Cheikh Anta DIOP Biography


Cheikh Anta DIOP was born on December 29, 1923, in the village of Caytou located in the region of Diourbel,Senegal (approximately 150 km South of Dakar). After koranic, followed by primary and secondary French-school studies in Senegal, Cheikh Anta DIOP will be endowed with a double higher training in Human Sciences and in Natural Sciences in Paris, France.

He published in 1954 (Editions Presence Africaine), a work of world-wide interest, Nations nègres et cultures, which gave a strong scientific foundation to the field of African humanities. Aimé Césaire will write: “…Nations nègres et Cultures is the most audacious [book] a Negro has ever written and will count, without doubt, in the awakening of Africa” (Discours sur le Colonialisme, 1955).

In January 1960, he defended a thesis at the University of Sorbonne on Historical Sociology, a work published in two books by Éditions Présence Africaine: L’Afrique noire précoloniale and L’unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire.

With these three publications, Cheikh Anta DIOP founded the scientific history of the African continent and inaugurated, at the same time, a school of African history.

After returning to Senegal, he was appointed at IFAN (French Institute of Black Africa initially, and Fundamental Institute of Black Africa a few years later), which was then managed by Theodore Monod. Cheikh Anta Diop undertook the creation of a carbon 14 dating laboratory within IFAN.

By a notification on April 17, 1963, Theodore Monod formalizes the existence of the radiocarbon dating laboratory (within the Department of Archeology and Prehistory of IFAN)and nominated Cheikh Anta DIOP at its head. In 1966, the laboratory became fully functional with the installation of the complete "RA14" radioactivity measurement setup from Intertechnique, thanks to the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) from Saclay, in France.

Working partnership were then established between IFAN and CEA/CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) with the vital collaboration of Jean Le Run (who implemented the first whole radiocarbon dating system at the CNRS Gif-sur-Yvette, in France), Jacques Labeyrie, Director of the CFR (Centre des Failbles Radioactivités or Center for Weak Radioactivity) at Gif-sur-Yvette and Georgette Delibrias, Director of the radiocarbon laboratory of the CFR.

Cheikh Anta DIOP named the dating measurements room after Théodore Monod and the one for chemical processing of samples after Jean Le Run. This was a testimony of gratitude to the first, as the eminent scientific personality who created and managed IFAN (until 1965) and to the second, as one of the pioneers of “Carbone 14” in France, and who trained him in C14 dating.

Apart from the Laboratory of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) the IFAN radiocarbon laboratory was the only Carbon 14 dating laboratory existing in Black Africa. The foundations of the laboratory were built to support an additional floor because Cheikh Anta DIOP had planned from the beginning of the project, to develop and widen the activities of this laboratory. He indeed considered the laboratory, in the South of the Sahara, as the core of a future great African Center devoted to weak radioactivities, in order to deal with various methods of dating.

Many disciplines can benefit from the existence of such a laboratory: Archeology, Prehistory, History, Geology, Climatology, etc.

The dating results of archeological samples were published in the Bulletin de l’IFAN and in the international journal Radiocarbon.

In 1968, Cheikh Anta DOP published "Le laboratoire du radiocarbone de l'IFAN", which is a description of the installations gathering the measurements made from December 20th, 1966 until May 30th, 1967. It also contains the results of the first dates obtained from three samples supplied respectively by Théodore Monod, the dating laboratory at Saclay/Gif-sur-Yvette and a British archeological mission in Gambia. A few years later, in 1974, he published "Physique nucléaire et chronologie absolue", which describes the various dating methods of archeological and geological samples, in particular by radiocarbon, implemented in the Laboratory of Dakar.

In September 1976, he attended the IXth Congress of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP) held in Nice and is elected member of the UISPP Committee.

Cheikh Anta DIOP also continued the research activities he had already undertaken in various fields: Prehistory (the origins of man and his migrations), Egyptology, African historic linguistics, the evolution of societies, the contribution of Africa to civilization. Under the patronage of UNESCO, with other eminent African historians such as Sékéné Mody CISSOKHO, Joseph E. INIKORI, Joseph KI-ZERBO, Djibril Tamsir NIANE, Gamal MOKHTAR, Théophile OBENGA, Iba Der THIAM, etc., he brought a fertile contribution to the writing of the General History of Africa.

He received, with William Eduar Burghardt du Bois, the African-American academic and founding member of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Award of the 1st World Festival of Negro Arts in 1966, rewarding the writer who had exercised the greatest influence in Negro thought in the XXth century.

All through his life, Cheikh Anta DIOP led a political struggle for the liberation of Africa, its revival, its development and the construction of an Africa-wide Federal State able to cope with the challenges of the modern world.

Cheikh Anta DIOP died on February 7, 1986 in Dakar. He is now resting at Caytou.