Archive for July, 2011



In the next few weeks I will be improving the Bibliographic sources page. I have a list of items I want to add, but will always be glad to receive more. Thanks.

Dans les semaines à venir, je vais m’atteler à améliorer la page Ressources bibliographiques. J’ai déjà une liste de choses à ajouter (le PanAf et la note de Robert Vernet sont les prochains en projet), mais je serai toujours heureuse de recevoir des recommandations. Merci.



Outsiders, incomers and migrants feature heavily in the oral and written historical record for West Africa. There is, for instance, a whole tradition of rulers coming from afar (‘stranger-kings’ in the words of Marshall Sahlins who looked at this in a wider context), with power-sharing arrangements set up between autochthonous and incoming peoples. Such is the case for example for the rulers of the Hausa, the Songhay, or Borgou. That is all very intriguing in its own right, and I think interpreting such traditions as the consequence of Islamisation, and as efforts at ‘genealogical parasitism’, might be oversimplifying the story.  I gave a talk about this at SOAS last year. Then and since then, I have been wondering (in a chapter I am currently writing for a book for OUP) how it fits in with the anthropologists’ notion of rights-in-persons. Today I am (in theory at least) finishing piecing all of this together.



Tesson troué. On en trouve beaucoup et leur usage n'est pas certain. Lié aux salines p. ex. celles du dallol Fogha?

Vous trouverez ici quelques exemples du genre de matériel que l’on retrouve sur le terrain. Les beaux exemplaires que vous voyez ici sont tous issus de notre mission de 2011.

Folded strip et incision

Pour chaque tesson (et ses centaines de collègues non figurés ici), nous avons pris un point GPS et dressé une description de l’endroit où nous l’avons trouvé et quel autre genre de céramique y fut observée.

Folded strip sur un petit bol

Le but étant d’établir un croquis de carte pour voir si il se dessine sur l’espace de différentes distributions dans la popularité des diverses formes et décors.

Folded strip très serrée (‘la Sénégalaise’) et incisions

Ce n’est qu’un modeste début, qui doit guider notre travail dans les missions futures.


six months on

As you will have read, Crossroads of empires focuses on the period AD 1200-1850 with the aim of studying how  the medieval ‘empires’ influenced the patterning of settlement and material culture across the landscape.

We are looking along the Niger river between the border with Nigeria and the Mékrou. There were several reasons for this choice of location.

Geographically, this region sits not just along the axis of the Niger river, but also at the outlet of two major fossil valleys (the dallols of Niger), and at the crossing-point of important trade routes which ran between the Hausa areas and the forested regions of what is now Ghana. Known as Dendi, this narrow band on either side of the Niger also seems to have played a role in the development of the empire of Songhai. Finally, Borgou, one of the polities of this region, has long been studied by anthropologists and linguists as a zone of huge cultural diversity.

Yet the area has been almost fully neglected archaeologically. It was therefore the obvious choice for an investigation of the questions with which Crossroads is concerned, and we now hope that archaeology will be able to contribute to knowledge of this part of the world.

Following our first field season earlier this year, desk-based work so far has concentrated on amassing all the relevant anthropological and historical literature relating to this area, including unpublished materials such as masters and doctoral theses from Nigerian and Beninese institutions. This has been a long process and one which has brought home to me the huge complexity of the area – but has also increased my conviction that this part of the world is really going to bring us some useful and important answers.

So far the most useful book I have come across has been the Actes du Colloque international sur Migrations et Peuplement dans l’aire culturelle songhay-zarma-dendi published in  Niamey by the  éditions du CELTHO in 2000: with thanks to colleague Olivier G for sending me this. I have also very much enjoyed reading two books published in the same year – 1998 – by L’Harmattan: Denise Brégand’s Commerce caravanier et relations sociales au Bénin: les Wangara du Borgou and the book edited by  Boesen, E., Hardung, C. and Kuba, R. Regards sur le Borgou. Pouvoir et alterité dans une région ouest-africaine.

On a more general level, I have been reading about migration in archaeology, chefs de la terre, and wealth-in-people, among other things.


Hurrah for the ERC

Some very encouraging noises from The European Research Council in its recently-published position paper.

The ERC was established in 2007 to complement the funding of basic research at national level, which was thought to be insufficient to allow Europe to compete at a world level. It is now doing a sort of round-up of the successes and areas for improvement so far.

The position paper explains that the perceived dichotomy between “basic” and “applied” research has long been considered obsolete. Later, it notes that there very often exists “a tension exists between public expectations of short-term results with immediate benefits for society and the insistence of researchers that in frontier research the outcome cannot be predicted”. This all makes familiar reading for those of us who have been used to struggling with the composition of pages-long statements of impact.

There is more good news to readers based in a country whose government is intent on closing the door to international students. One of the two key goals of the ERC is to increase substantially the number of excellent researchers from outside Europe wanting to work here, whether they be of European origin or not. The other is to increase the number of women scientists among ERC awardees. There is still some way to go on the latter – see pages 4 and 7 of the Starter Grant 2010 statistics.

The paper ends with the remark that “while the ERC is currently covering a much wider area of frontier research than the US National Science Foundation (NSF), its current annual budget is less than half of the funds dispersed towards research grants by the latter in 2010, representing a small percentage of EU annual public research expenditure.” The report thus argues for a doubling of the ERC’s annual budget, to a level of around €4bn per year. of course, I write this on the day that the eurozone’s big banks meet to refine their plans for a second bailout of Greece, so maybe things are not looking too likely.

Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard notes that she has “moved from a degree of uncertainty about this Euro Research Enterprise to being a huge supporter of it. (Thank God for the EU whose reaction the recession is to plough money into research, not take money away from it.)”



Welcome to our new contributor, Dr Paul Adderley from the University of Stirling, UK!

Paul is a soil scientist based at the School of Natural Sciences there. His work considers the long-term sustainability of past and present agrarian societies through their interaction with the natural environment, a theme he has developed both in the Chad Basin (Nigeria), where he devised and perfected methods for the micromorphological analysis of sediments, in East Africa, and in the North Atlantic region.

Paul is soon to take  over the Directorship of the Research Centre for Environmental History and Policy at the University of  Stirling.  A centre that is focussed upon developing interdisciplinary understandings of the past and preserving cultural heritage. He brings to the Crossroads project particular expertise in the analysis of Sahelian land usage, an interest in interrelating soil-derived and archaeological data.

About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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