Archive for February, 2018


dichroic beads

We’ve been finalising a chapter on the beads which came out of the Crossroads work.


Number 14 is a small dark blue drawn bead from Birnin Lafiya, #17 is something I picked up on the surface of a large mound here, while #16 and those shown as #18 all come from Birnin Lafiya and, luckily, are excavated rather than surface finds (= better idea of date). Thanks to our colleague Dr Sonja M, who arranged to have some of these analysed (and who created the image above), we now know that #14 and the one far right on image #18 are HLHA beads, which is pretty exciting given their date (11th-13th century).


HLHA beads are known as such because they are made of high alumina-high lime glass. This is a very particular chemistry; outside West Africa, the only known reported glass samples with such a high-lime, high-alumina composition are from Korea. The argument is therefore for a local production of the Yoruba region of southern Nigeria. I saw some of these beads when I visited the British Museum stores about four years ago; thought to be ancient and kept as heirlooms, they have been chemically shown to be made from HLHA glass:


This industry seems to have reached a mature stage in the first centuries of the second millennium AD but continued until recently. Some of these are known as segi (and, believe it or not, are confused with cowries in some early European sources, but that’s another story).

Their particular chemistry means that these beads have been identified on a range of West African archaeological sites. They seem to have been traded extensively over a long period, at least between the tenth and sixteenth centuries; see for example this paper for an overview. So, our beads represent a good addition to the meagre assemblage of HLHA beads known from dated contexts.


islamic archaeology

Our Cowries team was represented at last week-end’s Islamic Archaeology Day 2018 at University College London, the fourth such event, which attracted over 120 delegates. Annalisa C reports:

The conference showcased current research in Islamic archaeology from across Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle and Near East and most interestingly from my perspective, two papers on current Islamic archaeology projects around the Indian Ocean. It was fantastic to see the range of inter-disciplinary research being undertaken, and the range of material culture analysis – from glass production to archaeobotanical remains. The conference was also a great opportunity to meet other researchers who have started up research projects in the Maldives recently, and to catch up with friends working on the East African coast. We rounded off the day sharing stories and eating amazing mezze.






post-excavation processing

For the first time in seven years, I am not away on fieldwork in January and February – thus the blog, which thrives on scenic action scenes, has been much quieter than usual. However, things have not been quiet in Norwich. We have been working through the finds from our 2016 and 2017 field seasons in the Maldives (and doing a bit here and there on Crossroads pottery, ivory, and beads too – another story).

One strand of work concerns the pottery excavated, and the focus at present is on the earthenwares. We retrieved a great number of coarse fabric ceramics with a relatively thick body, often with channels, sharply carinated and/or with overhanging rims. These appear similar to those reported from sites along the Persian Gulf, in southeast Pakistan and along the Red Sea, so they may well be interesting in mapping our Maldivian islands’ connections with the wider world in the Islamic period.

Another major strand of work involves working through the shells that colleagues have generously let us borrow from their various excavations and surveys in West Africa. Annalisa and I are, this week, ensconced in the Yoruba world. The story of the spread of cowries through Yoruba areas is the story of two competing trade routes – northwards from the Atlantic and southwards through the Sahara. But is it also a story of two competing shell species?





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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February 2018