic explosivity index of 8 (the highest rating of any known eruption on Earth); it made a sizable contribution to the 100×30 km caldera complex.[68] Dense-rock equivalent (DRE) estimates of eruptive volume for the eruption vary between 2000 km³ and 3000 km³ – the most common DRE estimate is 2800 km³ (about 7×1015
) of erupted magma, of which 800 km³ was deposited as ash fall.[69]

The erupted mass was 100 times greater than that of the largest volcanic eruption in recent history, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which caused the 1816 "Year Without a Summer" in the Northern Hemisphere.[70] Toba's erupted mass deposited an ash layer about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) thick over the whole of South Asia. A blanket of volcanic ash was also deposited over the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea, and South China Sea.[71] Deep-sea cores retrieved from the South China Sea have extended the known reach of the eruption, suggesting that the 2800 km³ calculation of the erupted mass is a minimum value or even an underestimate.[72]

Rederstall Stadial


MIS Boundary 5.3 is at 96 ka.[46]

Brørup interstadial


The "Brørup interstade [is about] 100 ka BP".[47] It corresponds to GIS 23/24.[49]

MIS Boundary 5.4 (peak) is at 109 ka.[46]

Some argue that cosmetic body art was the earliest form of ritual in human culture, dating over 100,000 years ago from the African Middle Stone Age. The evidence for this comes in the form of utilised red mineral pigments (red ochre) including crayons associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa.[73][74][75][76]

Herning Stadial


MIS Boundary 5.5 (peak) is at 123 ka.[46]

Eemian interglacial


The "controversially split Eemian period, the predecessor of our own warm period [was] about 125,000 years ago."[20]

"The Eem interglaciation […] lasted from 131 to 117 kyr B.P."[20]

Late Pleistocene

This is a reconstructed Stegodon from the Late Pleistocene of Southern China. Credit: 幽灵巴尼.{{free media}}

Late Pleistocene spans ca. 11,000-150,000 yr BP.[59]

Stegodonts were present from 11.6 mya to late Pleistocene, with unconfirmed records of regional survival until 4,100 years ago. Fossils are found in Asian and African strata dating from the late Miocene. They lived in large parts of East and Central Africa during the Pleistocene.[77][78]

Sangamon Episode interglacial


Age "assignment of Sangamonian (sense alto = 80,000-ca. 220,000 yr BP) [is] to Illinoian (ca. 220,000-430,000 yr BP)".[59]

Illinois Episode glaciation


"Illinoian [is] (ca. 220,000-430,000 yr BP)".[59]

Yarmouthian interglacial


Yarmouthian spans 420,000-500,000 yr BP.[59]

Kansan glacial


Kansan glacial spans 500,000-600,000 yr BP.[59]

Aftonian interglacial

Examples of pre–Illinoian stratigraphic sections are shown. Credit: M. Roy, P.U. Clark, R.W. Barendregt, J.R. Glasmann, and R.J. Enkin.{{fairuse}}

Aftonian interglacial spans ca. 600,000-650,000 yr BP.[59]

"N tills [...] show the greatest amount of feldspar and carbonate minerals in the silt fraction. This group includes at least one till unit overlain by the 0.6 Ma Lava Creek ash, thus suggesting that some of these units were deposited between 0.8 and 0.6 Ma, but also later, as indicated by two sites with a till overlying the 0.6 Ma ash (Boellstorff, 1973). The N till group is considered to include the A1, A2, and A3 tills of Boellstorff (1973, 1978b)."[79]

Lava Creek B ash is dated at 602 ka.[79]

Middle Pleistocene


Middle Pleistocene spans ca. 150,000-730,000 yr BP.[59]

A notable modern human presence first appeared during the Middle Pleistocene in Africa.[80]

Nebraskan glacial


Nebraskan glacial spans ca. 650,000-1,000,000 yr BP.[59]

The magnetic field reversal to the present geomagnetic poles (Brunhes chron) occurred at 780,000 yr BP.

"The R1-till group includes two till units that overlie the 1.3 Ma Mesa Falls ash, thus indicating at least two glaciations between 1.3 Ma and 0.8 Ma."[79]

The magnetic field reversal to the opposite geomagnetic poles (subchron) occurred at 900,000 yr BP.

