Ancient Africa Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Societies and cultures in Africa stretch back thousands and thousands of years. Learn about some of the great kingdoms and peoples who lived in ancient Africa in this lesson.

Early Origins

Do you know where you come from? Perhaps you were born not very far from where you live today, or perhaps you traveled a long way to get there. The farther back we go in history, the more our roots go back to Africa. Humans are thought to have evolved in Africa over the course of millions and millions of years. The first humans, the first tools, the first languages, and the first cities developed in Africa.


One of the first and best-known parts of ancient Africa was Egypt. You may have heard about Egyptian pyramids, but did you know that 'ancient Egypt' refers to a period spanning over three thousand years? The first pyramids were built about five thousand years ago and Egypt was only conquered by outsiders about two thousand years ago. Egyptians were the first Africans to develop a written language, called hieroglyphics, which are words made out of pictures instead of letters. They also prayed to cool-looking gods with animal heads, like Sobek, the crocodile god.

Anubis, the afterlife god, with a dog head

Timbuktu and Trade

Northern Africa is home to the Sahara Desert, the largest in the world. The Sahara holds one of the oldest cities in all of Africa, Timbuktu. For about a thousand years, Timbuktu was in the perfect spot for trade. It's close to gold mines and salt mines, so everyone wanted to come to Timbuktu to trade. In 1330, Timbuktu became a major center for Muslims of northern Africa. Muslims built a great mosque, an Islamic church, in Timbuktu that quickly became world famous. But to get there, you'd have to travel on the back of a camel, because there's no other way to get through the Sahara Desert. Be careful, camels spit!

Camel caravan traveling to Timbuktu


Perhaps the most fun name to say in all of ancient Africa, Zanzibar is a small island off the middle of the eastern coast of the continent. It may be small, but it has played a big role in African history. For hundreds and hundreds of years, sailors from around the Indian Ocean landed at Zanzibar to trade. Some came from India, others from Persia, others from Arabia, and even some from China. Zanzibar was especially famous for its slave trade. Tribes from all over eastern Africa would sell their captives to slave traders. Many African slaves brought to the United States came from Zanzibar.

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