Kilwa pot sherds

Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania, about AD 1000 to 1500

Kilwa pot sherds

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These pieces of broken pots were picked up on a beach in Tanzania, East Africa. They come from pots that were actually made as far away as China or the Middle East.

They were found at the town of Kilwa Kisiwani, and are some of the rubbish thrown away by its inhabitants, and are a reminder of its history as a major trading centre.

Between 1000 and 1500 AD Kilwa was an important port on the Indian Ocean. These broken pieces of pottery provide evidence of the places it traded with. This is because the different colours of the pieces of pottery show clearly where these pots were originally made.

The blue green coloured glazed pottery was made in China. This type of pottery is called celadon and complete examples of these types of vessels can be seen in the Chinese galleries.

Some of the other green and decorated pieces of pottery were made in the Middle East, perhaps in Iran or Oman. The rougher brown broken pieces of pottery come from locally made hand made pots.

Together these broken pots show how far traders travelled across the world at this time. In return for these pots, silks and cotton, Kilwa traded elephant ivory, wood and gold to the Middle East, India, South East Asia and China.

Many of the merchants and seaman were from East Africa itself – similar pieces of broken African pottery have been found at ports in the Middle East. Although just broken pieces of pottery, these are evidence for the important economic role East Africa played in the Asian and Middle East trade in the Middle Ages.

Africa: arts and cultures


Humans first evolved in Africa, walking upright about five million years ago, and making the first tools about two and a half million years ago.

Africa world culture

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Object details

Height: 12.5 cm
Width: 14 cm
Depth: 2.5 cm


Height: 5 cm
Width: 3 cm 
Depth: 2 cm


OA+ .916

Room 25: Africa


    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    M.C. Horton and J. Middleton, The Swahili, (Oxford, Blackwell, 2000)

    P. Mitchell, African Connections  (Maryland, Alta Mira Press, 2005)

    M. Pearson, The Indian Ocean  (London, Routledge, 2003)

    D. Phillipson, African Archaeology (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    H.N. Chittick, Kilwa: An Islamic Trading City on the East African Coast (Oxford, 1974)