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Africa is the second-largest continent, in both land area and population. It is also the warmest continent, with a broad swath of Africa in the tropics. Only at the higher elevations, found on Mt. Kilimanjaro and other mountain slopes, can parts of Africa be considered cold. The Sahara desert separates the northern part of Africa, which is generally dry, from the southern part, which has wide savannahs, rainforests and other land forms. The Mediterranean lies between Europe and Africa, which touches the Middle East on its far eastern side. While the Sahara has been a barrier to commerce, the Mediterranean has historically provided routes to facilitate trade with Europe and the Middle East. The Nile River in Egypt brought water and fertile soil to an area which was otherwise desert, allowing an early civilization to grow up along the river. The Congo River and the Niger River are other major waterways, both south of the Sahara desert.
Africa is the original home of the human species. From Africa, humans spread through the Middle East into Europe and Asia in successive waves of migration. Many hominid fossils have been found in the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa.