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Gao and Igbo-Ukwu: Beads, interregional trade, and beyond


Recent excavations in the city of Gao in eastern Mali have uncovered a sizable assemblage of imported and locally produced beads which are similar in many ways to the beads excavated at the site of Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria. The similarities between the two assemblages suggest that they are indicative of interregional trade along the River Niger. As the likely source of many of the beads is Fustat in Egypt, Gao may well have been the middleman between Igbo-Ukwu and the former site. This route, it is argued, is more satisfactory than a direct east-west trade across the Sudannic zone, which has been argued for previously as a channel of international trade for Igbo-Ukwu.


Des fouilles récentes dans la ville de Gao, à l’est du Mali ont livré un important ensemble de perles, importées ou produites localement, comparables par bien des aspects aux perles récoltées au site d’Igbo-Ukwu au Nigeria. Les ressemblances entre ces deux ensembles paraissent être l’indice d’un commerce inter-régional le long du Fleuve Niger. Comme Fustat en Egypte est probablement la source de beaucoup de ces perles, Gao pourrait bien avoir servi d’étage intermédiaire entre ce site et Igbo-Ukwu. Différents arguments plaident en faveur d’une telle route plutôt que d’un commerce direct entre l’est et l’ouest, à travers la zone Soudanienne, comme proposé précédement pour expliquer le commerce international à Igbo-Ukwu.

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Correspondence to Timothy Insoll.

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Insoll, T., Shaw, T. Gao and Igbo-Ukwu: Beads, interregional trade, and beyond. African Archaeological Review 14, 9 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02968364

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Key words

  • Gao
  • Igbo-Ukwu
  • Fustat
  • Middle Iron Age
  • beads
  • trade