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.