Archive for January, 2014

31
Jan
14

photos

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31
Jan
14

birnin lafiya work

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.

31
Jan
14

malanville 31 January

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.

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29
Jan
14

Birnin Lafiya, 29 January

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.

24
Jan
14

Malanville, 24 January 2014

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.

20
Jan
14

empty triangle / rain

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.

20
Jan
14

arrival at the base

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.

05
Jan
14

who they all are, 2014

This year, we have, again, quite a large team (about forty, not including all our local support team of drivers, fishermen, workmen etc.). Who they all are: between 10 and 13 Benin and Niger undergraduates; about 7 Benin and Niger postgraduates; 5 European postgraduates; and the rest researchers of various stripes from Benin, Belgium, the US, the UK, France, Niger and Germany.

Most are people who have been on fieldwork with us several times already and whose names you will recognise. I won’t name them all here, as their stories will develop as time goes by. Here are just a few plans for 2014. Lucie will be on the trail of hunters, Didier excavating one of the numerous flattened sites along the Alibori, Ali digging pits up and down the valley as a double act with Olivier’s informants, Sam and Nestor continuing the examination of the Birnin Lafiya house complex, Mardjoua excavating the site of the large baobab with a hole, Caroline tracking furnaces down in Sakawan, Nadia surveying along the Niger River’s affluents, Carlos mapping the subsurface of the Birnin Lafiya mound, and Paul looking for chemical traces of past occupants’ land use. The Niger team will be out en force this year and will be excavating at the mythical site of Katanga (a supposed point of origin of some of today’s peoples) on the opposite shore to us.

Some of my priorities include visiting the lantana mines, seeing Katanga, finding out what sites there are near Guene, seeing what an outlying part of Birnin Lafiya looks like, thinking about the cowrie marsh, wondering whether craftspeople settled separately, finding out what lies below current villages, and coming face to face with the ancestors. I expect I will come up with more in the next few days as I read through my field diaries for the past 3 seasons.

This year, look for us largely downriver from Birnin Lafiya, an area which still represents a gap in our knowledge and that we must get to grips with in this, the final field season.

 

On survey

Survey upriver of Karimama, Feb 2011




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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