Browse Primary Sources
Locate primary sources, including images, objects, media, and texts. Annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
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Excerpt from Ibn Battuta's Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354

The following excerpt focuses on Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), a Moroccan Berber scholar and explorer, who traveled extensively in Central Asia, China, northern and eastern Africa, as well as the Mediterranean for much of his adult life.

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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 17th-century brass Kongolese crucifix was based on European models, but transformed by the local artisan who made it. In the center is Jesus, but with large hands, flattened feet, and African facial features, including protruding eyes that convey spiritual connection. This way of representing Christ developed in Kongo during the sixteenth century, and continues to today.

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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 twenty-four letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade.

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A stone monument with a cross on top.


In the 1480s, the Portuguese brought pillars (or padraos) with them in their explorations of western and southwestern Africa and placed them at prominent points, claiming these for Portugal. This is a replica of one of them, from what is now called Cape Cross, in Namibia. At the top is a cross and underneath this is the coat of arms of the kings of Portugal.

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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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