New Exhibition Highlights Mansa Musa, the Richest Man Who Ever Lived

Reproduction of the Catalan Atlas featuring Mansa Musa.
Reproduction of the Catalan Atlas featuring Mansa Musa.
The Block Museum of Art, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Before there was John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, there was Mansa Musa. Born in the 13th century when West Africa was an abundant source of gold, the king of the Empire of Mali was the richest person in the world, and possibly remains the richest person to ever live. Now, the life of Mansa Musa and the world he lived in are the subject of new exhibits at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

"Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa" highlights parts of Africa prior to European colonization and the Atlantic slave trade. From the 8th to 16th centuries, remarkably pure gold mined in West Africa crossed the Saharan Desert via trade routes and fueled economies in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. West Africa's resources and influence made it one of the wealthiest regions in the world during this period, as evidenced by the artwork and fragments featured in the exhibit. Bronze sculptures, indigo-dyed fabrics, and gold coins are a few of the precious items loaned from Mali, Nigeria, and Morocco.

One highlight of the exhibition, a reproduction of a medieval manuscript called the Catalan Atlas, depicts information about Saharan trade routes, with an illustration of Mansa Musa holding a gold coin featured prominently. The ruler displayed his wealth to the world outside his kingdom when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, accompanied by a caravan of slaves and soldiers wearing silk and camels and horses carrying gold. If he was alive today, his net worth would equal an estimated $400 billion.

Despite his status during his life, many people today have never heard of Mansa Musa. "Caravans of Gold" aims to combat modern perceptions of a poor Africa by highlighting the affluence of medieval West Africa in a major museum exhibit for the first time.

“The legacy of medieval trans-Saharan exchange has largely been omitted from Western historical narratives and art histories, and certainly from the way that Africa is presented in art museums,” curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock said in a statement. “'Caravans of Gold’ has been conceived to shine a light on Africa’s pivotal role in world history through the tangible materials that remain.”

"Caravans of Gold" will run at the Block Museum through July 21, 2019 before traveling to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

A selection of excavated finds from Essouk-Tadmekka, including fragments of glazed ceramics, stone beads, a cowrie shell, a fragment of silk textile, a carved stone torso, and vessel glass fragments.
The Block Museum of Art, Institut des sciences humaines, Mali/Clare Britt

Gold coin of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (1036–1094 CE), struck in Cairo.
Gold coin of al-Mustans ̇ir Billaˉh (1036–1094 CE), struck in Cairo.
The Block Museum of Art/Bank al-Maghrib, Rabat, Morocco, 521508/Fouad Mahdaoui

Bowl from 11th-century Egypt.
Bowl from 11th-century Egypt.
The Block Museum of Art/The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618

Gold bioconical bead from 10th-11th century Egypt or Syria.
Gold bioconical bead from 10th-11th century Egypt or Syria.
The Block Museum of Art/The Aga Khan Museum, AKM618

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

This 10-Year-Old Is Sending Art Supplies to Hundreds of Kids in Homeless Shelters and Foster Homes

Evgeniia Siiankovskaia/iStock via Getty Images
Evgeniia Siiankovskaia/iStock via Getty Images

She may be stuck at home, but Chelsea Phaire has found a way to connect with hundreds of kids during the COVID-19 pandemic. As CNN reports, the 10-year-old from Danbury, Connecticut, has used her time in isolation to send 1500 art project packs to kids in foster homes and homeless shelters.

Phaire had been interested in starting a charity from a young age, and on her birthday in August 2019, she launched Chelsea's Charity with help from her parents. Instead of birthday gifts, Chelsea asked for art supplies, and all the items she received went to a homeless shelter in New York. The Phaires have since set up a wishlist on Amazon, so anyone can donate supplies for the art kits. One pack includes crayons, paper, markers, gel pens, coloring books, and colored pencils.

In recent months, Phaire's mission to provide resources to underserved kids has become more vital than ever. Schools around the country have closed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which means kids have less access to art supplies than they did before. Young people may also be dealing with increased stress and boredom from being isolated inside. By sharing art kits, Phaire hopes to give them a healthy outlet for their struggles.

Chelsea's Charity has donated more than 1500 kits to schools, shelters, and foster homes since stay-at-home orders rolled out in March, which is more than was donated in the initiative's first five months. COVID-19 has forced Phaire to do some things differently: While she would normally get to meet many of the people she helps in person, she now sends all her donations by mail. Until it's safe to travel again, she's staying connected to kids through social media, as you can see in the video below.

[h/t CNN]