By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Inland Niger Delta Style

Archer figure

13th-15th century


H x W x D: 61.9 x 16.5 x 16.5 cm (24 3/8 x 6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.)

Museum purchase


Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

A very large number of terracotta sculptures, which date from the last centuries of the first millennium C.E. (A.D). through the 15th century, have been found in the Inland Delta of the Niger River area of Mali. An example of one of the better-known sub-styles is seen in this figure of an archer with his quiver over his shoulder. The cylindrical torso and limbs, oblong head set at an angle on the neck, bulging eyes, broad nose, large ears, and protecting mouth are all quite typical of the style.  Careful attention to clothing, body ornament, and accoutrements, such as the quiver, are also the norm. The style is often referred to as the Djenné (Jenne) style, named after a city that rose to prominence in this area in approximately 500 C.E. ( A.D.) and experienced great prosperity until the end of the 15th century. A newer town with the same name is two miles away.