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The caravans, in order to cross these arid deserts, take supplies of water in water-skins carried on camels’ backs. In the land of the Sudan there are many arid deserts like this. Most of its terrain is sand that is swept by the winds, and carried from place to place, and no water is found. The land is very hot and scorching.
—Al-Idrisi, 1154 C.E.
Across sands of time More recent material and cultural practices can sometimes provide insights into imagining the past. Medieval accounts of the Sahara offer only tantalizing bits of information about daily life in the region, and material fragments from archaeological sites offer limited additions to this picture.
Like their predecessors, artists in today’s Sahara and its hinterlands are connected to a global economy, and their works often reflect these evolving patterns. Yet, the forms, functions, and decorative patterns on even recent Saharan jewelry, leatherwork, and textiles are sometimes reflective of earlier medieval precedents.