Archive for July, 2017


accra, 14 july

The conference has been organised into parallel sessions (here, three) where presentations were grouped by theme (and you move from one room to another depending on your interests), plus a plenary session where everyone is brought together.

And another fundamental of conferences is the excursion, usually to a venue related to the conference themes.


The fantastic excursion yesterday involved a visit to Kakum National Park and Elmina Castle.





accra, 11 july

Busy but productive times here at the University of Ghana.


Attending talks. Here, insights into the disastrous effect of jihadi occupation on the heritage and tourist industry in Timbuktu, and in Mali more generally. Malian colleagues outlined the work done to investigate, study and repair the mosque and mausolea torn down in 2012.


Catching up with friends and colleagues; trading books, cowries and pots.



And still scouring the storerooms for shells!




accra, 9 july

A week-end in Accra…

There is one cowrie on the image below


I travelled to Accra with many of the Crossroads pots: they will be handed over to Benin colleagues for return to Benin. Feels like the end of an era…



accra, 8 july

There are only a few species of cowrie shell that live off the West African coast, and as pointed out by Johnson almost fifty years ago they don’t look anything like the two species which have been most used, namely annulus and moneta. In the image below, from archaeological work by colleagues in Ghana, the two West African cowries, second row left, stand out by their size and shape. They would also stand out by their colour if they hadn’t lain buried in the archaeological record for a period of time.


So that one is relatively easy to figure out. One other, troublesome, question is what the relative popularity of annulus versus moneta (ring versus money) cowries might be able to tell us about date. One of the wild dreams of all archaeologists is to identify a specific artefact or type of remain which immediately gives an idea of a site’s age, without having to resort to expensive radiocarbon dating. Imports such as glassware, pottery and cowries figure amongst such objects.


The specific story about cowries in West Africa is that it is usually assumed that moneta arrived earlier, annulus only once the Europeans got onto the game in the sixteenth century. The collections here in Accra, like those we saw in Dakar, have an important story to tell about this. So this is what the next days will be devoted to, as well as conference attendance!


accra, 6 july

Visit to the Museum of Archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies.

There is a focus on current research undertaken by members of the department and collaborators, and there are plenty of cowries on show.


Some have been the object of research publications. Other items are brought out from the storeroom, and we will have to seek out details on their provenance and context.

In a nutshell, (spoiler warning) the question here in Ghana is about how much the money cowries were used versus the ring cowries, and how big a role local West African cowries might have played.

Other trade goods to West Africa are of course outlined in the museum.



accra, 6 july

I’m in Accra for the 15th meeting of the West African Archaeological Association. I’ve arrived earlier, looking forward to catching up with colleagues and with the hope of researching the cowries held in departmental collections. (The archaeology of Ghana has been majorly important in setting out some of the theories scholars hold about the spread of these shells into West Africa).



Neither the traffic, nor the weather, are with me on this occasion, but let’s see how other things go…

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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