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February 17, 2019

1/23/2019 5:03:00 PM
New Block Exhibit: 'Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time'
Image from
Image from "Caravans of Gold" exhibit from the Block Gallery

قوافل من ذهب، شذرات من التاريخ: فن، ثقافة، وتبادل عبر الصحراء الكبرى خلال القرون الوسطى

Visitors to the Block Museum can travel along routes crossing the Sahara Desert to a time when West African gold fueled expansive trade and drove the movement of people, culture and religious beliefs.

“Caravans of Gold” is the first major exhibition addressing the scope of Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. Weaving stories about interconnected histories, the exhibition showcases the objects and ideas that connected at the crossroads of the medieval Sahara and celebrates West Africa’s historic and under recognized global significance.

“Caravans of Gold” draws on recent archaeological discoveries, including rare fragments from major medieval African trading centers like Sijilmasa, Gao and Tadmekka. These “fragments in time” are seen alongside works of art that invite us to imagine them as they once were. They are the starting point for a new understanding of the medieval past and for seeing the present in a new light.

Presenting more than 250 artworks spanning five centuries and a vast geographic expanse, the exhibition features unprecedented loans from partner institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria, many of which will be seen in North America for the first time.

The Sahara Desert was a thriving crossroads of exchange for West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in the medieval period. Fueling this exchange was West African gold, prized for its purity and used for minting currencies and adorning luxury objects such as jewelry, textiles, and religious objects. The publication “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time” draws on the latest archaeological discoveries and art historical research to construct a compelling look at medieval trans-Saharan exchange and its legacy. Contributors from diverse disciplines present case studies that form a rich portrayal of a distant time.

Featuring a wealth of color images, this fascinating book demonstrates how the rootedness of place, culture, and tradition is closely tied to the circulation of people, objects, and ideas. These “fragments in time” offer irrefutable evidence of the key role that Africa played in medieval history and promote a new understanding of the past and the present. The book can be purchased at the Block Museum or at www. press.princeton.edu

“Caravans of Gold, Fragments of Time” will be on display at the Main Gallery of the Block Museum Jun. 26-July 21.







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