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Unit 2 - Everything Out of Africa to Early Americans

  • Unit Question – Do individuals create culture and does culture create individuals?
  • Historical Context – Ancient kingdoms of Africa (including Ancient Egypt, Ancient Nubia, Ancient Ghana, Ancient Songhai, Ancient Mali), Mesoamerica and the early American civilizations
  • Final Assessment – Ancient Egypt and Nubia Kingdoms Quiz, West African Kingdoms Quiz, & Mesoamerican Civilizations Quiz

Ancient Africa

Ancient Egypt

Life along the Nile River evolves and expands to create a unique and unified civilization.  The Nile made it possible for the people of Ancient Egypt to form the first nation in history. A nation may refer to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnic background or history. The land beyond the Nile River Valley is the Sahara Desert. A desert is land that receives less than ten inches of rain in a typical year. Since it is nearly impossible to grow much food in the desert, few people lived far from the banks of the Nile. Giant boulders blocked the Nile and formed a natural border at the southern Egyptian city of Aswan. The Nile flows into the vast Mediterranean Sea, which formed Egypt’s border to the north. Egypt’s isolation led to its unification. People living along the banks of the Nile River spoke the same language and worshipped many of the same gods more than five thousand years ago. 

Ancient Egypt Resources:


BONUS:  Are these pyramids from 

Ancient Egypt or Ancient Nubia?

Queen/Pharaoh Hatshepsut

The Queen Who Would Be King

Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh in Egypt, ruling for 20 years in the 15th century B.C. She is considered one of Egypt's most successful pharaohs.  Read more: - Hatshepsut.  Using the documentary and links above and below, answer the Queen/Pharaoh Hatshepsut Discussion Questions:  

Discussion Questions:
  1. Why did she Hatshepsut have to publicly pretend or at least give the appearance of being a man?
  2. Which civilization to the north, in what is modern day Syria, threatened Ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom and Hatshepsut's reign as Pharaoh?
  3. What civilization to the south of Egypt did Hatshepsut expand trade relationships with and possibly conquered?
  4. Why would it be wrong for Hatshepsut to have a relationship with Semet, a commoner?  Could this have been the reason Egyptians attempted to erase her memory from history?
  5. Why did the Egyptians attempt to erase the memory of Hatshepsut?
  6. Where were the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom buried?
  7. Did Thutmoses III kill his stepmother the Queen/Pharaoh Hatshepsut?

Ancient Nubia

Upper Nubia, Lower Nubia, Kash, Land of Kush, Land of the bow, Wawat, Te-Seti, Te-Nehesy, Nubadae, Napata, Kingdom of Meroei..and more. All refer to the great African Civilization of Nubia. Nubia an 800 km of land along the Nile river, bounded by the First Cataract of the River Nile south of Egypt and the Six Cataract South of Khartoum (capital of Sudan). Except for a very small strip of land along the Nile north of Sudan all Nubia land is in Sudan. Respectively Sudan is the Homeland of this Great Civilization of Africa. Although many different labels and names, the Nubian culture is as diverse and possibly more influential than any in history.

Read pages 152-163 in your My World History: Early Ages textbook and answer the Ancient Nubia questions:

1. What differences are there between Egyptian and Sumerian writing?

2. What were some of the the purposes of the pyramids? How did these pyramids demonstrate the engineering skills of Egyptians?

3. How did the development of the calendar aide Egyptians? What can the ancient Egyptian calendar tell us about their culture?  HINT:  365 days!

4. How and why were Egypt and Nubia interdependent? How did trade benefit both civilizations?

5. What are some similarities and differences between Egyptian and Nubian cultures?

6. Why do you think we learn less in school today about Nubia than we do about Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome?

Ancient Nubia Resources

West African Kingdoms 

(Ghana, Mali, & Songhai)



Today’s Africa is accepted by scientists as being the “cradle of the human species.”  However it is often forgotten that some of the world’s greatest civilizations such as the Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires flourished before the Europeans arrived and colonized Africa.  False and negative views about Africa were developed in Europe to justify the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which started with the Portuguese in 1471 CE (AD).  Africa has been portrayed as an uncivilized continent where tribal warfare was rife with no trace of leadership or culture BUT as you will read and discover, this is definitely NOT the case. The three Medieval Empires (5th - 15th Century C.E.) of West Africa were Ghana, Mali, and Songhai are rich with culture and trade:


It was about 500 miles northwest of today’s modern Ghana. The capital of the Ghana Empire was called Ghana, which was around 300 CE (AD). Trade was an essential element in the rise and fall of the West African empires. The main imports of the Ghana Empire were cloth, brocades (silks), copper, and salt and its main export was its very valuable gold, which helped to build its importance in “international trade”. The camel caravan trading and expedition routes linked West African cities with Europe and the Middle East. The king of Ghana controlled trading through taxing traders and salt being a very important commodity was traded for equal amounts of gold. The decline of the Ghana Empire came about in the 11th century. The invasion of the Ghana Empire by the Almoravids from the north along with internal disputes within the empire led to its collapse in the 13th century when it was absorbed into the Mali Empire


