first meeting of the cowrie shell project

On April 1 we launched a new research project, aiming to better understand the cultural and commercial uses of cowries in West Africa. The most famous member of the cowrie family, the moneta or money cowrie, has served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, but among places where cowries had strong ritual and commercial functions in medieval times are the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean, and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, here and here. And now, here we are, with a proper, full scale research project with funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

We held the initial project meeting in Glandford, home of the Glandford shell museum. A rite of passage.


The project brings together a West African archaeologist (myself), a marine biologist, an Africanist anthropologist, and a Maldivian archaeologist on a PhD studentship; a postdoctoral researcher will be recruited very soon. By bringing together expertise in marine biology, collections-based research, anthropology and archaeology, we’re hoping we can shed new light on how this one object, the cowrie, was valued within and between cultures over 750 years. So, we will be undertaking museum collections work, reappraisal of archaeological collections, and excavations of Islamic period contexts in the Maldives.



4 Responses to “first meeting of the cowrie shell project”

  1. 1 Anselm GUEZO
    May 18, 2015 at 18:20

    This is worthwhile. It sounds to me like the fulfilment of the will of my mentor at the University of Birmingham, the late Marion Johnson. Even on her deathbed she carried on working on this topic. For me joining this research team is honouring her memory.


  2. May 20, 2017 at 22:58

    I love your project! Wish you all the best and all the luck!

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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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