Archive for January, 2017


day 16, kinolhas

Excavation continues. Lots of pottery, and some surprising stones, mark today’s story so far.

A lot of stones, many not local to the Maldives, turning up in Trench 321.


Time to brush up on my geology…

Meanwhile, we hit an unexpected problem at Trench 631. The stones which we thought marked out a series of houses are not that. Once exposed a little further, it is clear that some are, in fact, gravestones. And the sandstone blocs probably delimit a mausoleum.

Ah. Not what we had hoped for!

Team meeting so that everyone gets to see the site, and no mad rumours (e.g. about ibn Battuta’s bones) start to fly.


We phone the Council president to inform him, and he comes to visit. He texts and calls two Islamic scholars, and both confirm his feeling that as long as we don’t disturb any bones, it is fine to continue to dig.


This gives us a great opportunity to better understand the funerary archaeology here. Thus far, one gravestone from Kinolhas has been published by colleagues ten years ago. Amazingly, it is a marble stone probably from Gujarat (see my post from last year).The ones we are looking at now are probably more mundane, but who knows…

A (dated) epitaph would be lovely!


days 14 and 15, kinolhas

The real digging has begun! Having sampled an area of roughly 120 by 150m with small test pits every 20m, as detailed in previous posts, we were ready to start larger-scale, and much less brutal, excavations.

The weather has been so much nicer.

Clearing the area to put down trench #321:


Not clearing this just yet – though it is tempting, because the test pit here (#544) was just full of pottery and bone:


Setting out trench #325:


Mapping out stone structures, #631:


These trench numbers might all sound arcane, but some we will get to know like the backs of our hands. And we are sieving everything.



a dark hour

As an American citizen in the UK who, over the past 20 years, has been made a welcome and honoured guest in a range of predominantly Muslim countries – structuring my day around the call to prayer, and building my career with friends and colleagues there – this is a difficult time. The ineptitude of our governments is shaming.


day 13


Unseasonal rainy weather kept us away from the field for the first part of the day.

Once the rain stopped, we took the opportunity to blitz through our remaining seven test pits.

#478. Yielded a near-complete dish with an everted rim and parallel incised lines.

# 544. Surprise! An unpromising location (dense woodland and leaf cover, and many mosquitoes) turns out the fullest range of pottery and bone. Two partial Chinese bowls.


#573. Cut a possible stone structure.

And so on.

We finish the day with a fresh coconut offered by our host. The banana trees in the background are fed by waste water from the sink.



day 12

Day off


day 11, kinolhas

Finds processing at the island Council office – and the view from there: not bad!


Once we had washed the pots, we laid them out in a grid that replicates our grid of shovel test pits across the western end of the island. This made any particular concentrations of material jump out.

We will know even more once we have analysed the pots, shell and bone, but this gives us a useful overview.

Shiura and David claim their excavation units, to start on Saturday…


day 10, kinolhas

Today we completed another 18 shovel test pits, so not only are we getting a sense of the subsurface in this densely vegetated landscape, but we are actually a day ahead of schedule and all our pottery is washed so — this seems a good time to investigate an intriguing series of coralstone structures (quadrilinear features, plus what looks like a bathing tank) just to the south of our survey grid. Our local informants suggest they are very old and point to the presence of the bodhi tree – not native to the Maldives – as a possible indication of a former Buddhist community. The stone-built structures of that time were often reused by later peoples.


day 9, kinolhas


The site is out there somewhere…


Perhaps under here?


Or through here?


6.45 am start. Beautiful light and not yet too hot.

Breaking ground; a shovel test pit. Clearing ground: coralstone foundations exposed.



day 8, kinolhas

The day begins with a meeting with the local councillors. The purpose is to explain our aims and we have a lenghty set of discussions on historical mosques, cowries and the medieval maritime trade.


Another important aspect of the discussion is to clarify that we are here working on behalf of the Maldives Department of Heritage, and won’t be absconding with gold or ibn Battuta’s bones. The project is underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding and by the University of East Anglia’s ethics code.

The Council are very supportive, keen for us to find something, and will issue a statement to the island’s residents.


Then back to survey. The western part of the island is largely occupied by kitchen gardens (watermelons, chillies…) and by forest. Where people have dug to cultivate, sherds litter the surface. What we are looking for in searching for a place to excavate is an area which has not been disturbed in living memory but also – for practical reasons – is not too densely vegetated.

For the next three days, then, we will be searching for this magical combination. We do this by asking the locals about the use of the land, and by testing the soil at regular intervals (to this effect we spent a while hacking through spiky trees and grass bearing compass and tape measure).


day 7, arriving

We will now be based in Kinolhas (Dhivehi: ކިނޮޅަސް). One of its claims to fame is that ibn Battuta first landed here when he arrived in the Maldives. He writes:

When I reached there I disembarked at the island of Kannalus [Kinolhas island in Raa atoll], a beautiful island in which there are numerous mosques. I put up at the house of one of its pious inhabitants where I was received hospitably by the jurist Ali. He was an accomplished man and had sons who pursued the study of sciences. There I met a man named Muhammad, a native of Dhofar (Zafar-ul-humuz), who entertained me and told me, ‘When you enter the island Mahal [Male’], the vezir will detain you, for the people there have no judge.’

A spot of impromptu survey – trying to link the putative medieval settlement with the reported medieval harbour. It is not all fine sandy beaches in the Maldives…

But there are some of these too, of course.



Meeting our team. We will hopefully work together for 22 days and do good research.

Kinolhas is about 0.5 km2 in size and has 580 inhabitants but a third live in Male’ in search for better education and job opportunities.

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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January 2017