top of page

Africa, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s


Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the civilizations.


Stefano Bonsignori Western Africa
Stefano Bonsignori Western Africa

Stefano Bonsignori 1589, Italian cartographer.Western Africa including: Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Costa d'Avorio, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin, 1580.

press to zoom
Decorative Africa Map
Decorative Africa Map

A Decorative Map of Africa. It was created in the 1660's. Scale ca. 1:40,000,000. Facsimile. Relief shown pictorially. Includes inset color drawings and 9 city views.

press to zoom
Map of West Africa
Map of West Africa

An old Map of West Africa. It was created in 1743. Covers West Africa from Gabon in the south to Niger, Mali, and Mauritania in the north. Relief shown pictorially. The map includes indexed illustration depicting the dress, customs, dwellings, and work of native Africans at this time.

press to zoom
Stefano Bonsignori Western Africa
Stefano Bonsignori Western Africa

Stefano Bonsignori 1589, Italian cartographer.Western Africa including: Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Costa d'Avorio, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin, 1580.

press to zoom



  • How did early African civilizations develop?

  • What were the religions of early Africa, and why?

  • What were the major industries, imports and exports of early African civilizations?

  • What role did trade routes play in the development of Africa?



"When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires -- Mali, Songhai, Egypt -- had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group."


~Mae Jemison, the first African American woman astronaut in 1987. She was a physician and scientist who also spent time with the Peace Corp.



  • Industry, resources, religion, and trade had a great influence on the development of Africa.

  • Early civilizations, characterized by defined social structure and traditional religion, developed in Africa.

  • Explore the 3 main kingdoms: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai- which succeeded each other in West Africa.

  • Discuss how East African kingdoms in Aksum, Ethiopia, the Swahili region, and Zimbabwe developed unique cultures and established trade routes. they were later visited by Portuguese traders.

  • Ideas are spread through trade, travel, and war.

  • Cultural contact can create change or continuity, conflict or cooperation.

  • Significant civilizations leave a legacy, which, may be positive or negative.

  • Africa can be divided into Northern, Eastern, Western, Central and Southern regions.

  • There are many unique characteristics to each region. Each region has many similarities and differences.

  • Powerful early kingdoms, European slave trade and colonization, and traditions from a mix of ethnic groups have all influenced West African culture.

  • Early civilizations contributed to the continental development of Africa and the Americas. 

Kingdoms of West Africa...

7.13 Analyze the growth of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai kingdoms including trading centers such as Timbuktu and Jenne, which would later develop into centers of culture and learning.


Time Travellers - Lost City of Zimbabwe

View full lesson:

Stretched across a tree-peppered expanse in Southern Africa lies the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a medieval stone city of astounding wealth. Located in the present-day country of Zimbabwe, it’s the site of the second largest settlement ruins in Africa. But its history is controversial, defined by decades of dispute about who built it and why. Breeanna Elliott explores the mystery of Great Zimbabwe. 

Lesson by Breeanna Elliott, directed by JodyPrody.



  • savanna

  • lineage group

  • matriarchal

  • mansa

  • oba

  • stela

  • dry stone

  • Sahara

  • Nile River

  • Mt Kilimanjaro

  • Serengeti plain

  • safari

  • Lake Victoria

  • drought

  • Congo Basin

  • dialect

  • malnutirtion

  • Zambezi River

  • Namib Desert

  • Cape of Good Hope

  • apartheid

  • silt

  • oasis

  • Suez Canal

  • Atlas Mountains

  • Niger River

  • Sahel

  • desertification

  • Great Rift Valley





Exploring West Africa...

7.14 Draw evidence from informational texts to describe the role of the trans-Saharan caravan trade in the changing religious and cultural characteristics of West Africa and the influence of Islamic beliefs, ethics, and law.


Located on the arid southern fringes of the Sahara, the fabled city of Timbuktu is synonymous with the exotic and the unknown. This was the place that 19th century European explorers perished in their attempts to reach.The reality of Timbuktu's past is as extraordinary as its legend. It began with a great king - Mansa Kankou Musa, ruler of the gold-rich Mali Empire, who dazzled the world with his stupendous wealth on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-25.Returning home, inspired by all he had seen, Kankou Musa set about transforming Timbuktu. A one-time outpost of wandering Tuareg tribes people became a city of fabulous wealth and one of the world's foremost centers of Muslim learning.


