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THE ORIGINS OF AFRICA

Africa as such did not have much of a name until the Greeks described this part of their empire along its southern and most western ports on the other side of Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Atlantic coast as ‘aphrike’, meaning ‘without cold'. This is where the name somehow got stuck, eventually becoming what it is known as today. Not till after the mid-1500's had Africa’s contours been fully chartered. Before that, most maps of this vast and largely unexplored continent remained pretty inaccurate.         

According to a widely accepted theory by the German scientist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), about 450 million years ago, the world’s continents existed as a single land mass where all forms of life large and minute, vegetation, minerals and gasses were able to mingle. Due to extreme ocean levels during that period, this land mass consisted of only 60% of what now lies above sea level. Bear in mind, there were no ice caps then.

Before drifting apart to its present position approximately 120 million years ago, the northern tip of Africa, more or less where Morocco is now, used to be on the Equator and tilted way more to the right compared to its present vertical position. Africa continues moving upwards and anti-clockwise at an average rate of 10 kilometres (6.4 miles) every million years, squeezing the Mediterranean out of existence and thrusting up an impressive chain of mountain ranges across Europe running all the way from the Pyrenees to the Ardennes, the Alps and the Caucasus.

Ongoing excavations at South Africa’s Blombos Caves in the area's limestone hills along the southern Cape’s coast have revealed some of the most primitive human artefacts and utensils ever found. A team of archeologists has been able to document an intact ‘art studio’, estimated to be between 70.000 to 100.000 years old. The range of findings includes charcoal, engraved pieces of ochre with abstract designs, beads, grindstones, refined bone and stone tools, abalone shells used for storing a paste consisting of a mixture of ochre, crushed bones, stone chips and some liquid, possibly used for ceremonial or decorative purposes, as well as the remains of a variety of animal, faunal and marine life.

African art eventually paved the way for a revolution in European art at the beginning of the twentieth century. A picture out of many that really sums it up for me is Man Ray’s crafty 1926 black and white ‘Noire et Blanche’. It portrays the young Alice Prin, his muse and companion at the time, with her head lying on a table, eyes closed. To the right of her pale face, she supports a dark wooden African mask, originally from the Baule people of the Ivory Coast.

If you want to, please like, share, forward and / or respond by leaving a comment below.

Jon Eiselin.

www.joneiselin.com

 

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