Archive for January, 2013

31
Jan
13

day 17

I write direct from the site of Blaf [this is a first and is not easy] at the tail end of a cold and windy day [another first – the Harmattan is really back with a vengeance].

We’re on day 17 with 7 digging day left, and things are going well. Work at TTK is tailing off with some spectacular pavements, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel at most of the BLaf trenches, and we are regrouping for the intensive survey phase which will situate the site within it wider landscape and set the scene for next year’s work.

The European military intervention in Mali sends echoes but no direct impact thus far. It might be different next year so we have to work as if we won’t get another chance at a field season in splendid Dendi.

30
Jan
13

people (2)

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27
Jan
13

the flying team, 3

The flying team has become a bit more of a stationery team of late. The interesting finds at site TTK (principally potsherd pavements, some combined with the use of small cobbles as at now-flooded sites of the Kainji area in Nigeria) have kept us there. We organised a site visit where we showed around visitors, both from our team and beyond. We were able to offer French, English and Dendi versions. At the same time Paul, Sven and their trusty differential GPS mapped two transects from the top of the cliff, at Kanza cave, down through both Louis’ and Nadia’s trenches and to the road.

 

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Now, six days in, Louis is onto his fourth pavement and Nadia onto her second (plus equal numbers of smashed pots). Therefore they are going to be at TTK for the foreseeable future…

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Meanwhile, work has also started at the nearby site of GOB, three kilometres downriver. Like TTK, GOB was selected for test pitting based on our 2011 surveys in the region. The strategy was set out a few months ago from a desk in autumnal Norwich. On the ground, it seems to hold water. This morning Carlos, Mardjoua and I surveyed the whole area between TTK and GOB. We checked every hillock and reported every potsherd scatter. The only site we found was halfway between TTK and GOB. That is to say we have a structured archaeological landscape (never mind that its structure escapes us for now!) which our test pits are doing a reasonable job at exploring.

In the wider region, archaeological, historical and art-historical work continues at Birnin Lafiya while the ethno team departed this morning for the end-of-the road-destination of Pekinga.

Day 13 of digging with about 11 days’ digging left. Survey is increasingly going to become a priority.

 

 

26
Jan
13

karimama, 26 january

Today was a day off. Abbas organised a student trip on the Niger river while others relaxed by sorting pottery. It is good to talk to those at home.

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24
Jan
13

Birnin lafiya, 23 january

Work at Birnin Lafiya has been proceeding well. There is a large team deployed there – researchers, students and workmen amount to about thirty. The place is a hive of activity, which should come out nicely on the timelapse camera which Alan has installed.

The core is the area around trenches S IX and SX, Ali and Sam’s trenches. The former is a deep square and the latter a shallow polygon, speaking roughly. Pits, potsherd pavements, weird red layers, and two intact pots are among the star cast. Following the structures built by the past people of Birnin Lafiya is fiddly work but Sam and his team have managed to link in several doorways/surfaces with each other. Next door Ali and his team are uncovering a complex series of pits which seems to be s complicated as last year’s ‘Chinese pit’ and will offer us a valuable sequence into the site: a surprise here, though, was that there were no more pavements under the three which we’d uncovered in 2011 and 2012.

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About 600 metres away, Richard has started on his second trench, on top of a mound at the extremity of the site, close to two small hills which are absolutely covered in pottery. Thus far the surprise in this trench has been the recovery of a shovel at a metre’s depth. Quite truly an archaeologist’s joke!

22
Jan
13

people (1)

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22
Jan
13

the flying team, 2

 

More news from the flying team. We are comfortably settled in Karimama:

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We have begun test pits at the second of our selected sites; it lies just upriver from the village of Tintin, and, aptly, Belgian members of our team have been central in locating and excavating it. More seriously though, the site, TTK13, is just below a well-known cave called ‘Kanza’ at which propitiatory ceremonies were made, and close to mari bangu, the ‘cowry pond’, where former inhabitants are said to have collected the cowry shells which made them rich (cowry shells were once used as currency in West Africa… but they come from the Indian Ocean so clearly this isn’t what we are dealing with here). The pond was under the guardianship of a village on the nearby plateau. Little is known about the nature and function of the settlement mound we have named TTK13, but we hope our two test pits will help tell a story.

