Birth of a Workforce: The Blacksmiths Rise in Sub-Saharan Africa
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The “Ritual Staff with Seated Nommo” made by the Dogon people from modern Mali available at the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archeology represents the rise in specialized occupations in early Africa and demonstrates the complex techniques of smelting and crafting iron, which were carried out across the continent during the so called Iron Age. Blacksmiths and metalworking were common throughout Africa since 1000 BCE. They used primarily gold, tin, zinc, and iron, but also scarce metals in the continent, such as copper, which Africans imported from Europe and Asia through trans-saharan trade routes. The museum’s Dogon staff was entirely made of iron in the first half of the twentieth century. However, the techniques used to build it were similar to those employed in previous centuries, allowing us to examine Africans’ progression from farmers to tradesmen and the rise of blacksmiths’ power in early Africa.