10 Great African Inventions That Changed the World

For the most part, our history textbooks here in the states love to portray Africa as an uncivilized continent. In schools, we learn about the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Industrial revolution, and countless other ‘revolutions’ that all have one thing in common: they originated in Europe.

Growing up and constantly hearing of European accomplishments and learning about history from a Eurocentric perspective. It’s not hard to see why there are still people who seem to think that everything great derived from Europe.

Here are ten inventions that originated from Africa and have changed the entire course of human history.

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The invention of mathematics is placed firmly in African prehistory.

The oldest known possibly mathematical object is the Lebombo bone, which was discovered in the Lebombo Mountains of Swaziland and dated to approximately 35,000 B.C. Many of the math concepts that are learned in school today were also developed in Africa. Over 35,000 years ago, Ancient Egyptians scripted textbooks about math that included division and multiplication of fractions and geometric formulas to calculate the area and volume of shapes.

Architecture and Engineering

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The African empire of Egypt developed a vast array of diverse structures and great architectural monuments along the Nile, among the largest and most famous of which are the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza.

Later, in the 12th century there were hundreds of great cities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique made of massive stone complexes and huge castlelike compounds. In the 13th century, the empire of Mali boasted impressive cities, including Timbuktu, with grand palaces, mosques and universities.

Metallurgy and Tools

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Many advances in metallurgy and tool-making were made across the entirety of ancient Africa.

These include steam engines, metal chisels and saws, copper and iron tools and weapons, nails, glue, carbon steel and bronze weapons and art. In places like Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, the advances in metallurgy and tool-making surpassed those in Europe.


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Many treatments used today in modern medicine were first employed in Africa centuries ago.

The earliest known surgery was performed in Egypt around 2750 B.C. Medical procedures performed in ancient Africa before they were performed in Europe include vaccination, autopsy, limb traction and broken bone setting, bullet removal, brain surgery, skin grafting, filling of dental cavities, installation of false teeth, what is now known as Caesarean sections, anesthesia and tissue cauterization.


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Evidence suggests that ancient Africans sailed to South America and Asia hundreds of years before the Europeans, debunking the propaganda that Europeans were the first to sail to the Americas.

Many ancient societies in Africa built different types of boats, from small vessels to large ships that could carry up to 80 tons.

Mining of Minerals

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The oldest known mine on archaeological record is the “Lion Cave” in Swaziland, which radiocarbon dating shows to be about 43,000 years old. The ancient Egyptians mined a mineral called malachite. While the gold minds of Nubia were among the largest and most extensive in the world.


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Philosophy in Africa has a long history dating from pre-dynastic Egypt and continuing through the birth of Christianity and Islam.

One of the earliest works of political philosophy was the Maxims of Ptah-Hotep, which were taught to Egyptian schoolboys for centuries.


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Several ancient African cultures birthed discoveries in astronomy. Many of these are foundations on which we still rely, and some were so advanced that their mode of discovery still cannot be understood. The Dogon people of Mali amassed a wealth of detailed astronomical observations. They knew of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, the spiral structure of the Milky Way and the orbit of the Sirius star system.


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The oldest art objects in the world — a series of tiny, drilled snail shells about 75,000 years old — were discovered in a South African cave.

International Trade

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Evidence shows that international trade was first developed between Africa and Asia, and among these international trade contacts were the exchange of ideas and cultural practices that laid the foundations of the earliest civilizations of the ancient world.

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