Early Pleistocene


Early Pleistocene spans ca. 730,000-1,600,000 yr BP.[59]

Other specimens from Sterkfontein Member 5 date to between 1.4 and 1.1 Ma, with the youngest specimens from Swartkrans Member 3 dated to sometime between 1.0 and 0.6 Ma.[81]

Mesa Falls ash is dated at 1293 ka.[79]

From the Konso Formation of Ethiopia, Acheulean hand-axes are dated to about 1.5 million years ago using radiometric dating of deposits containing volcanic ashes.[82]

From geological dating of sedimentary deposits, it appears that the Acheulean originated in Africa about 1.5 million years ago.[83][84]


Homotherium restoration, although Homotherium were extirpated in Africa, Calabrian (1.5 mya), perishing in all other continents during the late Pleistocene.{{free media}}

"The [Calabrian] GSSP occurs at the base of the marine claystone conformably overlying sapropelic bed ‘e’ within Segment B in the Vrica section. This lithological level represents the primary marker for the recognition of the boundary, and is assigned an astronomical age of 1.80 Ma on the basis of sapropel calibration."[85]

The earliest accepted examples of the Acheulean currently known come from the West Turkana region of Kenya and were first described by a French-led archaeology team.[86] These particular Acheulean tools were recently dated through the method of magnetostratigraphy to about 1.76 million years ago, making them the oldest not only in Africa but the world.[87] The earliest user of Acheulean tools was Homo ergaster, who first appeared about 1.8 million years ago.

The type specimen StW 53 from Sterkfontein is dated to sometime between 1.8 and 1.5 Ma.[88] A specimen from Gondolin Cave is dated to ~1.8 Ma.[89][90]


The base of the marly layer overlying sapropel MPRS 250, located at 62 m in the Monte San Nicola section, is the defined base of the Gelasian Stage. Credit: D. Rio, R. Sprovieri, D. Castradori, and E. Di Stefano.

The centre of human evolution and expansion, Africa and Asia were inhabited by advanced hominids by 2mya, with Homo habilis in Africa, and Homo erectus in both continents. By the advent and proliferation of Homo sapiens circa 298,000 BCE,[91] dominant species included Homo heidelbergensis in Africa.

Some number of N tills occurred during the Olduvai subchron.[79]

The magnetic field reversal to the present geomagnetic poles (Olduvai subchron) occurred at 2,000,000 yr BP.

The oldest till group, R2 tills, consists of till units with a reversed polarity and >77% of sedimentary clasts. Low amounts of expandable clays, substantial amounts of kaolinite, and the absence of chlorite characterize the clay mineralogy of R2 tills. The mineralogy of the silt fraction of R2 tills is rich in quartz and depleted in calcite, dolomite, and feldspar. This till group includes a till unit that underlies the 2.0-Ma Huckleberry Ridge ash, thus indicating deposition sometime between ~2.5 Ma (onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciations) (Mix et al., 1995) and 2.0 Ma.[79]

The magnetic field reversal to the present geomagnetic poles (Reunion subchron) and back occurred at 2,080,000 yr BP.

The magnetic field reversal to the present geomagnetic poles (Reunion subchron) and back occurred at 2,140,000 yr BP.

"The base of the Quaternary System [shown in the image on the right] is defined by the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) of the Gelasian Stage at Monte San Nicola in Sicily, Italy, currently dated at 2.58 Ma."[92]

"The astrochronological age of sapropel MPRS 250 (mid-point), corresponding to precessional cycle 250 from the present, is 2.588 Ma (Lourens et al., 1996), which can be assumed as the age of the boundary."[93]

Identification of H. gautengensis was based on partial skulls, several jaws, teeth and other bones found at various times and cave sites in the Cradle of Humankind. The oldest specimens are those from Swartkrans Member 1 (Hanging Remnant) between 1.9 and 1.8 Ma .[94]



The Pleistocene dates from 2.588 x 106 to 11,700 b2k.



The Quaternary is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).[95] It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present.[95] The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today).[95] The informal term "Late Quaternary" refers to the past 0.5–1.0 million years.[96]

The Quaternary Period is typically defined by the cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets associated with Milankovitch cycles and the associated climate and environmental changes that occurred.[97][98]

Paleolithic history


The paleolithic period dates from around 2.6 x 106 b2k to the end of the Pleistocene around 12,000 b2k.


Oldowan, stone tool from Melka Kunture Etiopia.

The Piacenzian begins 3.6 Mya and lasts 1.01 million years.

Archaeological discoveries in Kenya in 2015, identifying possibly the oldest known evidence of hominin use of tools to date, have indicated that Kenyanthropus platyops (a 3.2 to 3.5-million-year-old Pliocene hominin fossil discovered in Lake Turkana, Kenya in 1999) may have been the earliest tool-users known.[99]

The earliest documented stone tools have been found in eastern Africa, manufacturers unknown, at the 3.3 million year old site of Lomekwi 3 in Kenya.[100]

The oldest indirect evidence found of stone tool use is fossilised animal bones with tool marks; these are 3.4 million years old and were found in the Lower Awash Valley in Ethiopia.[101]

Oldowan tools were used during the Lower Paleolithic period, 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago, by ancient hominids across much of Africa.


Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis skeleton discovered 24 November 1974 in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar Depression. Credit: 120.

