Archive for September, 2018


conference excursions

Once the formal conference proceedings were completed we were taken on a tour of several historical and archaeological delights, both around Rabat and near Casablanca.

A trip to the Museum of History and Civilizations and to an exhibition at Bank al-Maghrib Museum, devoted to Moroccan medieval traveller ibn Battuta. No prizes of guessing what was amongst the most prized commodities he encountered – cowries, of course.


Ibn Battuta’s presumed route across West Africa


Then off to Casablanca for a visit of several former quarries that were mainly exploited in the early 20th century when Casablanca’s port was developing and which led to the discovered of some very early human, hominin and animal remains.


Above is a panel at the Sidi Abderrahmane archaeological park, outlining the region’s importance. The particular geomorphology of the region means there is a high density of Pleistocene sites.

The sequence from these various caves, which spans over 5 million years, offers data for comparison with those from other African areas where hominids appeared and it feeds into the debate on the earliest occupation of Europe.





PanAfrican congress

The 15th Congress of PanAfrican Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies (PanAf) has just concluded. 350 people took part, of 36 different nationalities. Here are some further scenes taken from the meeting.

It was also a chance for us to return cowries to the people who had generously lent them to us over the past couple years.

Cowries packages by Annalisa, ready for return


The next meeting of the PanAf is set for Zanzibar —- already looking forward to it!


rabat, 13 sept

Sam Nixon, Mabrouk Saghir, Youssouf Bokbot and I convened a session on trans-Saharan trade which brought together researchers having worked north and south of the Sahara. This returned to the long-standing questions of exchanges across the desert in the medieval and early modern periods.

We heard papers dealing with archaeological, historical and geographical studies of towns on either sides of the Sahara, specific commodities (gold, beads, cowries…) and ideas of technology transfer and religious change. It’s interesting in that context to note that modern Morocco is increasingly positing itself as an entry point to sub-Saharan Africa and a major investor in countries such as Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Gabon.








rabat, 10 sept

In Rabat for the 15th Congress of the PanAfrican Association.


The overall theme is ‘Valorisation of African Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development’. We are hosted by The Sciences Faculty of Mohammed V University and the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Sciences in Rabat, Mohammed I University in Oujda, and Moulay Ismaïl university in Meknès. The last meeting of this association was in Johannesburg: when I wrote about it then, we were in the midst of trying to process and understand all of the data we had gleaned through Crossroads, so it does seem a while back. Great to see colleagues and friends again.



sept 9

During our archaeological investigations at Sultan Park in Male’ in 2016, we uncovered an octagonal metal piece with a square hole at its centre.



We sent it to Norfolk Museums for cleaning and conservation in the hope it might be something interesting (a Chinese coin, say).


Examining the artefact and its concreted covering

The outcome is inconclusive. The object appears to be copper alloy – it’s definitely not ferrous – and it’s heavily concreted. Despite cleaning, no inscription or decoration was noted. Its sides are rather uneven, and this, together with the fact it isn’t iron, suggest to me it’s not modern, at least. We still don’t know what it is, so the next stage will be to have the composition tested.

On other news, I waved a final goodbye to the Crossroads book proofs.





The last few weeks have been dominated by finalising the Crossroads volume. I’ve carried the manuscript around with me (it’s hefty) like a turtle and its shell, checking first, second, and yes, even third proofs. Out in the coming months with Brill – watch this space…

but also a visit to colleagues at the Palace Museum in Beijing to discuss Chinese pottery and coins in the Maldives and elsewhere.



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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September 2018