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11 Ancient African Writing Systems That Demolish the Myth That Black People Were Illiterate

The importance of oral culture and tradition in Africa and the recent dominance of European languages through colonialism, among other factors, has led to the misconception that the languages of Africa either have no written form or have been put to writing only very recently.

However, Africa has the world’s oldest and largest collection of ancient writing systems. The evidence dates to prehistoric times and can be found in multiple regions of the continent.

By contrast, continental Europe’s oldest writing, Greek, was not fully in use untilroughly 1400 B.C. (a clay tablet found in Iklaina, Greece) and is largely derived from an older African script.

The oldest Asian writing, proto-cuneiform, dates to around 3000 B.C. (clay texts found at Jemdet Nasr). However, the oldest known African writing systems are several centuries older.

Here are 11 African writing systems you should know about to dispel the myth that Africans were illiterate people.


Oued Mertoutek engravingProto-Saharan (5000–3000 B.C.)

Dr. Clyde Winters, author of “The Ancient Black Civilizations of Asia,” wrote that before the rise of the Egyptians and Sumerians there was a wonderful civilization in the fertile African Sahara, where people developed perhaps the world’s oldest known form of writing.

These inscriptions of what some archaeologists and linguists have termed “proto-Saharan,” near the Kharga Oasis west of what was considered Nubia, may date back to as early as  5000 B.C.

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