Medieval West African Trade Routes Revealed in Glass Beads

The presence of glass beads in West African archaeological sites provides important evidence of long-distance trade between this part of the continent and the rest of the world between the 7th and 13th centuries.

Beads analyzed in this study Credit: Miriam Truffa Giachet & Nicolas Spuhler

The study : Compositional and provenance study of glass beads from archaeological sites in Mali and Senegal at the time of the first Sahelian states – used chemical analysis of 16 glass beads.

The analysis showed that the glass came from Egypt, the Levantine coast and the Middle East.

The beads were used as part of a long distance trade network with one bead linked to the Iberian peninsula and another to South Africa.

The goods traded were diverse in a complex commercial system.

Probable origin of the glasses used to create the beads found in Mali and Senegal Credit: Miriam Truffa Giachet (map: courtesy of CIA’s The World Factbook 2020, modified)

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