EARLY 7TH CENTURY
From the 7th century, the Muslims also explored much of Africa, many centuries before the Europeans parcelled the continent up between them. Our knowledge of this continent’s history is hampered by an absence of written records. The lack of a major transport infrastructure, such as that created by the Romans and the Chinese, makes its history very disparate, and this is not helped by the lack of archaeological evidence. We do know, however, that the growth of Carthage stimulated trade across the desert, and that this trade grew further under the Romans, who named the continent Africa after a tribe living near Carthage called the Afri. It was Muslims who introduced the camel in great quantities, which helped develop trade further and indirectly aided the growth of regional powers such as the great West African empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai, between the 7th and the 16th centuries. Much of what we know about African states in the 14th century comes from the writing of Abu Abdalla Ibn Battuta, a famous 14th century explorer, who spent almost 30 years travelling through the Islamic world, including northern Africa, India, Central Asia, China and the Middle East.