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Leo Frobenius, the theory's main proponent

The African Atlantis was a civilization thought to have once existed in southern Africa, initially proposed by German philosopher Leo Frobenius towards the end of the 19th century.[1] Named for the mythical Atlantis, this lost civilization was conceived to be the root of African culture and social structure, the existence of which contradicted the ideas of white social and cultural superiority which prevailed in Europe during the period. Using studies of language, anthropology and political economy, Frobenius surmised that a white civilization must have existed in Africa prior to the arrival of the European colonisers, and that it was this "white residue" that enabled native Africans to exhibit traits of "military power, political leadership and... monumental architecture."[1]


Background of African study

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the dominant historical school was that derived from Leopold von Ranke and other historians who followed his teachings. These historians argued that without a verifiable history gleaned from written sources and written historical fact, no history existed. As African history was, at the time, maintained through oral folklore, language and culture, it was often argued that Africa was a continent without history. Therefore, the true origins of African culture, political identity and language were unknown. In light of the socially acceptable racism of the time, which portrayed non-white ethnic groups as inferior to whites, it was difficult to explain the development of sophisticated levels of culture and social structure in Africa and other areas without white intervention. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's historical theories served as the basis for the idea that ethnic groups deemed unable to manufacture such advanced civilized traits had either been conquered by more advanced civilizations or had imitated them. This was backed up by anthropological research at the time, which supplemented the lack of what was then the main acceptable historical source, the written document.[2]

Migration from the Mediterranean

With the arrival of colonial empires from Europe in Africa during the 19th century, many were at a loss to explain the advanced traits of the native populations. The European explorers came across what they recognised as "vestiges" of civilization, and struggled at times against African military strength and organisation. Frobenius's theory stated that "historical contact with emigrant 'whites' of Mediterranean origin" were responsible for these traits in the native African population. He stated that such a civilization must have disappeared long ago, to allow for the dilution of their civilization to the levels that were encountered during the period.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Miller, p. 4
  2. ^ Miller, p. 2-3.


  • J. Miller History and Africa/Africa and History in The American Historical Review, Vol. 104. No. 1. (February, 1999) pages 1-32


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