People of Africa

The Beautiful People of Africa

The people of Africa may be the most diverse of all the continents. Africa’s 1 billion people speak perhaps 2,000 or more languages. Thousands of distinct ethnic groups are found in Africa. Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.3 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth’s total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.3 billion people as of 2018, it accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. Africa’s average population is the youngest amongst all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 19.7, when the worldwide median age was 30.4. Despite a wide range of natural resources, the continent is the least wealthy per capita, possibly due in part to the legacies of European colonization in Africa. Despite this low concentration of wealth, recent economic expansion and the large and young population make Africa an important economic market in the broader global context.

North of the Sahara, people are mainly of Arab origin. South of the Sahara, the people are mostly black Africans. Throughout Africa are scattered people of European ancestry, descendants of colonial settlers.

Most Africans live in rural communities. Many raise livestock or farm. Relatively few people live in cities. But Africa does have many big cities, and they are growing rapidly. They include Cairo, Egypt; Casablanca, Morocco; Lagos, Nigeria; and Cape Town, South Africa, Accra, Ghana.

From the 1500s to the 1800s, millions of Africans were forcibly removed to North and South America to work as slaves. Their descendants are still prominent among the people of those continents.

A composite computer reconstruction of fossils from Jebel Irhoud shows a modern, flattened face paired with an archaic, elongated braincase


Birthplace of Humanity

Africa is now widely recognized as the birthplace of the Hominidae, the taxonomic family to which modern humans belong. Archaeological evidence indicates that the continent has been inhabited by humans and their forebears for some 4,000,000 years or more. Anatomically modern humans are believed to have appeared as early as 200,000 years ago in the eastern region of sub-Saharan Africa. The oldest bones of humans were found in a Moroccan cave and dated to be more than 400,000 years.

World’s oldest Homo Sapiens fossils found in Morocco

GRAPHIC) G. Grullón/Science; (DATA) Smithsonian Human Origins Program; (PHOTOS, COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) Ryan Somma/Wikimedia Commons; James Di Loreto & Donald H. Hurlbert/Smithsonian Institution/Wikimedia Commons; SHOP; SHOP; University of the Witwatersrand; SHOP; Housed in National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Photo Donation: ©2001 David L. Brill,; SHOP

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