Archive for the 'General' Category


lockdown, 1

We are, at least here in the UK, coming to the end of one of the strangest times most of us will have encountered. For me, it meant waking up, it seemed every day, in impossibly bright sunshine, ahead a day with those I hold dearest within four walls, yet no prospect of seeing anyone else. Four people organising their work day over breakfast with seemingly endless berries from the yard (that sunshine!) and fortunate enough to have two professional laptops plus one.

The feeling of ease and comfort when it started is difficult to describe: it seemed that all was as it should be. We were all under the same roof! We were fortunate to be able to work at home! There were no complicated logistics to try and remember who should be where when! This was peace.

The world outside was very complicated, though. Everyone we knew, on three continents, was scared and following instructions. We were scared. Locally, shopping was a game of chance and we exchanged news of where specific goods might be found. Flour was very difficult to get. It felt like we were all under emergency measures.

I worked on easy boring jobs: checking bibliographies, footnotes. They were all useful, some long postponed,  necessary and well suited to the time: I couldn’t concentrate much.

I feel like I was in shock. My existence is normally structured by meeting new people, travel, new ideas… It all came to an abrupt end. We knew it was coming I guess, but then  it came very fast: a morning to collect books, files and all that we might need. This was Wednesday 18 March. There are dozens of colleagues and students whom I last saw that morning, and everybody was stockpiling books or hunched over the photocopier. I didn’t really realise that 100 days on I still would not have seen them.


heading south


Leaving Port Sudan. Fisherman in front of large container ship sailing under the flag of Liberia, arrived from Kandla in Gujarat.

So, we headed southwards from Port Sudan, on increasingly difficult roads – made worse by recent rain. Our goal was the large Gulf of Agiq which, as well as being a RAMSAR site due to its variety of  forms of wetlands (sand flats, coral reefs, lagoons, sand shores…), has also been the subject of a number of reports, over the past 100+ years, of sites of archaeological significance.

The drive is long, punctuated by minor events such as an inquisitive camel which caused much amusement at one of the coffee stops.

We finally arrive at Aqig by night.



port sudan, 4 feb

So here we are in Port Sudan, having driven over from Khartoum – down the Nile, peeking at the famed Pyramids of Meroe; across the ochre, flat plain east of Atbara; through the Red Sea Hills, past Suakin and along the Red Sea.

A stop in Shendi; water storage in Shendi; cowries decorating a coffee stall at Atbara

Meroitic pyramids at sunset, and a quick selfie 

Onwards to the Red Sea


khartoum, 2 february 2020

Back on African soil!! It feels like the same happy experience as usual, though I am fortunate to be exploring a new quarter of the continent! I am in Sudan for three weeks, working with colleagues from the University of Khartoum to carry out some preliminary survey along the Red Sea. This is a direct continuation of the questions raised during earlier work I did on the cowrie shell trade networks of the medieval Indian Ocean, and we’ll be looking out for those little critters here too.


As well as meetings to set out a research and logistical plan, I also had time to see a bit of Khartoum. The National Museum, with its Middle Kingdom temples (mid-second milennium BC) and Christian frescoes (8th-14th centuries, with Byzantine influences), all rescued from floods, as well as artefacts from sites I have long read and heard about (Meroe, Sai Island, Kerma) – and its obligatory horde of only partly engaged schoolchildren! – offered a fantastic overview. It also provided the map above, complete with new and contested political boundaries.


The ever-present human tendency to inscribe one’s mark: nineteenth century graffiti, and a warning that came too late:

I also drove past the confluence of the Blue and White Niles —- not possible to stop there as we were in fast-moving traffic, but I had never seen the Nile before, so it was a big moment for me.



norwich 26 january 2020

I have written here many times about the trade which brought cowrie shells (Monetaria moneta and annulus) from the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean to West Africa. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the most intriguing stories of early global networks. We know that historical sources – murky from the ninth century onwards, much clearer from the thirteenth – suggest that the Maldives were a key fishing ground for these molluscs. Readers will know that, following three seasons of fieldwork on various islands of the Maldives, we have identified a number of sites dating to between AD 1100 and 1600, with plentiful cowries and both low-fired and glazed ceramics. So the archaeological data do not contradict the historical data.

