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New light on the early Islamic West African gold trade: coin moulds from Tadmekka, Mali

  • Sam Nixon (a1), Thilo Rehren (a2) and Maria Filomena Guerra (a3)

Tadmekka, a town at the southern edge of the Sahara desert, has produced good evidence for making gold coins in the ninth–tenth century AD, the first concrete proof of coinage in pre-colonial West Africa. These were produced by melting gold dust or nuggets in ceramic moulds, similar to those used for the first pellet-like coinage of the European Iron Age. The authors suggest these coins were not political statements, but were probably blank and intended to facilitate the busy early Islamic caravan trade to destinations north, south or east. On arrival at the Mediterranean coast, these blank pieces would have been melted down or converted into inscribed coins by the local authorities.

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