Essay by srfhrdCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 2004

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Africa, second largest of Earth's seven continents, covering 23 percent of the world's total land area and containing 13 percent of the world's population. Africa straddles the equator and most of its area lies within the tropics. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea on the east, and the Mediterranean Sea on the north. In the northeastern corner of the continent, Africa is connected with Asia by the Sinai Peninsula.

Africa is a land of great diversity. If you were to trek across the continent, you would pass through lush, green forests and wander vast, grassy plains. You would cross barren deserts, climb tall mountains, and ford some of the mightiest rivers on Earth. You would meet diverse people with a wide range of cultures and backgrounds and hear hundreds of different languages. You would pass through small villages where daily life remains largely the same as it has been for hundreds of years, as well as sprawling cities with skyscrapers, modern economies, and a mix of international cultural influences.

Africa is the birthplace of the human race. Here, early humans evolved from apes between 8 million and 5 million years ago. Modern human beings evolved between 130,000 and 90,000 years ago, and subsequently spread out of Africa. Ancient Egypt, one of the world's first great civilizations, arose in northeastern Africa more than 5,000 years ago. Over time many other cultures and states rose and fell in Africa, and by 500 years ago there were prosperous cities, markets, and centers of learning scattered across the continent.

During the last 500 years, however, Africa became increasingly dominated by European traders and colonizers. European traders sent millions of Africans to work as slaves on colonial plantations in North America, South America, and the...