Archive for September, 2013


global medieval

I’m in Newcastle at my second meeting of the Defining the Global Middle Ages network (see here for the one I attended last year in Oxford). The theme this time was ‘networks’ , resonating well with my current preoccupations, which revolve around connections and what people knew about the wider world about them – the world of experience in a deep-time perspective, if you like.

So, my paper at the workshop ranged gaily from Viking Age Europe to contemporary potters in Niger, drawing from a series of papers I have been reading lately and hope to apply in Crossroads. All are underlain by a common concern with networks and their actors: more precisely, with viewing networks from their actors upwards. From then, the question is how archaeology can hope to track connections in the past and, in particular, the movement of people and objects through trading activities and the diffusion of technical processes. I am compelled by the thought that in medieval times travel may have been commonplace amongst a small, specialised subset of the population (an example here) – their minds’-eye ranged widely over long distances, but their mental map was like that of a constellation or a Tube map: disconnected from its background, including political entities which have traditionally structured our narratives.

However Crossroads may develop these ideas, being at the Newcastle workshop has been a stimulating opportunity to learn more about China and India, among others. In each case, historians have precise ideas about what periods constituted the ‘heyday’ of civilisation. Needless to say, these ideas are prone to frequent rewritings and increasing debate. Given China’s current economic strength I was curious to hear that the medieval Song Dynasty was a time of huge economic development.


Kompa Dune pottery


Yesterday I finished the analysis of the Kompa Dune material.

Since practically nothing is known of archaeological ceramic types from this part of the world – a situation in stark contrast with other sites I’ve worked, such as Maya Belize or Roman Geneva, where a handful of sherds can give you an instant clue about chronology – we are working from scratch. Some potsherds were eroded or undecorated, and tell us relatively little without further, expensive and time-consuming, analysis such as clay characterisation; we call them ‘Category 4’. Others were good-sized rim sherds, from which we can infer the shape and size of the vessel they came from; we call those Category 1.


Now the hard graft of analysing these is done, I shall be putting down my Sharpie and callipers and dusting myself off to start looking for patterns and characteristics. This is essentially a question of playing with Access and Excel to see whether, for example, certain types of decoration only occur in certain stratigraphic layers.


Kompa has yielded five dates – three were from our main trench, roughly eighth to late twelfth centuries, and the other two from a furnace operating just the other site of a stream, early tenth to mid-twelfth century.  Read more here about our work back in January.



The trench itself was not that informative in terms of past people’s habitat. We seem to have hit a trash heap: there were no discernible structures and nor did we recover any small finds such as beads or metalwork. However, the fauna and plant remains, and the pottery, will tell us quite a lot about how people lived. Archaeology is, after all, about the day-to-day discards.

001 (2)


Finally, Kompa is unusual in one way: it’s not that common to find settlement and ironworking evidence side by side, as they were here. Partly because of this, Caroline RB and I will, over the coming months, be writing a paper with colleagues of hers concerning this site.



As we gear up for a new academic term and wave good-bye to the warm Norfolk summer, in Crossroads terms we start to think about the project steering meeting next October, and the 2014 field season just after Christmas.

On our target list for test pitting in 2014 are the following two lovely sites –



The finds from the 2012 and 2013 field seasons are with various labs and experts – in York, Cotonou, Miami, Bristol, Brussels, Paris, Cologne, Cambridge and of course Norwich, where the pottery analysis is proceeding as usual. I have nearly completed the analysis of the material from Kompa, so further posts might tell you whether or not they all make sense.

Next week I am going to the British Museum to see whether any of their holdings of so-called ‘aggrey’ and Igbo Ukwu beads resemble our Birnin Lafiya beads – back to the question of lantana which I posted about last year (here and here).

Over the past month, I have also been thinking about cowrie shells, trans-Saharan trade, the archaeology of northern Nigeria and African connections.

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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September 2013