Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa

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Caravans Publication

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, ed.

The Block Museum and Princeton University Press

Hardcover | 2019 | $65.00 | ISBN 9780691182681 | 304 pp. | 9 x 11 | 192 color illus.


About the book

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 Art Bulletin
The great strength of Caravans is its presentation of thresholds of possibility, which plants questions in the viewer’s mind: what did it mean that the ivory and gold used in the most sumptuous and important artworks in western Europe came from Africa? ”
Risham Majeed, February 2021
London Review of Books
"Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, a timely, scholarly exhibition with an ambitious catalogue, doesn’t simply redraw the boundaries of what constituted the medieval world, but argues for West Africa’s central importance in the complex systems of trade, exchange and interaction between Asia and Europe. "”
Lloyd de Beer, February 4, 2021
The New York Review of Books
Part of the difficulty in conveying the importance of this region’s history has been its paucity of documentation, and the exhibition and its catalog make up for this spectacularly with their display of the region’s legacy of artifacts, from pottery shards to sculpture and gold weights and coins.”
Howard W. French, June 27, 2019 issue
Times Literary Supplement
"Gold flowed from West Africa through major settlements around the Sahara for over 500 years. Yet those sites (Sijilmasa on the desert’s northern edge; Tadmekka, Gao, and Jenne-Jeno in the south) and even Mansa Musa – the medieval emperor of Mali said to have flooded Cairo with gold on his way to Mecca – barely figure in proverbs or the wider cultural imaginary. Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, culture, and exchange across medieval Saharan Africa aims to redress this imbalance. "”
Rebecca L. Spang, December 6, 2019
This is a glorious book: thoughtfully organized, powerfully researched, lavishly illustrated, and handsomely was breathtaking for this newcomer to medieval African art history to glimpse Europe and the Mediterranean from a distance, with cities like Sijilmasa at the center of the world, not the periphery. If we are ever to unlearn the distorted narratives of the nineteenth century and replace them with an inclusive, expansive view of the Middle Ages, Europeanists in particular must commit to the hard work of discarding colonialist models that were widely accepted not so very long ago. Thankfully, we now have the advantage of doing so with this splendid book as an inspiration and a guide.”
Shrin Fozi, October 2020
African Archaeological Review
This book deserves to be a coffee table book: it will hopefully appeal widely. At the same time, the book offers the latest scholarship on the important topic of trans-Saharan trade. It contains material which even many specialists may not know, all of it superbly presented; and several chapters will certainly make excellent set reading material for undergraduate and graduate courses. The editor and authors are to be congratulated for producing such an impressive book.”
Anne Haour, January 2020
African Studies Quarterly
Caravans of Gold is a treasure. The diversity and quality of the archaeological evidence unearthed, displayed, and discussed show that medieval trans-Saharan exchange played a key role in connecting West Africa, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, foreshadowing the globalism of today.”
Steven Gish, October 2019