After the fall of the Ghana Empire the Mali Empire took over around 1240 CE (AD) and grew to be larger than the Ghana Empire. The first capital of the Mali Empire was Djeriba then Niani and then eventually Mali. Mali was famous for weaving, mining and architecture. By the close of the 14th century the Mali Empire had achieved greater wealth and power than Ghana. Civil war attacks from Songhai and the arrival of the Portuguese in Africa reduced Mali’s power. It’s greatest leaders were Sundiata Keita, Sakura, Mansa Musa (image to your left), and the Sultan Sulayman. 


The third of the great Empires of West Africa was Songhai. By 1500 CE (AD) it had become the largest and most powerful state in West Africa. Songhai was famous or its progress in education, a uniform system in weights and measures and the improvement in banking and credit procedures. The riches of the gold encouraged invasion of Songhai. The Moroccans took control of Timbuktu, which was a great center of learning. Once again this great empire was weakened by internal conflicts and went into decline. The existence of great Kingdoms and empires has shown that Africans were capable of creating important civilizations long before the Europeans arrived in Africa. Important rulers of the Songhai Empire were Sonni Ali, Bakari Da’a, Askia Muhammed, Musa, Askia Ismail, Askia Daud, and Askia Ishak.  Courtesy of Croydon Supplementary Education Project    

Read the introduction, descriptions above, and pages 485-499 in your My World History textbook and answer the West African Kingdom questions in your COMP books:

1. How did geographical features and natural resources of Africa influence the development of civilizations and trade? HINT:  Keep reading!  You will find information to answer this question throughout the whole reading.  

2. How did advancements in metalworking impact the Soninke?

3. What made the kings of Ghana so wealthy?

4. In what ways did the ruling systems of Mali differ from Ghana?

5. What impact did Mansa Musa have on Mali? (Think in terms of culture, empire, and reputation)

6. How did Askia Muhammad strengthen the rise of Islam in West Africa and what was its impact?

Before we start to discover the Mesoamerican civilizations think of the following questions, obviously the second and third questions are difficult to understand, but I want to start planting some seeds of thought.  We will revisit these questions later:
1)  Do individuals create culture or does culture create individuals?
2)  How are the early civilizations of West Africa (Ghana, Mali, Songhai) and Egypt and Nubia similar to the Mesoamerican civilizations?
3)  How is it possible for there to be any similarities of civilizations without any contact with each other (Pre-Colonialism) and an ocean apart? 

Mesoamerican Civilizations 

Olmec Civilization

The ancient Olmec civilization is believed to have been centered around the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico area (today the states of Veracruz and Tabasco) - further south east than the heart of the Aztec empire.  The Olmec culture developed in the centuries before 1400 BCE (BC), and declined around 400 BCE (BC).

Discussion Question:  Little is known about the Olmec, why do you think that is?  

          Mayan Civilization Rise & Decline (Theories)

The Mayan civilization, centered in the tropical lowlands of what is now Guatemala, reached the peak of its power and influence around the sixth century CE (AD). The Maya excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and symbolic artwork. Most of the great stone cities of the Maya were abandoned by 900 CE (AD), since then 19th century scholars have debated what might have caused this dramatic decline. Read more: History Channel: The Mayan

So what caused the decline of the Maya? 
Well there are many theories, but you must decide for yourself. 

Common theories are:

  • Disaster Theory
  • Warfare Theory
  • Famine Theory
  • Civil Strife Theory
  • Environmental Change Theory 

Select and read at least one of the articles below before deciding your Mayan Civilization Rise and Decline (Theories):  

BONUS: Mayan Ballgame
The Mesoamerican Mayan ball game was played, experts think, by all the cultures in the region, beginning with the Olmecs who may have invented it. The Mayan ball game goes back 3,500 years, making it the first organized game in the history of sports. Mayans loved the game and everyone played at various times, but it also held deep religious, ritual meaning as well. For that reason, it was sometimes played just as a game, with lots of gambling on the teams. At other times, the game became spectacle and ritual, with the city rulers playing captive warriors in rigged, ritual games. The captives would lose the game and then be sacrificed. Read more: History on the Net: Mayan Ballgame

  • How did the Mayan Ballgame work?  How does a team win? 
  • Is this the first professional sport in world history?  What would happen if you lost?  

