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concentrated on amassing all the relevant anthropological and historical literature relating to this area, including unpublished materials such as masters and doctoral theses from Nigerian and Beninese institutions.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.