Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
Copper-alloy cast crucifix, with two kneeling figures resting on bar above hands, with a third projecting below the central figure's feet.

Crucifix (Nkangi Kiditu)

This cross or cosmogram from the 17th century shows the way in which the Kongolese understanding of Christianity incorporated traditional thinking and is in essence both a good example of syncretism and a warning. It shows the four moments of the sun and integrates magical protective properties that are a part of this matrilineal culture.

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Excerpt of letter from Nzinga Mbemba to Portuguese King João III

In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of 24 letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade.

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Wooden male figure decorated with pigment, nails, cloth, beads, shells, arrows, leather, nuts, twine

Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)

While this particular piece was created in the 19th century, it represents a traditional depiction of values of the Kongo peoples. The Kongo believe that the great god, Ne Kongo, brought the first sacred medicine (or nkisi) down from heaven in an earthenware vessel and placed it upon three stones or termite mounds.

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A stone monument with a cross on top.


Annotation: Between 1482 and 1484 the Portuguese brought three pillars (or padraos) with them in their explorations of western Africa and placed them along the Congo River. The inscription: “ In the era of 6681 years from the creation of the world, 1482 years since the birth of Our Lord Jesus, the most High and Excellent and Mighty Prince, King D.

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Close up image of Arabic script on a gold coin

A gold dinar of Abd al-Malik minted in Damascus in 697/98

Historians use coins to find evidence of change over time. This dinar coined in 697 or 698 was minted in Damascus by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn. Compared to a coin minted by the same state only a few years earlier we notice an interesting difference.

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Gold coin engraved with a man holding a scepter

Gold dinar depicting Caliph Abd al-Malik

Coins are objects that can help historians see change over time. This Dinar coined in 695 likely depicts Abd al-Malik ibn the caliph or leader of the Umayyad Caliphate. Several aspects of the coin make it an interesting object for study.

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Stone alter depicting a bull being led to a sacrifice

Temple of Vespasian altar

This stone alter found in Pompeii, Italy was part of temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69 to 79 CE. The alter depicts a scene of a bull being led to a religious sacrifice, a common practice in ancient Rome. Objects from the past that have been preserved can tell scholars a lot about the people who created them.

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Gold Coin featuring an engraved image of a man with a crown

Gold Solidus of Justinian I (527–65)

Coins like this one from the Byzantine Empire can reveal a great deal. Coins found in a well can tell historians and archeologists the range of dates people settled in a given area. Coins can also help date other artifacts that researchers find near the coins. Finally coins tell historians the extent and reach of various trading networks.

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A Stone Age comb with a horse head carved into the handle

Bone comb

Historians and archeologists can learn a great deal from artifacts such as this comb that may date from the Neolithic or Late Stone Age. Items found near the artifact can help provide context such as when the artifact was created and what it might have been used for. This comb, carved from bone, was found on the island of Gotland which is presently part of Sweden.

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A woman kneels and holds a piece of stone at an archeological site

Excavation at Çatalhöyük, Turkey

The excavation at Çatalhöyük in southern Turkey began in 1958 and scholars continue to actively search for artifacts at the site. Items found at Çatalhöyük have shown that the site has been inhabited since Neolithic times beginning in approximately 7100 BCE. Artifacts found at Çatalhöyük include a rich collection of art including sculptures and wall paintings.

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