As the world’s second-largest and second most populous continent, Africa is about 11.7 sq. miles including adjacent islands. It covers 6 percent of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4 percent of the total land area. With 1 billion people, it accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s human population. It is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Indian Ocean to the southeast. It includes Madagascar and a variety of other archipelagoes. It has 54 fully recognized sovereign states, three de facto states with limited recognition, and nine territories.

Africa, especially the eastern part, is largely accepted as the origin of humans and the Hominidae clade, as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, in addition to the later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago. It straddles the equator and includes a number of climate areas; it’s the only continent to extend from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.

Afri was a Latin name used in reference to the Carthaginians, who inhabited North Africa in what is now Tunisia. This name is assumed to refer to a native Libyan tribe originally. The name is normally connected with Phoenician afar, “dust”, but a hypothesis made in 1981 has declared that it stems from the Berber word ifri, meaning “cave”, referring to cave dwellers.

Africa is thought to be the oldest inhabited territory on Earth by most paleoanthropologists. In the middle of the 20th century, fossils and evidence of human activity possibly as early as 7 million years ago were discovered. Remains of several species of early apelike humans thought to have evolved into modern man have also been discovered.

Towards the end of the Ice Ages, the Sahara had again become a green lush valley, and its African populations returned from the interior and coastal highlands in Sub-Sarahan Africa. However, the warming and drying climate meant that by 5000 BC, the Sahara region was increasingly becoming dry and hostile. The population marched out of the Sahara region towards the Nile Valley below the Second Cataract where they made permanent/semi-permanent settlements. A major climatic depression occurred, decreasing the persistent rains in Central and Eastern Africa. Ever since this time, dry conditions have reigned in Eastern Africa and, more increasingly during the past 200 years, in Ethiopia.

It is the largest of the three great southward projections from the largest landmass of Earth. While being separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, it’s joined to Asia at its northernmost extremity by the Isthmus of Suez.

Africa’s largest country is Algeria, and its smallest country is the Seychelles, which is an archipelago off of the eastern coast. Geologically, Africa includes the Arabian Peninsula; the Zagros Mountains of Iran and the Anatolian Plateau of Turkey are markers where the African Plate collided with Eurasia. The Afrotropic ecozone and the Saharo-Arabian desert to the north unite the region biogeographically, and the Afro-Asiatic language family joins the north linguistically.

The climate of this continent ranges from tropical to sub arctic on its highest peaks. The northern half is mostly desert or arid, while the central and southern parts are both savanna plains and very dense jungle areas. In between the two, there is a junction where vegetation patterns, for example sahel and steppe, are most dominant. Africa is the warmest continent on the Earth; drylands and deserts make up sixty percent of the whole land surface.

Image Caption: Map of the African continent as in 2011-07. Credit: Bobarino/Wikipedia  (CC BY-SA 2.5)