The lost cities of Africa.

by Basil Davidson




Call number

DT25 .D3


Combining archeological evidence and scholarly research, Davidson traces the exciting development of the rich kingdoms of the lost cities of Africa, fifteen hundred years before European ships first came to African shores.

Media reviews

The Nation
The Lost Cities of Africa is the only book I know of which is a systematic, scientific and thoroughly up-to-date presentation of the history, prehistory, archeology and prehistoric anthropology of all of Africa, except for the Moorish-Arab Northwest corner. All the major centers of civilization are treated in considerable detail: Upper Egypt, Libya, the Kushites, Meroë, the Sudan, the great caravan empires and the cities of the Niger; Benin, Yoruba, the Kingdoms of the Gold and Ivory Coasts and the Congo; Zanzibar, the East Coast trading cities with their contacts with India and China; Ethiopia and Axum, the Christian empires of the highlands; Mapungubwe, Zimbabwe, whose mysterious ruins were the source of Rider Haggard’s romances. The picture which emerges is of a complex of pre-literate civilizations only just beneath those of Mexico and Peru, and still growing vigorously when they were stricken by European and later Arab looting, conquest and slave hunting.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JayNair
Written in 1959, this book is the first in an acclaimed series on Africa by Basil Davidson. It is a scholarly piece of work that describes the rise and fall of the glorious cities and kingdoms of an Africa of years past. In doing so, it dispels the many myths and hype created by foreign cultures, notably Europeans, around a land they did not know or understand and therefore dismissed as "The Dark Continent" (yet exploited and laid waste in ways that would seem unimaginably horrible to our "civilized" minds).

It was just past the middle of the 20th Century that a significant volume of archeological evidence finally started to unravel the mysteries of this vast land and its peoples. Davidson exploits this nascent body of evidence and also draws on older research studies and literature to take us through a journey through the many waves of human migration, settlement and empire-building – and demolition - that crisscrossed Africa over the last four thousand years or so. This book was written at a time when the body of knowledge about Africa was still very sketchy. It wouldn’t have been possible to tell a coherent story if it were to be based solely on proven and established fact. Therefore, Davidson attempts to fill some of the “missing links” based on folklore – mostly from ancient travelers - and his own “intelligent conjecture”. He succeeds in doing this without losing his credibility one bit, though, because every time he does this, he does not fail to express his self-doubt or reiterate the unreliable nature of the source of his information.

What has made this book most valuable to me is not just the fascinating glimpse it gives on the history of Africa. Even more so, it is the deeper questions about human endeavor and the nature of cultural growth that Davidson investigates even as he tries to understand how cultural evolution happened in Africa due to indigenous factors as well as foreign influence. He does not claim to know all the answers – in fact, I believe he raises more questions than he provides answers – and in doing so, he makes us think where we have all come from and how we humans have come to become what we are.
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