Watch Africa's Great Civilizations

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This six-episode docuseries explores the history of African civilization. The history is long, given that anthropologists believe that humankind originated on the continent. The series begins at the dawn of humanity and looks at the development of human civilization in Africa through the twentieth century. The series is hosted by scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., and it aired on PBS in 2017.

Africa's Great Civilizations is a Documentary & Biography series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (6 episodes). The series first aired on February 27, 2017. It has moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8.

Africa's Great Civilizations is available for streaming on the PBS website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Africa's Great Civilizations on demand at PBS Amazon, iTunes, PBS online.

1 Season, 6 Episodes
February 27, 2017
Documentary & Biography
Cast: Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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Africa's Great Civilizations Full Episode Guide

  • Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. introduces viewers to the African continent through a series of expansive views and myth-busting revelations. His six-hour exploration of the African past begins at the origins of human existence. Through anthropological and scientific discoveries viewers learn that Africa is the genetic home of all currently living humanity. Only between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago did some of humanity's common ancestors leave the continent to spread across the rest of the world. These great African migrations culminated in the diverse global peoples and societies that viewers know today. Beginning with this great revelation, Gates then traces the roots of agriculture, writing, artistic expression, and iron working to their birthplaces on the continent. Gates first arrives in present-day Ethiopia, where the 1997 discovery of fossil remains near the Omo River was the first discovered connection between modern humanity and the oldest known traces of the species to have walked the earth some 195,000 years ago.

  • The series' fifth hour examines the tremendous changes wrought in Africa by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, flowing out of the new era of European exploration in the New World that had begun in 1492 and reached a crucial point in the 16th century. For centuries, Eastern Africa, West Africa and Northern Africa had all been tied deeply into long-distance commercial networks linking across the Eastern Hemisphere. However, the European discovery of the Americas, and the passage of Portuguese seamen farther and farther south along Africa's Atlantic coast, reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and then traveling around the Cape and all the way to India in 1497, transformed those relations. Across the continent empires would rise and fall, with some 12.5 million Africans suffering enslavement in the crosshairs. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. begins the story in northern Angola, where the mountain city of Mbanza Kongo was once the capital of the great African kingdom of Kongo. By the beginning of the 17th century Kongo was listed among the world's great kingdoms - a tale of increasing religious and economic entanglement with Europe that Gates recounts in the kingdom's ancient ruins.

  • Hour four shines a light on the powerful, cosmopolitan cities that dotted Africa at a time when Europe was in its Middle Ages. From 1000 to 1600, a golden age evolves in the expansion of commerce, wealth and prosperity across Africa, and, along with this, the building of new cities and the founding of new powerful states. Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. picks up the story first on East Africa's Swahili coast, where sailors of wooden seagoing ships, or dhows, mastered the seasonal monsoon winds to develop a complex maritime trade spanning the Indian Ocean from the nearby Middle East to India, with indirect trade connections as far afield as China. These interactions facilitated the birth of a distinctive form of Islam in East Africa, one that influenced local society from its religious practices to the formation of the Kiswahili language. Islam would spread with trade and become the religion of the Swahili towns and cities, but with several ways of observing Islam drawn from the Bantu cultural roots of the Swahili.

  • Explore the dynamism of 19th century Africa and the 'scramble for its riches.

  • Henry Louis Gates Jr. looks at the complex trade networks and advanced educational institutions that transformed early north and west Africa into the continent's wealthiest kingdoms and learning centers.

  • Henry Louis Gates Jr. visits Kenya and Egypt while be educated about the origins of man and development of early human societies.