Archive for January, 2014
I’ve mentioned that we have been trying, this year, to close the chronological gap between our archaeological and our etyhnographic data. However needless to say we have also been continuing work at our favourite site, Birnin lafiya, the large mound outside the modern town of Birni Lafia, and about which I have written a lot in the past.
Paul, Mardjoua, Edith and Agathe have been digging 1x1m test pits up and down the mound to try and understand better how it came to be formed. Where, on the mound, was past settlement concentrated, and how much of the material we see on the surface a product of more recent erosion and redeposition? Contributing to this same question is the ongoing test pit led by Jennifer and the geophysical survey led by Carlos and his team.
Sam has been continuing work on the main house at Birnin Lafiya, this time on a vastly expanded area (still focusing on the horizontal). The achievement here has been to locate patches of architecture that is very similar to that from the main house, although, it must be admitted, far less well preserved. (Basically, it seems we see things best when materials were baked by fire, and this was, obviously, not the case everywhere on the site). Other areas of very nicely preserved pavement, and one possible furnace feature (but full of beans! literally!) are also being examined.
Two of the test pits designed to examine early Birnin Lafiya and its predecessor have now been completed or near completed – one through a midden (thanks Louis) and one through a giant sand dune (thanks Frank). In parallel Ali and his trusty flying team have finished another excavation at the village with the great name of Bogo-bogo, one of the sites attributed locally to the Gurmantche settlers from further upriver, acknowledged as the first-comers here in Dendi. As a result, we are in the process of regrouping at our base camp, at Birni Lafia itself, and carrying out general maintenance and housekeeping today, our day off. Tasks for today include designing a team T-shirt (at the express request of the workmen contingent).
Karimama and Malanville have continued to be plagued by power cuts and additional the internet connection remains very slow (rumours the team is checking emails are therefore largely unfounded…). And a few drops of rain again today and it is very muggy.
Below is the Alibori along which Nadia has been surveying for the past 3 weeks.
Things have speeded up lately. As well as the various activities at the main site of Birnin Lafiya (which we have been investigating since 2011) we have started test pitting other sites of the region which are said by oral tradition to fall in the 1300-1800AD bracket. We’ve now worked at a handful of sites, including two locations in or near to modern Birnin Lafiya. Except at Kompa, where the sheer materiality of archaeological data unnerved the audience, we were made very welcome. For some sites, oral tradition tells a very specific story, such as the destruction by fire wrought on the town of Boyeri, and this is a story which we seem to corroborate archaeologically by recovering a thick layer of ash and charcoal. Such contexts are nineteenth century and feel very different to the material from the Birnin Lafiya old site. The ceramics are dissimilar and objects such as cowries and metal points are relatively common.
Day off for the team, which now numbers 27 people. Test pits are underway at Birnin Lafiya and another of the modern town’s satellites, the house complex is being further unveiled, a series of units across the site are exploring the build-up of the mound, we are emptying two dye pits in the former dyeing centre of Karimama (unearthing some interesting 20th century archaeology), while survey along the Alibori river is aiming to set the site within its wider regional context.
Continuing with this regional context, the flying team is about to begin its activities upriver from here, and its mission is to find sites to close the gap we have between AD 1300 and 1800. In hunting for these villages, we’re pursuing a theory that revolves around contour lines. We’ve noted for some time that sites occur on slight elevations so, now finally armed with 1:50,000 maps of the region, we are going to target our test pits based on topography, supposing that the height of the Niger river will have conditioned past settlement at various times. We also have the extensive information collected over the past 4 years by Olivier G and his team, which has identified which modern villages possess satellites which immediately preceded them.
I start writing posts in my head, and this is why the present post has a split title. I was all set to write about our survey south of Tombouto (yes, it is named after Timbuktu), which has yielded 25 new sites in an area I was sure we would find none, and at least one pottery pavement. We have been walking through the landscape for the past two days recording these sites. It is part of this year’s determination to better understand the empty triangle of the Guene-Molla-Malanville area, by all accounts of craft practices collected by our team a crossroads of cultural traditions.
But then it was overcast and there were bats gliding above us a dinner time and lightning visible in the distance, and then it started raining, which is extremely unusual for this season. That seemed well worth a mention too.
The trip up from Cotonou is a 800km stretch.
Our luggage included 80 pineapples!
We made a stop at the Musée en Plein Air in Parakou to drop off the pottery of which we have finished the analysis, and to see friends who will be joining us later in the season.
We made an unscheduled overnight stop at Guene. So near yet so far…
Finally, the following morning we arrived at Birnin Lafiya to find Carlos, Nadia, Frank, Paul et al in good spirits.
The internet is too slow at present to add photos, more when possible.