Height: 7 cm
Width: 3.8 cm
Depth: 4.8 cm
Weight: 201.66 g
Museum number: Af1878,1228.2
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Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), early-19th century AD
Gold-weights were used to weigh out measures of gold dust in West Africa before the arrival of European traders on the coast in the late fifteenth century. The majority of gold-weights were created by the Akan-speaking communities that live on the Gold Coast (now modern-day Ghana).
They are made using the lost wax casting method from brass (an alloy of copper) and can be abstract or figurative in form. Many of these weights were associated with proverbs that cautioned people to maintain good communal relations and to respect the authority and power of the ancestors and chiefs.
The British Museum has over 3,500 gold-weights in its collection, which is one of the largest in the world. Some, such as this unusual weight document the social conventions that surrounded economic transactions between Akan traders and Europeans on the coast. The caster has accurately captured details of the figure’s clothing, the chair he sits on and his gesture of greeting, all of which help to date this weight to the early nineteenth century.
Gold-weights ceased to be used at the beginning of the twentieth century when they were replaced by bank notes and coinage issued by the Government of the Gold Coast Colony but they continue to be made for sale to tourists.