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.


Getting ready to draw Sakawan sections with Agathe and Gregoire


Caroline at Kantoro giving an Archaeometallurgy 101 class


visite des oignons


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


back in cotonou


The last few days of the 2014 field season. One car is due to leave Guene today to head south to Cotonou, another on Wednesday, a third is heading up to Niamey. For my part I returned to Cotonou late last Thursday with Didier, Sam, Edith, Jennifer, Mardjoua, Agathe, and Valere. Though it did take fifteen hours (!), it seems a short time considering the gulf that separates Birnin Lafiya and the urban comforts of Cotonou.


In Cotonou, the last few days have been spent packing boxes of sherds, in a meeting or two, and backing up all the data – over 11000 digital files and a pile of papers 15cm high, all duplicated and which will be kept in separate locations so nothing gets lost.

Up north, five teams were still active. Caroline and her group finally identified a site with iron-working furnaces (these had eluded us this year!), at Tombouto. Ali and his cohort completed test pits 26 to 29, ranging east towards Madekali and the Nigerian border. Oumarou and the rest of the Niger group began test pitting at the site of Katanga, which is on the left bank of the river and thus in Niger, and mentioned as an ancestral site by many of our informants. Olivier and the ethnoguys conducted enquiries in Guene then westwards, again towards the Nigerian border. Finally Nadia, based in Malanville and washing pots on the grounds of the grand mosque there, surveyed extensively along the road east. Thus, all of these are giving us invaluable new data points, in particular concerning the easternmost part of our research region, our key target for 2014.


Birnin Lafiya 7 feb

It is early morning with the sun yet to rise, the stars are stunning and the local muezzin and roosters in full force. Most days we are up at 5.30 and on the site by 7 but today, Friday, is rest day.

In terms of Birnin Lafiya work, we are beginning to wrap up, as we will depart early on the 13th. Jennifer’s trench is done and reached the unexpected depth of 3m90 – doing the section drawings will be challenging. Paul’s soil pits are done and Paul is on his way back to Europe. Sam is at the photographing stage.We are treating the pottery from the Birnin Lafiya sites and also the 19 test pits executed so far by the flying team – the latest two at the villages of Tombutto and Molla, excavated by Beninois students Carolin and Pascal. The welcome there was very warm. Didier is examining sites along the Alibori where both pottery pavements and flaked quartz occur.

Olivier dropped by with his team in high spirits after a successful interview with one of the kings of Kandi who gave a southern perspective on the historical events within our region.

Caroline arrived from Togo with two Togolese students in archaeometallurgy. We still await the Niger team delayed in Niamey by administrative issues. But otherwise all are present and accounted for.

The flying team and the ethno team are continuing for the next two weeks.







birnin lafiya work

I’ve mentioned that we have been trying, this year, to close the chronological gap between our archaeological and our etyhnographic data. However needless to say we have also been continuing work at our favourite site, Birnin lafiya, the large mound outside the modern town of Birni Lafia, and about which I have written a lot in the past.

Paul, Mardjoua, Edith and Agathe have been digging 1x1m test pits up and down the mound to try and understand better how it came to be formed. Where, on the mound, was past settlement concentrated, and how much of the material we see on the surface a product of more recent erosion and redeposition? Contributing to this same question is the ongoing test pit led by Jennifer and the geophysical survey led by Carlos and his team.

Sam has been continuing work on the main house at Birnin Lafiya, this time on a vastly expanded area (still focusing on the horizontal). The achievement here has been to locate patches of architecture that is very similar to that from the main house, although, it must be admitted, far less well preserved. (Basically, it seems we see things best when materials were baked by fire, and this was, obviously, not the case everywhere on the site). Other areas of very nicely preserved pavement, and one possible furnace feature (but full of beans! literally!) are also being examined.


malanville 31 January

Two of the test pits designed to examine early Birnin Lafiya and its predecessor have now been completed or near completed – one through a midden (thanks Louis) and one through a giant sand dune (thanks Frank). In parallel Ali and his trusty flying team have finished another excavation at the village with the great name of Bogo-bogo, one of the sites attributed locally to the Gurmantche settlers from further upriver, acknowledged as the first-comers here in Dendi. As a result, we are in the process of regrouping at our base camp, at Birni Lafia itself, and carrying out general maintenance and housekeeping today, our day off. Tasks for today include designing a team T-shirt (at the express request of the workmen contingent).

Karimama and Malanville have continued to be plagued by power cuts and additional the internet connection remains very slow (rumours the team is checking emails are therefore largely unfounded…). And a few drops of rain again today and it is very muggy.

Below is the Alibori along which Nadia has been surveying for the past 3 weeks.




Birnin Lafiya, 29 January

Things have speeded up lately. As well as the various activities at the main site of Birnin Lafiya (which we have been investigating since 2011) we have started test pitting other sites of the region which are said by oral tradition to fall in the 1300-1800AD bracket. We’ve now worked at a handful of sites, including two locations in or near to modern Birnin Lafiya. Except at Kompa, where the sheer materiality of archaeological data unnerved the audience, we were made very welcome. For some sites, oral tradition tells a very specific story, such as the destruction by fire wrought on the town of Boyeri, and this is a story which we seem to corroborate archaeologically by recovering a thick layer of ash and charcoal. Such contexts are nineteenth century and feel very different to the material from the Birnin Lafiya old site. The ceramics are dissimilar and objects such as cowries and metal points are relatively common.

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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