08
Jul
13

Malé, 8 july

Despite spending a lot of time in the ocean in the past week or so (at depths of between 1 and 18 m) I have not succeeded in seeing a live Cypraea moneta cowrie: apparently, they feed at night, are masters of camouflage, and have been depleted by the Maldives’ long history as a cowrie trading nation.

aaaDSC00301

I did learn that these molluscs were often caught using rafts of coconut fibres to which they would attach themselves – and that although dead cowries wash up onto the beach (I saw some of these), those which had been fished alive were considered more valuable, as they were shinier.

Marion Johnson’s 1970 paper describes the cowrie trade from the West African perspective – but meanwhile I had a valuable opportunity to discuss the cowrie trade from a Maldivian perspective, by meeting yesterday with archaeologist and historian colleagues at the National Museum and the National Centre for Historical and Linguistic Research (meetings kindly facilitated by our holiday resort manager!). I return loaded with books and offprints…  Thus, some interesting things to think about in an island nation I have hoped to visit for over 25 years.

aaaDSC00318top left is a cypraea moneta


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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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