Archive for May, 2014


more charcoal

During the past field season we excavated a number of test pits within modern settlements.


The aim here was to determine how long the modern villages had existed and what their material culture looked like in the past. The test pits were excavated in locations chosen after consultation with the ethnographer, architects, and oral historians within the team. This is a good example of the close interdisciplinary collaborative work we have been doing in Crossroads.

The archaeological work was spearheaded by Ali, with able assistance from Nicolas, Idi and others. One thing which required constant explaining to interested viewers was why we were so obsessed with recovering charcoal.


Of course the answer is that charcoal enables us to date events, through C14 dating – and we’re delighted to have just been awarded a grant from the NERC Radiocarbon facility on the basis of an application Ali and I wrote last April (and Nicolas and Louis helped out a ton with the sorting and graphics). This will allow us to run 21 dates on charcoal from five of our test pits.


We chose charcoal from layers which we think fall in our 13th-18th century blindspot – the period for which we so far have no archaeological or oral historical information at all. Archaeologically, Ali and his colleagues determined that in the trenches this ‘invisible phase’ lies between the ‘early medieval’ layers, which are full of folded strip rouletted pottery – most of the Birnin Lafiya material looks similar to this – and the ‘early modern’ (these are just handy labels) which are characterised by totally different pottery including blepharis roulette, and by cowrie shells.

So – will our 21 dates prove Ali’s hunch was correct, and finally fill in a void in our chronology?? Watch this space…

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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May 2014
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