Author Archive for Anne Haour


brussels july 2015


My main project in the next months, and for which I am on research leave, is to bring together the Crossroads monograph which will present some of the results of our five-year research in Benin. There are 30 contributors to this volume and it will contain a whole range of types of information, so it is quite a complicated endeavour.  Ali LS, Olivier G and I spent four days earlier this month moving the process forward. We were surrounded by the amazing collection of ethnographic pots which they have accumulated over the years (you can see some of them looming on the top shelf).

For variety I’m also spending time thinking about shells, cowrie shells specifically, for my new project which will take me into the Indian Ocean. I’ll be writing about this too on this blog as the project develops (see here for a brief note of its launch).


Cambridge 1 July

Trip to Cambridge’s McDonald Institute and Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies yesterday, to talk to Dr Ronika P about the work she has been doing on some of the Crossroads material.

Ronika, a biocultural archaeologist, has a set of human remains (mainly teeth, but also some bone) from our excavations. These samples come from the two burials we uncovered during our work, but also include fragments recovered during excavation. The latter were usually mixed up with other items, such as animal bone, and weren’t identified until much after the fieldwork; typically, Veerle L found these during her lab work. Such fragments testify to graves that were disturbed long ago, through the successive occupations of the site; the working hypothesis is that the dead were buried close to the living.


We discussed the results obtained so far, their meaning, and plans to publish them. Almost nothing is known of the past occupants of this part of West Africa, and the isotope (oxygen and nitrogen) and morphological analyses which Ronika and her colleagues are undertaking will give us some first insights into the diet and geographical origin of the peoples of Dendi.

Next week, the focus will be pottery again. David K and I will be travelling to Brussels (with a suitcase of pottery, as ever – plus a lot of papers) to meet with Ali LS and go through all our data. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with the various members of the ‘ethno-team’ based in Brussels, and we’ll talk about the progress of our book.


the earlier people

We have by now over a hundred radiocarbon dates from our various sites. The majority – about three quarters – date to between  500 and 1300 AD, which appears to be a key period for the settlement of the area. However, we have inklings of earlier occupation, too. Until now, indications for this early phase, of the first millennium BC, came just from one site, Alibori Site 2, excavated by Didier N’D in 2014: as its name indicates this was close to the Alibori river, and not too far from Birnin Lafiya. There, two samples from Trench III (below) indicated occupation sometimes between the eighth and fifth centuries BC.


Now, with some new radiocarbon dates just received, we have confirmation of another early occupation, nearly 3000 years old, at a site called Kozungu, on a mound just outside modern Birni Lafia (photo below). It was visited by the architects and ethnographers in our team, then subjected to test pitting by Ali LS, Nicolas N and Daouda A.


These excavators had suspected there was an early occupation at this place, based on a discontinuity in the stratigraphy. That impression was confirmed later, during pottery analysis, when we found that the material from the lower part of the trench looked really different.

Now we can suggest thanks to the radiocarbon dates that people apparently lived at Kozungu 3000 years ago then the site was abandoned and reoccupied at a much later date (13th century AD).

It’s a nice result because it sheds a bit more light on the earlier inhabitants of Dendi, who preceded the people building pavements and using huge numbers of pots and who for that reason are much easier to spot in the archaeological record.


studies continue

As we enter the final few months of the Crossroads project, we are reaching the end of our pottery analysis. 25 kilos of sherds returned to Cotonou just this week, thanks to our friend and colleague Joseph A.

Meanwhile, the animal bone is in Brussels, the human bone in Cambridge, the carnelian beads in Leicester, the metal objects and slag in Toulouse, the charcoal in Brussels and Miami, and the glass and shell beads in Frankfurt.

The challenge now is to pull of all of this together for the book.


Work ongoing by Ronika P at the at the Palaeoanthropology Laboratory of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies


top views

Here is some relatively random information for readers who wish to identify their peers. All supplied to me via WordPress, with thanks.

In the past seven days:

United Kingdom in the lead, United States second, Benin third

In the past 30 days:

Belgium in the lead, United Kingdom second, United States third. Good showing from Switzerland and Germany!

In the past year:

United Kingdom in the lead, United States second, Belgium third. Good showing from France, Nigeria, Italy, Japan and Botswana!


first meeting of the cowrie shell project

On April 1 we launched a new research project, aiming to better understand the cultural and commercial uses of cowries in West Africa. The most famous member of the cowrie family, the moneta or money cowrie, has served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, but among places where cowries had strong ritual and commercial functions in medieval times are the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean, and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, here and here. And now, here we are, with a proper, full scale research project with funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

We held the initial project meeting in Glandford, home of the Glandford shell museum. A rite of passage.


The project brings together a West African archaeologist (myself), a marine biologist, an Africanist anthropologist, and a Maldivian archaeologist on a PhD studentship; a postdoctoral researcher will be recruited very soon. By bringing together expertise in marine biology, collections-based research, anthropology and archaeology, we’re hoping we can shed new light on how this one object, the cowrie, was valued within and between cultures over 750 years. So, we will be undertaking museum collections work, reappraisal of archaeological collections, and excavations of Islamic period contexts in the Maldives.



photography again

Those pots are getting a lot of attention. Having been drawn mid-April, the same lot have now been photographed.


Andi, who had previously been here to photograph our small finds, was back. Henriette R assisted with the process and we obtained some good individual shots as well as more artistic family groups.


The plan now is for these to go back to Benin, some as early as next week as we take advantage of a visiting colleague…


About this blog

We are a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are carrying out new excavations and research to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years.

This blog will tell you all about it.

This investigation is funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7); it is led by Dr Anne Haour of the University of East Anglia, UK. The opinions posted here are however her own!

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