Archive for the 'General' Category


goodbye sultan park

Unit N12, below, was one of the last two we finished; it was right at the extremity of one of our core lines. Shown here a while before we reached its maximum depth at one metre. Over two kilos of cowrie shells (overwhelmingly moneta as far as we could see) came from this one!


Yesterday we did the final few bits on that trench and on Shiura’s, and we spent the day largely drawing section plans


It got complicated towards the end, because an open air performance started just metres away from us, and the park took on a rather festive air. Some of the music was bodu beru and it did sound quite African at times.

At night, Sultan park lights up.


Now we depart for our next atoll: Raa (see some historical background here)







a day off


Views of Male’

Male’ has many narrow streets


and motorbikes

football and cricket


the tombs at the ancient Friday mosque

many ferries (and waiting rooms for ferries)


Sultan Park (plastic LED tree at the foreground – fittingly, a baobab, I think). The tape demarcating our excavation area just visible in the background


water play



global connections

Arab sailors were probably trading to the Maldives from the 9th century, but it is a little hazy. Five centuries later things are clearer when ibn Battuta writes,

“The inhabitants of these islands buy crockery, on being imported to them, in exchange for fowls so that a pot sells in their country for five or six fowls. The vessels take from these islands the fish which has been mentioned before, coconuts, waist-wrappers, wilyan and turbans made of cotton. And people take from there copper vessels which are abundant with the Maldivians as well as cowries and qanbar, that is the fibrous covering (coir) of the coconut.”

In 1405 the Chinese dispatched a large expedition to the Maldives, with whom they’d had trade relations for some while. The Mao K’un map gives sailing directions from Malé to Mogadishu.

A little later ibn Majid’s list of destinations and distances seems to refer to know islands along the eastern side of the Maldives chain.

A lot of what I have read concerning the early history of the Maldives and its links with the world concerns the string of atolls on the west side, running from Maamakunudhoo Atoll, route of the ancient sailors where many ships run aground on their way to Bengal (including the Persia Merchant shipwrecked in August 1658 carrying chests of silver, and probably gold from West Africa – truly the stuff of legends) to North and South Nilandhoo atolls, where archaeological sites are reported on several islands – including some mysterious mounds and a fine mosque at the capital island. Also along that 400-km long  stretch are the various islands of North Maalhossmadulu (also known as Raa), including Fainu and Hulhudhuffaru where trading ships moored. Kinolhas is where Ibn Battuta first stopped. Maalhossmadulu’s claim to fame was boatbuilding and it was known for its strong currents since the lagoon sea floor is some 20 metres shallower than at other atolls, according to my Lonely Planet diving guide.

Indeed the waters around the Maldives are treacherous. The currents were strong and continuous. Some traveled huge distances. “If the current carries [sailors] to the west, they are borne straight to the Arabian coast… but most often they are dead before they get there”, wrote François Pyrard who was shipwrecked in the Maldives in the early seventeenth century.


time for lunch

It is nice working in the centre of a major city and being part of its rythym.



Rush hour at the lunch break





Maldives National Museum

The National Museum is housed in a building in Sultan Park in Malé, designed, built and financed by the Chinese government and opened in 2010; it was previously located in a three-storied building just nearby, the only remaining structure of the Maldivian Royal Palace compound. It holds artefacts relating to all periods of Maldivian history – though in 2012 the pre-Islamic period objects were vandalised and some destroyed by religious fundamentalists exploiting a period of political unrest.

Artefacts on display include, among many other things, the Loamaafaanu copper plates, written in the old Maldive alphabet. This set is thought to date to the twelfth century, recording the conversion of the people of Danbidhoo, in Laamu atoll, to Islam. This involved the destruction of many Buddhist temples and monasteries.



Chinese intact ceramics recovered during the destruction of the royal palace in Malé.



You’ll have noted that destruction features quite heavily in all these stories. A topic we’ll return to…


Heading to field site 1

Always the same question: will it all fit? And though loading a Land Cruiser at 6am to drive 700km (my experience in Niger and Bénin) was hairy, having to charter a ferry to the airport is something else!



pots but no potters

What archaeological work has been carried out on the Maldives – for example the by Carswell at the old palace in Malé or the analysis by Mikkelsen of pottery from excavations by Thor Heyerdahl’s team at Nilandu – has documented the evidence of  brown pottery decorated with incisions, thought to have been in use for a long period (and thus not that useful for dating), and apparently coming from southern India and Sri Lanka. Carswell specifically linked some of the material to pottery from a site in NW Sri Lanka, suggesting a connection between it and Malé. As he notes, Sri Lanka would be the Maldives’ nearest source of clay.

We are now seeing similar sherds in the collections of the National Museum here in Malé. They also have here intact pots of the same type though nobody knows much about them.


For his part, Ibn Battuta says a cooking pot was bartered for five or six chickens.

I was just wondering whether they ever imported clay and made the pots here.

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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