But where to next? According to historical sources, the medieval trade network extending west from the Maldives reached Arabia. We rely here on ibn Battuta and on a few explicit mentions of the involvement of Yemeni vessels and of the presence of Maldivians in Hormuz in 1442. In a letter written in one of the Red Sea ports in AD 1141, one trader, on his way to India, informed his family in Alexandria of his plans. Among the goods he was forwarding to Fustat (Old Cairo) were ‘two bales of cowrie shells’. This is one of the rare specific mentions of cowries in medieval records – they are not otherwise that helpful on the question of medieval trade routes between the Indian Ocean and West Africa. There is definitely a good archaeological project there!


kinolhas, 26 june

A few last walks on Kinolhas before boarding the speedboat.

Quick look back at the archaeology we investigated in 2017.

Left image: the tall light green tree on the left is a bodhi tree, identified by locals as marking a former Buddhist site. (The Bodhi tree (Sanskrit: बोधि), was a large and ancient sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa) at Bodh Gaya under which Buddha obtained enlightenment). On this image, it is guarded by a thicket of screwpines (kashikeo) which are quite impassable when they gang up on you (but you can make cakes and juice from its fruits), and a sea almond tree (Terminalia catappa) (the nuts make great cakes).

Right image: the sandstone structures we cleaned and measured are now covered by leaves and soil again – the safest way for them to be – sitting quite nicely.



These are some cowries collected on the shore. These larger species typically live a bit deeper than annulus and moneta, so are less available to the casual collector. These guys on the left are, I think, tiger cowries.

An invitation to tea, and excited children as the coast guards pay a visit.

And finally, the obligatory sunset shot. I am now off to Male’, and Shiura remains on Kinolhas to continue her work on the pottery of ibn Battuta’s island.



goodbye kinolhas

As my stay at Kinolhas draws to an end, Shiura and I are treated to a coconut drink, very refreshing in this heat. They set us up some shade in Shiura’s trench!

There is a gift giving ceremony on the beach


And we then go off to number and pack up close to one thousand potsherds, which are coming back to the UK on a temporary export permit, to be studied.




male’, 12 June

A day of catching up in the capital of Maldives. Lunch with Dr Shazla, Dean at Maldives National University, Mauroof Jameel, and Shiura. We talked about surveys of traditional house forms, cowries on banknotes, nitrogen pollution, mangas, yams and coral mining among other things.


In the Twittersphere, Shiura seems to be welcomed back with open arms. There’s definitely a lot to be done here in the Maldives. Here’s a chance to say a virtual hello to colleagues in Oxford and London whose research is underway on the archipelago. And plenty (again, on Twitter) by local stakeholders on a number of recent archaeological discoveries made during the development of new resorts. Some of these we hope to visit in coming weeks.

There’s a new section in the National Museum which highlights recent traditional crafts – primarily basketry and woodworking, but there is also a section on pottery storage jars by which we were quite enthralled. All pots had to be imported to this clay-less archipelago so I am assuming they were brought both for their own sake and as containers for something else…? Something to figure out through the material from Kinolhas.



male’, 11 june 2019

Happy to be in Maldives once again! This is my fourth visit to Male’ and the place certainly does not stand still. You can now drive from the airport to the city, for a start, thanks to a new bridge. The PM of India was here last week. And it’s a busy time for culture too, with renewed calls to preserve Maldivian heritage both tangible and intangible.

Before leaving Norwich I made the obligatory stop to buy fieldwork supplies, and this time I travel not with potsherds but with several kilos of cowries (which caused me to be stopped by Customs). These are part of the hoard recovered by locals in Utheemu as they built a football field which we later studied (the cowries of course, not the football field). I’m also travelling with some of the pottery, metal and clay finds from Kinolhas. These are all returning to the Maldives after being on temporary loan to us in the UK.





cotonou, 26 may

In Cotonou again, this time to host a British Academy Writing Workshop. We have brought together a fine collection of early career researchers and journal editors to discuss the craft of writing a paper that will be accepted by an international journal. More in days to come!

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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July 2020