19
Jul
14

UNESCO cradle of humankind

Often the public perception is that African archaeology can be subsumed to early human fossils and caves.
That, of course, is not true at all…
but hey, here are a few images in honour of these ever-appealing ancestors. As a post-conference excursion, today we went to the UNESCO-listed Swartkrans and Sterkfontein caves. Indeed one of the first things I ever learnt about African archaeology: thank you, Ray.

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09
Jul
14

Johannesburg next week

For those of you who will be at next week’s meeting of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies / Society of Africanist Archaeologists (see here for something on the last SAfA), there are plenty of opportunities to hear about Crossroads.

Sam kicks things off on Monday afternoon, introducing the important site of Birnin Lafiya and its well-preserved archaeology. Tuesday Caroline et al and Louis et al focus in on aspects of the remains recovered – metallurgy and cultivation respectively. Wednesday, we open it all back up again, with papers by Nadia, Didier, Ali and I looking at the wider landscape around our field sites, and what we might be able to say about the past of that area, and in methodological terms for archaeology more generally.

Here are the details:

Mon 13h00-14h30
AN ARCHITECTURAL COMPLEX OF THE 12TH-13TH CENTURIES AD FROM THE EASTERN ARC OF THE RIVER NIGER (REPUBLIC OF BENIN, WEST AFRICA)
Sam Nixon (University of East Anglia)

Tues 10h30-12h00
IRON AND BLACKSMITHS IN THE DENDI (NORTH BENIN)
Caroline Robion-Brunner (CNRS-Université de Toulouse), Marie-Pierre Coustures (Université de Toulouse)

Tues 15h00-16h30
RICE AND MILLETS IN EARLY BENIN: ARCHAEOBOTANICAL RESEARCH IN BENIN IN THE CONTEXT EARLY WEST AFRICAN AGRICULTURE
Louis Champion (University College London), Anne Haour (University of East Anglia), Leilani Lucas (University College London), Dorian Fuller (University College London)

Wed 10h30-12h00
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF FIRST-MILLENNIUM SETTLEMENT IN NORTHERN BENIN, WEST AFRICA
Anne Haour (University of East Anglia), Alexandre Livingstone Smith (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium)

Wed 10h30-12h00 Farmers
CONTRIBUTION OF THE ANTHROPIC MOUNDS OF ATAKORA AND THE NIGER RIVER VALLEY (NORTH BENIN) TO KNOWLEDGE ON THE HISTORY OF POPULATION SETTLEMENT
N’Dah Didier (Université Nationale du Bénin)

Wed 10h30-12h00
INTO THE UNKNOWN: USING FIELD SURVEY AND GIS TECHNIQUES IN THE NIGER RIVER VALLEY, REPUBLIC OF BENIN
Nadia Khalaf (University of East Anglia)

Find out more here

02
Jul
14

photography

We are all set for our second session of small finds photography tomorrow. Below is a record of our initial session, mid June:

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18
Jun
14

Science Cafés

For those of you in Norwich, please come tonight, 7.30 pm at the Maddermarket Theatre bar, to hear about our work. A chance to ask all the things you never dared to ask before.

At the Crossroads of the medieval West African empires
Anne Haour and Sam Nixon

Science Cafés take place in casual settings, are open to everyone, and feature an engaging conversation with a scientist about a particular topic. Science Cafés represent a grassroots movement; they exist all over the world and can vary from place to place.

05
Jun
14

on tour

The past few weeks have been ones of intense criss-crossing of networks. Lots of exciting things. I attended two conferences organised by David Mattingly’s ERC-funded Trans-Saharans project, which is investigating the nature and consequences of the inter-connectivity of the Trans-Saharan zone in the preislamic period. The themes were the extent and commodities of trade and the evidence of human migration and identity formation as revealed by funerary archaeology. We talked about carnelian, pots, Amazight linguistics, the shape of camel’s feet and the use of Roman ceramics in Garamantean burials, among other things. I delivered a paper in Birmmingham as part of the Africa Talks series; we talked about social complexity as seen by archaeologists and about what our northern Bénin evidence adds to the picture of the West African past. John Mack, SRU Visiting Fellow Kodzo Gavua and I accompanied a number of students and colleagues to see the exhibiton Fragmentary Ancestors in Manchester. I was present in spirit in Austin for the Society of American Archaeology meeting, for which Stephanie Wynne-Jones and I prepared a paper about connections in early medieval Africa – contrasting East and West (and Sam was there presenting Birnin Lafiya); and at the Cambridge memorial workshop in honour of Thurstan Shaw where Sam and I talked about Birnin Lafiya and its corpus of glass and stone beads.
Back in Norwich, we the SRU hosted a major international symposium; and on a smaller scale, we at the Centre for African Art and Archaeology also welcomed several speakers and visitors from the US, Maldives, Brussels, and London – we discussed pots, cowries, borders, and Borno.
All of this has formed a dense network of threads and raised a great many questions and common research themes which – in some distant, faraway, place – all meet and coalesce.

31
May
14

more charcoal

During the past field season we excavated a number of test pits within modern settlements.

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The aim here was to determine how long the modern villages had existed and what their material culture looked like in the past. The test pits were excavated in locations chosen after consultation with the ethnographer, architects, and oral historians within the team. This is a good example of the close interdisciplinary collaborative work we have been doing in Crossroads.

The archaeological work was spearheaded by Ali, with able assistance from Nicolas, Idi and others. One thing which required constant explaining to interested viewers was why we were so obsessed with recovering charcoal.

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Of course the answer is that charcoal enables us to date events, through C14 dating – and we’re delighted to have just been awarded a grant from the NERC Radiocarbon facility on the basis of an application Ali and I wrote last April (and Nicolas and Louis helped out a ton with the sorting and graphics). This will allow us to run 21 dates on charcoal from five of our test pits.

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We chose charcoal from layers which we think fall in our 13th-18th century blindspot – the period for which we so far have no archaeological or oral historical information at all. Archaeologically, Ali and his colleagues determined that in the trenches this ‘invisible phase’ lies between the ‘early medieval’ layers, which are full of folded strip rouletted pottery – most of the Birnin Lafiya material looks similar to this – and the ‘early modern’ (these are just handy labels) which are characterised by totally different pottery including blepharis roulette, and by cowrie shells.

So – will our 21 dates prove Ali’s hunch was correct, and finally fill in a void in our chronology?? Watch this space…

22
Feb
14

amsterdam again

stuck again in Amsterdam, because of a late connection. At least, not with 300kgs of pottery this time. Maybe more like 120kg.

Some photos while we wait.

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Getting ready to draw Sakawan sections with Agathe and Gregoire

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Caroline at Kantoro giving an Archaeometallurgy 101 class

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visite des oignons

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Nicolas at the end of one of the test pits in modern villages. Note the ‘horizon plastique’ (modern refuse) at top




About this blog

We are a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are carrying out new excavations and research to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years.

This blog will tell you all about it.

This investigation is funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7); it is led by Dr Anne Haour of the University of East Anglia, UK. The opinions posted here are however her own!

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