Mayan Ballgame Resources

Inca Civilization

The Inca, of what is modern-day Peru, called their empire Tahuantinsuyu, or Land of the Four Quarters. It stretched 2,500 miles from Quito, Ecuador, to beyond Santiago, Chile. Within its domain were rich coastal settlements, high mountain valleys, rain-drenched tropical forests and the driest of deserts. The Inca controlled perhaps 10 million people, speaking a hundred different tongues. It was the largest empire on earth at the time. Yet when Pizarro executed its last emperor, Atahualpa, the Inca Empire was only 50 years old. 

Aztec Civilization

The Aztec Empire was peopled by a group that was once nomadic, the Mexicas.  Their chroniclers told them that after their long journey from Aztlán, they found themselves to be outcasts, until they found the sign sent to them by their god Huitzilopochtli, and began to build their city.  And so the Mexica peoples continued, and the Aztec Empire began.

The city of Tenochitlan was soon to become one of the largest cities in the world.  The power of the Mexica peoples became more consolidated, and they began to form alliances.  Their military power grew as well, and they began to conquer peoples in the surrounding areas.
The Aztec Empire was peopled by a group that was once nomadic, the Mexicas.  Their chroniclers told them that after their long journey from Aztlán, they found themselves to be outcasts, until they found the sign sent to them by their god Huitzilopochtli, and began to build their city.  And so the Mexica peoples continued, and the Aztec Empire began.

The Aztec Empire was peopled by a group that was once nomadic, the Mexicas.  Their chroniclers told them that after their long journey from Aztlán, they found themselves to be outcasts, until they found the sign sent to them by their god Huitzilopochtli, and began to build their city.  And so the Mexica peoples continued, and the Aztec Empire began.The city of Tenochtitlan was soon to become one of the largest cities in the world.  The power of the Mexica peoples became more consolidated, and they began to form alliances.  Their military power grew as well, and they began to conquer peoples in the surrounding areas.  At the height of its power, the Aztec Empire was organized and strong, but ruled with fear.  In 1519, a clash of cultures was to take place, unlike anything before it.  Although there was much tragedy in both the Spanish and Aztec empires before this, the meeting of the two civilizations was disastrous.  In a few short years, the culture and structure of one of histories greatest empires would have virtually vanished.

Encounter in Tenochtitlan Questions - Broken Spears (classwork or homework)

Encounter in Tenochtitlan Questions: 

  1. Define the following: vigilance, apparition, & ingots
  2. Who was the La Malinche?  Explain her role in the Encounter in Tenochtitlan.  
  3. Did Montezuma truly believe that Cortez and the Spaniards were foretold kings (gods) back to governor their city?
  4. Could Moctezuma have negotiating peace with the Cortes and Spanish conquistadors?
  5. Could the nobles or people of Tenochtitlan organized any legitimate resistance of the Spanish conquistadors?
  6. What happens after the Broken Spears account?

Discussion Questions:  
Easter Island 
  • What happened to the Moai people of Easter Island?  
  • What are some similarities or possible connections between the Moai people of Easter Island and the Inca of South America or the civilizations of Mesoamerica?   
  • What can we learn from the story of Easter Island?

Nazca Lines
  • How were the Nazca Lines formed and what purpose could they have served?
  • What happened to the Nazca people and their capital city of Cahuachi?

Easter Island / Nazca Lines Resources:

Easter Island / 

Nazca Lines

Guns, Germs, & Steel
by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 trans-disciplinary nonfiction book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998, it won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. A documentary based on the book, and produced by the National Geographic Society, was broadcast on PBS in July 2005. The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations (including North Africa) have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example, written language or the development among Eurasians of resistance to endemic diseases), he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures, and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes.

"Guns, Germs and Steel lays a foundation for understanding human history, which makes it fascinating in its own right. Because it brilliantly describes how chance advantages can lead to early success in a highly competitive environment, it also offers useful lessons for the business world and for people interested in why technologies succeed."—Bill Gates

Discussion Questions:

1. According to Jared Diamond, what are the three major elements that separate the world’s “haves” from the “have nots”?

2. Jared Diamond refers to the people of New Guinea as “among the world’s most culturally diverse and adaptable people in the world”, yet they have much less than modern Americans. Diamond has developed a theory about what has caused these huge discrepancies among different countries, and he says it boils down to geographic luck. Give several examples from the film to support Diamond’s theory.

3. According to Diamond, livestock also plays a significant role in a civilization’s ability to become rich and powerful. How did the domestication of animals help people? Give several examples.

4. How did the movement of the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (Middle East) further support Diamond’s idea that geography played a key role in the success of a civilization?

5. Do you agree with Jared Diamond when he says of a civilizations ability to gain power, wealth, and strength, “…what’s far more important is the hand that people have been dealt, the raw materials they’ve had at their disposal.” Why or why not?