We have just completed our first research paper on the outcomes of our 2011 field season in the Niger River Valley at the Niger-Bénin border, and have sent it to the Editor of the journal Nyame Akuma. In it, we first briefly outline the archaeological and historical background to the area. All that is known is that there was probably a succession of population groups in the area, but who, why, and when remains unclear. We then present the preliminary results of our ethnographic interviews with with former craft specialists or their descendants (weavers, dyers, blacksmiths, woodcarvers), as well as the findings of our archaeological investigations which involved both test pitting at BLaf, and survey.
Our 2011 fieldwork was designed to allow for a large-scale cultural overview of the area; the idea was that coarse-grained cultural variations would show up more easily at such a scale. The aims of the 2012 season are, on the whole, to start getting an in-depth view of some of the places identified in 2011. So we will:
– continue the identification and localisation of archaeological sites in the valley, working to refine the spacing of the survey grid used in 2011;
– start to build up a chronological and cultural sequence by conducting large-scale excavations at BLaf and exploratory test pitting at 2-3 other localities, sieving all sediment;
– conduct investigations of the geomorphology of the Niger River and its affluents with an aim to gaining a sense of any shifts in time;
– carry out oral investigations allowing us to shed light on the settlement of the current populations;
– undertake geophysical prospections with a view to determining the extent of various sites;
– continue interviews with craft practitioners, extending geographically in a first phase southwards into Borgou, then eastwards into Nigeria and ultimately into the Gourmantche area of Burkina Faso.
In the longer term, we are continuing our survey of the literature relating to West African craft specialists and we plan to begin an examination, through museum holdings and historical sources, of the nature and extent of trade in textiles up the Niger River from the Atlantic. A PhD studentship will be advertised in the course of 2012 to consider those areas of research.