Jar, Natamatao, Mali, 12th/14th century. Terracotta, 40 x 26 cm. Musée national du Mali, Bamako, Mali, 2004.05.11. Photograph by Seydou Camara

Pottery fragments make up the majority of finds at archaeological sites across Africa’s Western Sudan; complete vessels are rarer. The patterns that embellish this large footed bowl from Gao Ancien resemble those on Tuareg leatherwork and textiles. The Tuareg were actively involved in Saharan caravan trade, and this type of shallow bowl is found on both sides of the Sahara. Pottery from the Inland Niger Delta, such as the jar from Natamatao, was also traded up the Niger River and across the Sahara. Fragments of similar ceramics have been found at Middle Niger sites including Gao, at Tadmekka to its north, and at Sijilmasa on the Sahara’s northern fringe.