Crossroads of Culture - Archaeology Magazine Archive

Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
on site
Crossroads of Culture February 28, 2001
Text, Photographs, and Maps by Angela M.H. Schuster

i bìsìmìla! Bienvenue! And, Welcome to Mali


For more than 1,000 years, caravans laden with gold, silver, salt, and ivory, plied the trackless sands of the western Sahara.

Landlocked, Mali lies at a cultural crossroads where the peoples of the desert, the Fulani and Tuareg meet those of Subsaharan Africa, the Bamana, Dogon, Senoufou, and Songhai. Join us as we explore the rich history of this ancient land, home to some of Africa's greatest empires, among them those of Ghana, which flourished between the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D.; Mali, which reached its apogee in the late fourteenth century; and Songhai, which dominated the region between the mid-fifteenth and late sixteenth centuries.

Independent since 1960, Mali was formerly part of colonial French Sudan, which also comprised what are now the countries of Senegal and Burkina Faso, the latter formerly known as Upper Volta.


Mali, which has an area of 483,654 square miles, boasts one of the most diverse landscapes in Africa. Its northern reaches extend deep into the western Sahara and are sparsely populated save for a few Tuareg camps; the entrepôts of Timbuktu and Gao are in the Sahel, an intermediate zone between the true desert and the more fertile grasslands and woodlands to the south; the southern portion of the country is divided east-west by the verdant Niger River Valley. The river continues to serve as the country's main thoroughfare, with most of Mali's population living along its banks.

French is the official language of Mali, which has a population of 10,878,000. However, Bambara (Bamanakan) is spoken by nearly 3,000,000 Malians. Arabic and numerous dialects of Dogoso, Fulfulde, Koyracini, Senoufou, and Mandinka/Malinké are also widely spoken. next

An Endangered Past

People of Mali


Tips for Travelers


Climbing Opportunities

Angela M.H. Schuster is senior editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America