West African goldweights

online research catalogue

Principle investigator

  • Fiona Sheales, curator of West Africa collections 

Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas 

Other staff

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The British Museum currently has over 3,500 goldweights in its collection, which is one of the largest and most important in the world. A significant proportion of this collection will be made available in early 2014 in the form of an online research catalogue entitled West African goldweights.

Goldweights were predominantly made and used by the Akan-speaking peoples of the Gold Coast (now modern-day Ghana) to weigh gold-dust from AD 1400- to the pre-colonial period (before AD 1900). They were also closely associated with proverbs which encapsulated ideas about power relations, social hierarchy and spiritual beliefs. They were cast from brass in a wide variety of geometric and figurative forms.

Carefully chosen examples of each weight-type will illustrate the catalogue and introductory essays written by Dr Fiona Sheales will provide historical and contextual information. A large bibliography will also be included to enable users to continue research into this important African art form.

Sankofa bird brass goldweight

Sankofa bird brass goldweight – 19th century