Archive for May, 2012


fish and snakes

Veerle has done a first assessment of the bones from Birnin Lafiya and Pekinga, which together with the initial notes on the plant evidence starts to tell us a little more about how people at the sites lived. Detailed study will be done later, but here are some preliminary comments from her.

Generally, the fauna from trenches V and VI at Birnin Lafiya is very similar, throughout all layers and contexts. The large majority is fish, with species mainly from shallow water and marshes, but also a few Nile perch which normally are found in deeper water. In addition, turtle remains and snake vertebrae are frequent – the snakes presumably food refuse. Bird bones are very rare and may contain 1-2 chicken bones. Mammal bones are rare. There are a few small rodent remains (intrusive?), a few bones of small carnivores, a few small antelope bones. There were no domestic mammals, except for a second phalanx of cattle in the top of SVI, a piece of horse mandible halfway down SV, and a sheep/goat upper third molar in SIII. Trench VII had very little remains, mainly catfish and tilapia.

Pekinga does not have a lot of fauna. There is fish (clariid catfish, Nile perch, tilapia,..) and two or three sheep/goat bones.

The overall conclusion is a heavy use of aquatic and semi-aquatic resources, among which we should probably also count the snakes. The fauna profile is quite unusual.

“I was especially struck by the lack of domesticated animals. It is not the first site of a broadly similar age I see in West Africa with a lot of fish, but usually there are some cattle, sheep and goat to go with it. I have found the presence of turtles before – they are presumably caught with the fish, but snakes in this quantity are a first”,

writes Veerle.


new radiocarbon dates

Keen readers will know that we recently submitted for dating a crop of 13 radiocarbon dates. Even keener readers will recall that we last year (2o11) had results ranging from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries: those were on trenches SI and SII.

We now have results from our trenches at Birnin Lafiya as well as our work near Pékinga.

The results are very good, in that they are both internally consistent and a little surprising.

At Birnin Lafiya: Sam’s architectural pit, the students’ trench of interlocking pit features, Ali’s ashy midden, Nicolas’ trench, Louis’ baked earth feature.

SIII – charcoal from the pottery fill between two pottery pavements – is 880 +/- 30 BP, which is to say, mid-eleventh to early thirteenth centuries AD. This is a little earlier than anticipated given proximity to the surface, but then it fits well with last year’s results from SII.

SIV – a very deep pit – three samples were submitted, two from different parts of the base of the trench, 1540 +/- 30 BP and 1660 +/- 30 BP, one from a higher portion just above two interlocking pots, 1210 +/- 30 BP. Which, once calibrated, gives a range of fourth-sixth centuries AD and eighth-ninth centuries. There turned out to be, by the way, more than eight interlocking pit features.

SV – ‘la poubelle du roi’ – an ashy midden with lots of fish bone and fine pottery – yielded two dates, really close together despite being 60 cm apart – 920 +/- 30 BP and 900 +/- 30 BP – essentially early eleventh to early thirteenth centuries.

SVI – near the large baobab and with the mat/cordelette à armature multiple sherds – 1160 +/- 30 BP and 850 +/- 30 BP  – late eighth to late tenth, and late twelfth to late thirteenth centuries respectively. This is actually pretty consistent with the other occupations, whereas we had thought we might be seeing something different, possibly earlier, there.

SVII – 1270 +/- 30 BP – late seventh to late eighth centuries – from a collection of baked earth and ‘plaster’ fragments, essentially a surface feature so a surprisingly early date.

At Pékinga – 610 +/- 30 BP and 1040 +/- 30 BP – seems a decent stratigraphic succession here and an excellent fit with the BLaf dates downriver. Ninth-early eleventh centuries and late thirteenth-early fifteenth centuries respectively.

Here is a surprise ; the site in the floodplain, the Baobab site, candidate for earliest occupation, is in fact submodern!

Interpretation will have to await a more propitious time of day but so far so good.

Dates run by Beta Analytic

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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May 2012