The caravans, in order to cross these arid deserts, take supplies of water in water-skins carried on camels’ backs. In the land of the Sudan there are many arid deserts like this. Most of its terrain is sand that is swept by the winds, and carried from place to place, and no water is found. The land is very hot and scorching.

— Al-Idrisi, 1154

Medieval accounts of the Sahara offer only tantalizing bits of information about daily life in the region, and material fragments from archaeological sites add little to this picture. In this situation more recent material and cultural practices can provide the seeds for imagining the past. In the Sahara and its hinterlands, the origins of forms and decorative patterns on jewelry, leatherwork, and textiles can often be traced back to the medieval period.