The Zanclean begins 5.33 Mya and lasts for about 1.73 million years.

Africa is considered by most paleoanthropologists to be the oldest inhabited territory on Earth, with the human species originating from the continent.[102][103]

Starting from about 4 million years ago (mya) a single biome established itself from South Africa through the rift, North Africa, and across Asia to modern China, which has been called "transcontinental 'savannahstan'" recently.[104]

Fossil remains of several species of early apelike humans thought to have evolved into modern man, such as Australopithecus afarensis (radiometrically dated to approximately 3.9–3.0 million years BP,[105] Paranthropus boisei (c. 2.3–1.4 million years BP)[106] and Homo ergaster (c. 1.9 million–600,000 years BP) have been discovered.[107]



The Pliocene ranges from 5.332 x 106 to 2.588 x 106 b2k.



The prehistory period dates from around 7 x 106 b2k to about 7,000 b2k.



The Neogene dates from 23.03 x 106 to 2.58 x 106 b2k.


This is an image of Cercopithecus neglectus (De Brazza's Monkey) taken at the Los Angeles Zoo. Credit: Aaron Logan.{{free media}}

The Miocene dates from 23.03 x 106 to 5.332 x 106 b2k.

Fossil cercopithecoids have been found in the Early Miocene of eastern Libya. Cercopithecoids are primates and from the parvordo Catarrhini as are humans, differing in superfamily: Cercopithecoidea versus Hominoidea.

Zaltanpithecus occurred in eastern Libya.[108]

Prohylobates is from the Early Miocene of Libya.[109]

"Before the late Miocene, the published cercopithecoid record has largely been limited to rare and incomplete materials of Prohylobates and Zaltanpithecus collected from the early–middle Miocene of northern Africa".[110]


A fossil of Allocrioceras pariense is partly etched from the shale matrix. Credit: Kevmin.{{free media}}

Fossils of Allocrioceras have been found in South Africa.[111]

Acanthohoplites has been found in Upper Aptian and Lower Albian sediments in East Africa:[112]

Beudanticeras is an extinct cephalopod genus from the Late Cretaceous period; Albian and Cenomanian, belonging to the Ammonoidea subclass and included in the family Desmoceratidae.

Beudanticeras has a rather to very compressed shell that is moderately involute, with convex to flat sides and a narrowly arched out rim. Coiling is such that the outer whorl embraces much of the next inner whorl, leaving a small spiraled umblicus. The shell is generally smooth but may have weak ribs but no tubercles. The suture is ammonitic.

Other related genera include Beudantiella, Brewericeras, Zurcherella, and possibly Pseudosaynella.

The following species of Beudanticeras have been recognised:[113]

  • B. alamoense
  • B. arduennense
  • B. argonauticum
  • B. beudanti
  • B. flindersi
  • B. hirtzi
  • B. ingente
  • B. komihevitraense
  • B. mullerriedi
  • B. robustum
  • B. sutherlandi
  • B. victoris

Fossils of Beudanticeras have been found in Angola,[114] Egypt, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, and South Africa.[113]



Middle Jurassic

Fossil shell of Cadomites species is from Bayeux (France), Musée de Toulouse. Credit: Didier Descouens.{{free media}}

Cadomites Munier-Chalmas 1892 fossil range is from Bajocian to Callovian:[115] 171.6 - 164.7 Mya[116]

Classis: Cephalopoda

Subclassis: Ammonoidea

Ordo: Ammonitida

Superfamilia: Stephanoceratoidea

Familia: Stephanoceratidae

Genus: Cadomites

Cadomites is an extinct ammonite genus that lived during the Middle Jurassic (upper Bajocian – lower Callovian).[115]

Cadomites is directly descended from Stephanoceras, with a similar collared and lipped aperture rim, but has denser, finer, sharper ribbing. The shell is discoidal, evolute, with a wide umbilicus. The suture is complex.

Fossils of species within this genus have been found in the Middle Jurassic sediments in Africa.[116]

Early Jurassic


Bettoniceras is genus of ammonite that lived during the Pliensbachian stage of early Jurassic and died out during Margaritatus zone. Fossils of this genus have been found in Morocco and Tunisia.[117]

Sometimes this genus is not considered valid but just a synonym of Prodactylioceras.[118]

Ammonites of this genus had serpenticone planulate shells with mostly single ribs and no tubercules. Whorl section was round. Only difference between Prodactylioceras and Bettoniceras is that the latter is missing tubercules.[119]


  • B. italicum Fucini, 1900
  • B. inaequiornatum (Bettoni, 1900)
  • B. colubriforme (Bettoni, 1900)



Acanthoclymenia forcipifer Sandberger & Sandberger, 1851: ca 378.7 - 376.9 mya is of Algeria.

Species belonging to this genus lived in middle and late Devonian (upper Givetian - lower Frasnian).

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