The Wealth of Africa

Africa's diverse currencies, both past and present, reflect the continent's long, rich history. Coins and banknotes used there reveal much about the place and time in which they were created. Other forms of currency - such as cowrie shells, cloth and manillas - give a further insight into different cultures.

The development of African money began with a system of weighted metal in ancient Egypt. Coins were in circulation by the fifth century BC and their changing designs reflect the coming of Christianity and later the spread of Islam. Africa's power and influence before the arrival of European colonisers and slave traders is demonstrated by the wealth of Mali, Great Zimbabwe and the Swahili Coast. In the twentieth century, independence and the end of Apartheid have brought a new range of symbols to notes and coins.

This tour examines African money - and its links with history and identity - from ancient to modern times. It was written to accompany the exhibition The Wealth of Africa, at the British Museum from 20 January to 26 June 2005.