london, november

Monday, at the Natural History Museum to see their holdings of cowrie shells and to meet the resident experts.


We spent four happy hours looking through trays of moneta and annulus from across the Indo-Pacific, including of course the Maldives (we saw one batch which had been presented as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II). We learnt more about the specificities of cowries, and of annulus and moneta in particular. They like nice beds of seagrass on which they can graze for micro-organisms and because they have a mantle which covers the shell entirely they tend to remain quite shiny and appealing once dead. Here for example are some dead and live moneta.

One thing we discussed at length was how much medieval populations, both in the Maldives and in West and East Africa, might have differentiated between the two species. This will be difficult to determine, although we plan to make an analysis of the words used to describe the shells. Another thing we plan to determine, when we are in the Maldives next year, is whether certain atolls were better producers of cowries – and how the Maldives managed to sustain the huge numbers which are said to have been exported.


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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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