Materials sifted from archaeological sites around the Sahara Desert are a crucial starting point for understanding the medieval past in the exhibition. These precious fragments connect us to a period that is today almost completely veiled by the passage of time.

Remains from three sites are highlighted in Caravans of Gold: Gao (Mali), on the arc of the Niger River, Tadmekka (Mali) on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, and Sijilmasa (Morocco) on the desert’s northern edge. The materials excavated from these sites, and from other medieval sites in the region, provide clues to understanding history; however, they must be augmented by additional information drawn from texts, oral accounts, inscriptions, and the careful analysis of a material and cultural legacy that continues into the present day.

Gao • TadmekkaSijilmasa

Together these diverse pieces of information spark what archaeologists call “the archaeological imagination,” a process of seeing the long-hidden past.  Take a look at four examples of how archaeologists give context to fragments.

Gold MoldsCopper Alloy Disk and FittingsRemains of Porcelain and SilkKnife Blade