Senegal’s unique and long-standing history of gold- and metalsmithing is evident in the archaeological excavations of the Rao region. Located near Saint-Louis, in northwest Senegal, this site yielded one of the most technically sophisticated golden regalia of Africa—the Rao pectoral.
No other commodity drove medieval trade the way gold did. Historical accounts cite Bambouk, which was mined from as early as the 4th to at least the 19th century, as one of the earliest and most important gold-mining territories in West Africa. It was Bambouk and then Galam, both along Senegal’s “River of Gold,” that first drew Europeans to the region.
From the 15th century onward, Europeans traded along the coast of West Africa. Yet, they touched only the perimeter of the vast, centuries-old trade network that stretched from the Middle East to North Africa and throughout much of the African continent. Goldsmithing techniques, styles, materials, and ideas—which particularly influenced jewelry—were readily shared because gold, which was made into twisted earrings or rods, was easily transported. For hundreds, if not thousands of years then, Senegalese gold jewelry has penetrated a sprawling network of style and material that overlaps and defies geographical confinement.