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AFC080 African Collection & Exhibit

19th century seed-bead pouch on Napoleonic military cloth, salvaged sometime around the French campaigns or obtained through barter somewhere along the Trans-Saharan Trade Routes established since antiquity. Beads were an important form of currency, as was salt. This purse would have been valued as highly as a pound of gold and some single trade beads were so rare and uncounterfeitable that they would be worth a cow, a herd of cattle and sometimes would carry the value of an entire village.

The face on this pouch is similar to those found in ancient Egyptian bead fabrics and weavings, particularly of the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties. A comparative piece is in the Lisht Collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The triangular flashing around the face indicates that this is a modern rendition of the sun-god which became known as Mithra in Western Europe, Ra in ancient Egypt and Liza in Western Africa. The theme of the "missing Sun God" was a common one in ancient and medieval times.

Beads found in this specimen of purse were never used in slave trade. These were decorative and relatively common, compared to the Czech glass, Indian, Chinese and shell beads used as actual currency in the marketplace, although a well-made purse such as this rare specimen would have brought a fancy price from European collectors.