Archaeological sites across Africa
Don your fedora & dig a little deeper
What comes to mind when you think of the term ‘safari in Africa’? Chances are, it’s something along the lines of Big Five game drives and crisp G&Ts at sunset. While that’s a fair perspective, there is so much more you can do on safari than most travel brochures and websites will tell you.
Africa has everything from culture, cuisine, art, and architecture. But it also holds some of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures revealing the complexity and depth of ancient African civilizations. It’s riveting stuff and ties into our mission of encouraging travelers to go beyond the bounds of what they think a ‘typical’ safari should look and feel like.
Get ready to channel your inner Indiana Jones and turn your next trip to Africa up a notch. Here are several archaeological sites across Africa worth adding to your safari itinerary (or even just knowing about!):
Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, Twyfelfontein, is one of those enigmatic landscapes for which Namibia is revered. Located where the Namib Desert becomes Damaraland, this mystical, middle-of-nowhere landmark conceals the most significant concentration of rock art in Southern Africa. This ‘open-air gallery’ boasts over 2 500 San Bushmen and Khoikhoi petroglyphs (engravings) and tells us that humans have inhabited this site for well over 6,000 years!
Further excavation: If you’re fascinated by rock art, give San Rock Art by J.D. Lewis-Williams a read.
Lalibela Churches, Ethiopia
The UNESCO-listed Lalibela consists of eleven monolithic rock-hewn churches, considered the largest of their kind in the world. Attributed to King Lalibela, who ruled in the 13th century, this impressive site demonstrates an extraordinary level of architectural skill that continues to baffle modern-day archaeologists. Located in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, this holy site remains an important place of pilgrimage for Ethiopians and is still used for daily worship and ceremonies.
Further excavation: Lalibela’s churches are hard to reach due to their remote location, but this virtual tour maps it out quite well.
Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania
A visit to Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge proves that a safari experience can include more than just the Great Migration. Made famous by the discovery of fossils and tools from early hominids, this important paleoanthropological site reveals some fascinating stories about the past. Olduvai Gorge is an easy add-on to the itinerary, as you can stop there when traveling between the Ngorongoro Crater (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the Serengeti National Park. If you’re lucky, you might even get to watch archaeologists working on an active dig!
Further excavation: This book by Mary Leaky is worth a read. In 1948, she discovered the first perfectly preserved skull of a hominoid at Olduvai.
Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa
Discover the birthplace of humanity at the Cradle of Humankind. This UNESCO-certified World Heritage Site sits just one hour’s drive from Johannesburg, making it an easy add-on to your South African itinerary. Three million years of human activity have occurred in and around the prehistoric caves dotted across this landscape, revealing humans’ earliest-known mastery of fire and providing clues on how humans have evolved. To date, the remains of over 500 hominids have been discovered here, with ‘Mrs. Ples’ and ‘Little Foot’ being the most significant.
Further excavation: Stop at the Maropeng Visitor Centre for a guided tour during your visit. This world-class exhibition focuses on the development of humans and our ancestors.
Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe is next on our list of archaeological sites across Africa, which consists of stone ruins from an ancient Iron Age city. Located near Masvingo, this once-thriving economic hub is estimated to have supported a population of 10 000 to 20 000 people. There is also further evidence of crop cultivation, cattle farming, and gold trading here between the 11th and 15th centuries. Great Zimbabwe is significant because it proves that ancient Africa was more developed than previous scholars may have thought. The country was further named after it – the Shona word Zimbabwe meaning ‘stone houses’.
Further excavation: Grab yourself a copy of Palaces of Stone by Mike Main and Thomas Huffman before you go.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza, located near present-day Cairo, are among the most famous and iconic archaeological sites across Africa and the world. Built as tombs for pharaohs and their consorts, these 4000-year-old gigantic structures form part of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lying at their base is the Sphinx (with its trademark missing nose), which is equally impressive. The archaeologically rich sites of Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak are also worth adding to your travel list.
Further excavation: When in Cairo, visit the Grand Egyptian Museum, where you can observe King Tutankhamun’s 5,000-piece burial collection displayed in an exact replication of his tomb.
So, there you have it. Proof that there is no need to flock to Europe to witness evidence of great human achievement. There is more than enough to uncover and marvel at in Africa. The best part? No need to brave the crowds or wait in line for hours to see it all.
Even though you wouldn’t typically think of adding some of Africa’s archaeological sites to your safari, we’re here to remind you that it is possible. Contact our team today, and let’s start planning!