Journey to Timbuktu...

Imagine a city in 16th century West Africa where thousands of Black African students pondered over the latest ideas in science, mathematics, and medicine.


A fabled town in the middle of the scorching desert, overflowing with countless numbers of valuable books, expensive crafts, exquisite fabrics, and unrivalled gold jewellery! Imagine a community of highly cultured, wealthy people whose forbidden streets were the subject of legends and whose ochre walls were sought after by some of the greatest adventurers of the times.


From its grand mud structures which have stood the test of time and still fulfil their role as centres of prayer and learning, to the collections of scrolls and writings hidden in chests buried under the desert sands, Timbuktu is a treasure of African intellectual and spiritual History.

7.16 Analyze the importance of family, labor specialization, and regional commerce in the development of states and cities in West Africa.



7.15 Examine the importance of written and oral traditions in the transmission of African history and culture.


An amazing citadel in Zimbabwe was thought by Portuguese explorers to be the lost city of the Queen of Sheba, but who really lived there?


Lost Kingdoms of West Africa...




This activity will introduce you to three of the great kingdoms of West Africa between the 9th and 16th centuries CE. They are the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. After you have read a short text on each of these kingdoms, there is a fourth text which explains the time when parts of North Africa came to be Islamic. As you read through this activity, you should think about how the events in the four texts are related to one another. Once you have read all four texts, use the information you have learned in them to complete the graphic organizers at the end of the activity.

Art historian Gus Casely-Hayford explores the history of the Lost Kingdoms of West Africa, with particular attention to the 16th-century bronzes from the kingdom of Benin.

Western African Cultural Legacy Rap...

A rap about West Africa's cultural legacy, by Mr. Bloom. From History Alive: The Medieval World, Chapter 15.



"Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers [there is a]...fortress built of stones of marvelous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them.... This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it in the fashioning of stone and the absence of mortar, and one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms high. The natives of the country call these edifices Symbaoe, which according to their language signifies court." ~Viçente Pegado, Captain, Portuguese Garrison of Sofala, 1531




PBS presents an interactive challenge on Africa.  Yes, Africa is the birthplace of humanity; but what else happened there?  Race the clock and test your knowledge!

Mansu Musa Rich King of Mali...



PBS presents webquest activities on the various cultures within Africa.



Mali is a landlocked country in Western Africa. It is slightly less than twice the size of Texas. Home to mysterious cliff dwellings built by a culture that has vanished in the mists of time. It is believed that the Tellem tribe established the cliff dwellings in the Bandiagara Escarpment before the 14th century. They also established burial sites in the escarpment's caves. The Dogons came to the escarpment in the 14th century to escape from the Muslims. The Dogons are Muslims and animists.

7.17 Explain the importance of Mansa Musa and locate his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.


Mansa Musa I ruled West Africa's Malian Empire in the early 1300s, making his fortune by exploiting his country's salt and gold production. Many mosques he built as a young man still stand today.


Musa's generous actions, however, inadvertently devastated the economy of the region. In the cities of Cairo, Medina and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade. Prices on goods and wares super inflated. To rectify the gold market, Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.






Your LIVE window into the African wild.  Live streaming experiences showcasing wildlife in its natural habitat.

Crash course:  Mansa Musa and Islam in Africa...

In which John Green teaches you about Sub-Saharan Africa! So, what exactly was going on there? It turns out, it was a lot of trade, converting to Islam, visits from Ibn Battuta, trade, beautiful women, trade, some impressive architecture, and several empires. John not only cover the the West African Malian Empire, which is the one Mansa Musa ruled, but he discusses the Ghana Empire, and even gets over to East Africa as well to discuss the trade-based city-states of Mogadishu, Mombasa, and Zanzibar.

7.18 Compare the indigenous religious practices observed by early Africans before and after contact with Islam and Christianity.







In this lesson students will examine the mysteries of the city of Timbuktu, and its surrounding geographic regions. Through mapping activities, timelining, vocabulary development, and hands on projects, students will gain an understanding of the culture and geography of Timbuktu, past and present.



Watch two history teachers sing and dance about the amazing African Empires...

Primary Documents and Supporting Texts to Read: excerpts from Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali
bottom of page