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The Role of a Woman in Ancient African Science and Medicine
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  5/18/09
By: Yona Williams

While men carved great niches in science, math, and medicine, throughout ancient African history, women were able to make their mark as well. Even when conquering cultures tried to suppress the women's role in science and medicine, some regions still allowed women to make advancements in the sciences. In this article, you will encounter women who worked on geometry to those who learned the healing ways of plants for medicinal purposes.

From this time period, prominent females in the African culture, such as Hypatia, a woman from Alexandria, Egypt emerge. Hypatia became known as a significant teacher and researcher that lived during the Roman period. She was known for working towards proving theories regarding the geometry of cones. She also studied things like what happened when a plane intersected a cone. Sadly, Christians, who were furious with Hypatia's refusal to become a part of their religion, killed her in 415 AD.

During later times, ancient African civilizations started to see the women take a move involved position in science and technology matters, giving the female contribution in Greece, Rome, and West Asia a run for their money. The pottery industry got an early start in Africa thanks to the women. They also led the way in iron smelting. The women also contributed to the evolution of cloth manufacturing. The men and women both participated in the advancements of early African medicine.

Unfortunately, the role of a woman drastically changed in ancient African civilizations when the Phoenicians (and later the Romans) took over Northern Africa. They did not want the women to take part in science. This trend would continue into the 700's AD, when the Islamic Empire conquered North Africa and trade with East Africa started to take place. The attitude of not having women participate in science or medicine did not change.

This did not stop the men in North and East Africa from excelling in science and medicine. Between 700 and 1500 AD, these regions (along with the area surrounding Timbuktu) saw many scientists and doctors. They also shared a common religion in Islam, which aided the men in communicating with one another using Arabic. New treatments and fresh ideas easily spread from one man to the next. These ideas also touched people in West Asia, India, and at times, China when such thinkers traveled throughout Africa and beyond.

Life in South Africa and Central Africa was much different for the female population, as they encouraged their women to pursue new ideas and thoughts regarding science and medicine. For example, the women of the San culture learned the identification and uses of hundreds of plants that possessed medicinal worth.


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