The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






North Africa

North Africa is a region generally considered to include:

The Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Madeira are sometimes considered to be a part of North Africa.

The term "North Africa" is also often used to refer to the Maghreb alone (thus excluding the Nile Valley).

Some North African countries, particularly Egypt and Libya, often get included in common definitions of the Middle East due to continuous contacts with the Middle East. In addition, the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is often considered part of the Middle East.


North Africa is vastly more uniform ethnically than anywhere in Africa south of the Sahara. It is principally inhabited by Berbers and Arabs, who are scarcely distinguishable physically. The Berbers are the indigenous people in the Maghreb, but their origins are not entirely clear. The majority of people in North-Africa are of Berber decent.


Though North African culture as well as its people have both African and Middle Eastern roots, most North Africans are either Arabic or Berber-speaking Muslims (or, in the Copts' case, Christians). North Africa also had a large Jewish population but most have left largely to Israel or France. Prior to the modern establishment of Israel, There were about 600,000-700,000 Jews in North Africa. Today less than fifteen thousand remain in the region. (See Jewish exodus from Arab lands)


The oldest figurine known to date -- 300,000 to 500,000 years ago -- was found in Morocco.

Early remnants of hominid occupation in North Africa have been found in Ain el Hanech, near Sa´da (ca. 200,000 B.C.). Later, Neandertal tool makers produced hand axes in the Levalloisian and Mousterian styles (ca. 43,000 B.C.) similar to those in the Levant. According to some sources, North Africa was the site of the highest state of development of Middle Paleolithic flake-tool techniques. Tools of this era, starting about 30,000 B.C., are called Aterian (after the site Bir el Ater ), south of Annaba in the north-eastern corner of Algeria. These tools are marked by a high standard of workmanship, great variety, and specialization. See Prehistory of Central North Africa.

Originally, much of North Africa was inhabited by black Africans, including Upper Egypt, as demonstrated by Saharan rock art throughout the region; however, this does not appear to have been the case in the Maghreb and Lower Egypt, which were inhabited by white Africans speaking Afro-Asiatic languages. Following the desiccation of the Sahara, most black Africans migrated South into East and West Africa.

After the Middle Ages, the area was loosely under the control of the Ottoman Empire, except Morocco. After the 19th century, it was colonized by France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. During the 1950's and 60's, and into the 1970's, all of the North African states gained independence, except for a few small Spanish colonies on the far northern tip of Morocco, and the Western Sahara, which went from Spanish to Moroccan rule.

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