From at least the 9th century AD, West African gold was a source of royal authority and privilege and also a valuable trade commodity in the trans-Saharan and later trans-Atlantic trade. Beginning in the 14th century, people in the Akan region of southern Ghana made brass weights to weigh gold dust. These weights were highly valued possessions and they took a number of forms. Many are figurative, depicting animals, people, or items of royal regalia. Others, like the weights pictured here, are geometric and have similar designs to elements found on stamped cloth and other media known as adinkra. For those able to read them, these symbols represent proverbs that communicate ancestral wisdom. Colonial officials in the 19th and early 20th centuries acquired large numbers of Akan weights. American doctor Royal A. E. Meyers, a graduate of the U-M Medical School, was posted in Kumasi, Ghana, during World War II, where he acquired the weights shown here.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.