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It is a beautiful place to work, as you can see on the image above.

Louis is directing one of the trenches and Nadia the other. I flit between the two and show visitors around. The archaeometallurgy team led by Caroline stopped by this morning on their way to check out the intriguing scories-chandelles of Pekinga, and so did the oral tradition duo, Paulo and Obarè, who were going to ask the village close by a little more about how the cowry pond was controlled (if at all).

I mentioned our base is in Karimama, which is handy. We are clearly living in the VIP quarter: two bars, two mobile phone masts (where we have our cameras, mobile phones and laptops charged), the doctor’s house and the school inspector’s house are a stone’s throw away. The bar has become a focal place (and they do our laundry). There were 25 of us there yesterday for lunch, heading off in various directions. For example Lucie, Romuald and Alan were off to tramp through the bush with a weaver who is cutting wood to make a new loom and craft us two textiles we’ve commissioned, while Caroline was hot on the tracks of a French-speaking blacksmith who had witnessed a smelt in his youth and had visiting relative from Niger who recalled a smelt such as that shown in Nicole Echard’s well known film Les Noces de Feu.

So, all well so far. The only cloud on the horizon is that Didier has malaria, but he is receiving treatment in the Karimama clinic and is already much better. Other, more minor grievances are the mosquitoes, the foul-tasting water and the various creepie-crawlies.

 

 

 

21
Jan
13

birnin lafiya, 20 january

The Flying team has a new base in Karimama, and I made a visit to Birnin Lafiya, our ‘site-phare’ just down the road. Work has been ongoing there since last week and they have made good progress. Richard and Ali have both exposed a series of pits in their trenches while Sam is working on the horizontal following floor and walls. Didier and Mardjoua have been surveying the site recording all the potsherd pavements visible in surface. The team have just been joined by three new teams – oral tradition, ethno, and art history, about whom more later. Mosquitoes (very common this year because of the high river level) prevent this entry being longer!

 

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20
Jan
13

karimama, 19 january

The ‘flying team’ have just completed a week’s work in the bush, on a hill north-west of Kompa. We chose to test pit this site because in our 2011 survey we’d found both pottery and iron-working remains dotted about this area, an unusual combination. Also, we had noted that there was a seasonal stream running across the site which might conceivably have cut across in situ layers of the settlement, enabling us to make a quick assessment.

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In our 2013 work we met and surpassed the expectations of the first aim. Not only did we find ceramics on most of the mounds we surveyed, but they were quite often combined with slag (iron-working residue). We also mapped and cleaned some furnaces, some well-preserved providing indications of technology used. We excavated a couple of test pits which yielded a good sample of ceramics (helping us understand the settlement of the area), even though they were poor in terms of features or stratigraphy (‘just pots and sand …. like a ditch’commented Nadia).

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We camped near the site and enjoyed dinner under the stars every evening.

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The ‘Flying team’ was Abbas, Caroline, Louis, Nadia and I, with driver Imorou. We have two more test pits to complete, this time not far from Karimama.

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12
Jan
13

malanville, 12 January

The Giratoire sous les neems is a small maquis in the centre of Malanville,which gets its name, presumably, from the big neem trees which offer a welcome shade. Ten of us arrived safely from Parakou in our trusty Land Cruiser and met Sam, who had just waved off the ‘Pekinga team’. Alan took some useful road footage along the long drive up from Cotonou, we agreed what equipment each team will grab, and talked about the aims of each team. We have two UAC students with us, Tocano Sampson who wrote a thesis on Abomey, and Abbas Diallo whose family is from this region. Currently we await our fried fish and frites and we will then do various briefings/equipment distributions before splitting into two teams for the next couple of weeks. Nadia, Caroline, Abbas, Louis and I will be in Kompa; Ali, Sam, Alan, Sampson and Richard will be at Birnin Lafiya. Way upstream will be Carlos, Paul, Sven, Mossi and Franck, in Pekinga. It sounds a bit complicated, but it is going to get more complicated still! The main thing is, we are going to be busy, hopefully productively – and so far, we’re quite busy and happy. Watching the situation in Mali of course. Most people seem to think the military intervention ‘had to happen’.




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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