Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time

Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa

The Block Museum exhibition  traveled to The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (Sept. 21, 2019 – Feb. 23, 2020) and then to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute (opened online Nov. 19 2020; open to public July 16, 2021- Feb 27. 2022)

Travel with the Block Museum 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 underrecognized 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.

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Items on loan

The ANS has a total of 7 objects on loan to this traveling exhibit. Highlights of the loan include:

Guinea of James II of England, England (London), 1688. 0000.999.596

Florin of the Florence republic (Florence), 1260 – 1303. 1955.136.7

Florin of the Florence republic (Florence), 1348 – 1367. 1954.237.235

Gold genovino, Genoa, 1252 – 1339. 1985.27.1