We’re about to embark on the first field season of our ‘Cowrie shells: an early global commodity’ project. A broad presentation of the remit of this research project can be seen here. In the immediate, what we’re hoping to achieve is fourfold: survey, excavation, interviews and research on museum collections. Here are the kinds of things we are aiming to find out:
What were the main sites of the medieval period and what standing remains still subsist relating to them? What can their typology tell us of the chronology and connections of the Maldives trade network? What is the impact of environmental factors on this heritage? we’ll be partly on ibn Battuta’s footsteps here (a great describer of cowrie commerce).
What does the material culture of the medieval period look like? In particular, what are the characteristics of the pottery? Can shell processing sites be identified? What can artefacts tell us about the connections of the Maldives medieval network, and about past lifeways generally?
Were certain atolls specialised in specific crafts or maritime practices, such as boat building or shell collecting? What environmental factors determined these specialisms? How was the landscape perceived and negotiated?
How does the material recovered by previous archaeological teams, which relates to the Buddhist period, compare with material from later periods? What species of cowrie are represented in the middens uncovered by previous development work?
We’ll aim to update this as we go along, so stay tuned for further thoughts.