Author Archive for Anne Haour


gender stereotyping

What I am working on today, as well as cowries: I have been invited by a Careers Adviser to talk at Sprowston High School, a local secondary school, tomorrow.

The purpose is to challenge gender stereotyping for a group of 11-12 year olds – try to get them to look beyond stereotypes they may unknowingly have.

Here are some interesting facts:

Some 22 per cent of professors – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14 compared with just 15 per cent in 2003-04, according to a report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The report, titled Staff in Higher Education 2013-14, which was published on 26 February, also says 45 per cent of the UK’s 194,245 academic staff are women.

A couple of anecdotes are also relevant here. There was the time when my daughter and her friend decided to impersonate a Professor: for them, this involved a long moustache, round glasses and a hunched posture. There was the time when I tried to join a swimming class online and the drop-down menu only allowed the title ‘Professor’ if you had ticked ‘Male’ as your gender. True story!

Related content: here and here.

So, anyway, here I am thinking back to 2012 which is the last time I was put in front of an audience of 11-12 year olds.






north sea

Cowries again. This time, John M, artists Sarah Caputo and Brenda Unwin, and I, met to compare notes on the medieval transfer of practices and objects between the UK and Denmark. Particularly apposite in a post-Brexit context.


We talked about Cuthbert’s pectoral cross, the respective merits of the money and ring cowries over lynx, panther and other large cowries, Kopytoff and Appadurai and the lives of objects, Aarhus and the exhibition which Brenda and Sarah are preparing. They have been awarded a bursary to research and work with Danish and British museums, art groups and artists to follow artefacts between East Anglia and Denmark during the first millennium AD.



monod in the majâbat al-koubrâ

This week-end, I have been watching a DVD I had bought when I was at the Musée de l’Homme with our students last month. It is a documentary on the search by French scholar Théodore Monod for fragments of a meteorite reported in one of the emptiest quarters of the Sahara desert, the Majâbat al-Koubrâ of Mauritania. This film brought this polymath researcher to the knowledge of the wider public.

His research in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ involves hundreds of kilometres walking through dunes and plateaux with no water points and no trees. The film vividly depicts the landscape. This website gives a good sense of the place by showing a series of IGN 1:200,000 maps – “Though the maps date from the 1950s it’s very unlikely that Google Earth would reveal any more detail today… the mapmakers weren’t just being lazy – there really was nothing to show”.

I understand better now the environment in which was recovered the famous ‘Lost caravan’. Discovered by Monod in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ, this was a cache of brass bars and cowrie shells, probably the abandoned load of a caravan which had lost its way as it headed south from Sijilmasa, nine hundred years ago. Monod published his discovery in 1969 in a wonderful paper, and its images show that the site appears as a small mound in a flat landscape. A sample of the shells and brass bars were taken, and the site left. It has never been found again.


cowrie meetings

Much progress on the cowrie front. This week saw one of our regular team meetings, and this time we played with a lot of maps and tried to chart the global spread of these shells.


Then, today Annalisa gave a great paper at this year’s African Archaeology Research Day.




spotlight on crossroads… and uk at a crossroads

The University of East Anglia (UEA) puts the spotlight on our recent work in Benin: read about it here.

UEA is in the top 15 institutions for research impact in the UK and ranked 63rd worldwide for research citations. Much of this is a product of international collaborations such as Crossroads. … and we in UK Higher Education are really worried at present. There are 32,000 non-British EU academics in UK university teaching and research posts, accounting for 17% of the total. UEA Vice-Chancellor notes, “UEA was founded with an international outlook. It’s in our DNA, it’s at the heart of our interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to research. We have always welcomed students and staff from around the world and we always will”.




st andrews 24 october

Heading up to St Andrews to give a paper at the Medieval Studies seminar of the School of History there. The title indicates a focus on the cowrie shell, and I am going to add in a bit about the northern European finds of such shells in medieval graves (often those of women and/or children) (see here a recent story). Of course, I will also give a snapshot of our archaeological work in Benin, which situates where I am coming from. Even though we were not fortunate enough to recover medieval cowries there…

All of this is bringing me back to some of the West Africa/Europe comparative work I have done before, in my 2007 book and papers since, including one written recently with Ian F from Oxford.


Meanwhile in Norwich, we have been mapping out the next 6-8 months which will include fieldwork in the Maldives, research trips to West and East Africa, and hopefully a couple of nice papers reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of our team: we hope museums, archaeologists, anthropologists and marine biologists will all find something there. Stay tuned…


inaugural lecture 4 oct

Should you wish to, you can now view my lecture of last week here.

Thank you to the various people who have sent me comments and questions. There has been a lot of email traffic and I am still musing over some of the topics… many have provided a lot of food for thought.

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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