Horse and rider. Tongo Maaré Diabal, Mali 9th/11th century. Terracotta. Musée national du Mali, Bamako, Mali, R2003-1-11a, b. Photograph by Seydou Camara

Lying between the Niger River and the Dogon Plateau, Tongo Maaré Diabal was strategically positioned to manage local and long-distance trade. The 11th-century Moroccan chronicler Muhammad al-Idrisi recounts: “This is the country of gold, which is [often] mentioned and described as having quantities of it of good quality. . . . The king has in his palace a gold nugget weighing 30 ratqls [approximately 33 pounds]. It is entirely God’s creation, without having been melted in the fire or hammered with any tool. A hole has been pierced in it to serve for tethering the king’s horse.”