Remains from copper working have been uncovered at sites in present-day Mali including Gao, Jenne, and Tadmekka. Copper was worked in its pure state or alloyed with arsenic, lead, tin, or zinc to make brass, the yellow tones of which might have been particularly appreciated because of their visual affinity with gold.

This large openwork copper-alloy disk was excavated at Gao’s royal capital, Gao Ancien; its blue-green color is the result of corrosion over many centuries. The smaller copper-alloy fittings were excavated at the major trading center of Tadmekka. One of them has a small piece of hide adhered to it, providing some evidence of its former use.

The large Tuareg shield was made in the early twentieth century. Crafted of oryx hide and embellished with copper disks and colored hide and cloth, it alludes to one possible use of copper-alloy decorations in the medieval period. Oryx hide shields were traded across the Sahara Desert. The twelfth-century Grenadan geographer al- Zuhri noted, “these shields are most amazing . . . . given as presents to the kings of the Maghrib and al-Andalus.” Similar shields are depicted in the Cantigas de Santa María, a thirteenth-century Spanish manuscript, as part of the weaponry used by the Nasrid emirate of Granada in battle against the Christian kingdom of Castile-Léon.


Case Studies: 

Gold Molds  •   Remains of Porcelain and Silk  •   Knife Blade