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.