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Explorers of Africa in History

Even in the 18th century, much of the interior of Africa was unfamiliar to Europeans. Rather they limited themselves to trade along the coast, first in gold, ivory, spices, and later slaves. In 1788 Joseph Banks, the botanist who"d sailed across the Pacific Ocean with Cook, went as far as to found the African Association to promote the exploration of the interior of the continent. What follows is a list of those explorers whose names went down in history.

Ibn Battuta (1304-1377) traveled over 100,000 kilometres from his home in Morocco. According to the book he dictated, he traveled as far as Beijing and the Volga River; scholars say it"s unlikely he traveled everywhere he claims to have.

James Bruce (1730-94) was a Scottish explorer who set off from Cairo in 1768 to find the source of the River Nile. He arrived at Lake Tana in 1770, confirming that this lake was the origin of the Blue Nile, one of the tributaries of the Nile.

Mungo Park (1771-1806) was hired by the African Association in 1795 to explore the River Niger. When the Scotsman returned to Britain having reached the Niger, he was disappointed by the lack of public recognition of his achievement and that he was not acknowledged as a great explorer. In 1805 he set out to follow the Niger to its source. His canoe was ambushed by tribesmen at the Bussa Falls and he drowned.

René-Auguste Caillié (1799-1838), a Frenchman, was the first European to visit Timbuktu and survive to tell the tale.

He"d disguised himself as an Arab to make the trip. Imagine his disappointment when he discovered that the city wasn"t made of gold, as legend said, but of mud. His journey started in West Africa in March 1827, headed towards Timbuktu where he stayed for two weeks. He then crossed the Sahara (the first European to do so) in a caravan of 1,200 animals, then the Atlas Mountains to reach Tangier in 1828, from where he sailed home to France.

Heinrich Barth (1821-1865) was a German working for the British government. His first expedition (1844-1845)was from Rabat (Morocco)

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