cat scan

One evening a couple of weeks ago, Sam and I took one of our semi-intact pots from Birnin Lafiya’s Trench X to our local hospital.

This particular pot had been excavated on the final day of our field season, and we had left it filled with its original sediment, thinking there might be something interesting inside (such as someone’s spear points, trousseau or perhaps even an ancestor).

2013-07-10 20.04.06ed

Radiologists ran the pot through a CT scanner, and took the pictures you see on this page. A CT (computed tomography) scan is basically an imaging method that uses X-rays to create pictures of cross-sections of the body, based on the fact that various bodily structures block X-ray beams to differing degrees. The idea is that what works in humans also works in pots; we knew from an earlier classic X-ray that there were areas of different density within the vessel, and we though that the CT scan would tell us what they were.

2013-07-10 20.03.36ed

Unfortunately, although the CT scan did demonstrate the existence of chunks and crevasses within the vessel (see, for instance, the white roundish shadow on the image, below), it showed their shape so clearly that we are quite certain now that they are just rocks, pebbles and cracked clay.

That’s a bit of a shame, but there are still things we can learn. Most particularly, the image can show the uneven thickness of the vessel walls, and thus perhaps indicate how it was made (there exist several pottery-shaping techniques, all of which leave reasonably identifiable micro-traces). It can’t have been easy to shape such a narrow, elongated cylinder.


Also, the manner in which the various layers settled within the vessel can suggest how the remains we’re excavating came to be: did the pot fill quickly, with large chunks of fired earth and charcoal (the collapsing roof and walls of a house in fire)? Or did it become filled with earth over the passage of time, through a natural process of sedimentation, indicating that the vessel lay intact and empty for some period of time?


1 Response to “cat scan”

  1. July 25, 2013 at 11:09

    What fasinating information. I loved the image of the pot on the C T scanner. I look forward to your next posting.

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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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