Compositional and provenance study of glass beads from archaeological sites in Mali and Senegal at the time of the first Sahelian states.

  • publication
  • 03-12-2020

Truffa Giachet M, Gratuze B, Mayor A, Huysecom E. PLoS One 2020 ;15(12):e0242027. 10.1371/journal.pone.0242027. PONE-D-20-15087.

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. Until recently, most of these items came from historical Sub-Saharan urban centers, well known for their role in the medieval trans-Saharan trade. We present here the chemical analysis by Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) of 16 glass beads found in three rural sites excavated during the past decade: the funerary site of Dourou-Boro and settlement sites of Sadia, in central Mali, as well as the settlement site of Djoutoubaya, in eastern Senegal, in contexts dated between the 7th-9th and the 11th-13th centuries CE. Results show that the raw materials used to manufacture the majority of the glass most probably originated in Egypt, the Levantine coast and the Middle East. One bead is of uncertain provenance and shows similarities with glass found in the Iberian Peninsula and in South Africa. One bead fragment found inside a tomb is a modern production, probably linked to recent plundering. All of these ancient beads were exchanged along the trans-Saharan trade routes active during the rise of the first Sahelian states, such as the Ghana and the Gao kingdoms, and show strong similarities with the other West African bead assemblages that have been analysed. Despite the remoteness of their location in the Dogon Country and in the Falémé River valley, the beads studied were therefore included in the long-distance trade network, via contacts with the urban commercial centers located at the edge of the Sahara along the Niger River and in current southern Mauretania. These results bring a new light on the relationships between international and regional trade in Africa and highlight the complementarity between centres of political and economic power and their peripheries, important because of resources like gold for eastern Senegal.

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