Archive for the 'Migration' Category



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.




a dark hour

As an American citizen in the UK who, over the past 20 years, has been made a welcome and honoured guest in a range of predominantly Muslim countries – structuring my day around the call to prayer, and building my career with friends and colleagues there – this is a difficult time. The ineptitude of our governments is shaming.


global trust

Today I have been plunged in the narratives written by al-Yaqubi, al-Bakri and ibn Said, medieval geographers who described the Sahara and Sahel. These accounts are standard fare for West African history but this time I look at them with a new eye, looking for indications of standards of trust and trustwortiness. This is in the context of collaborations on the Defining the Global Middle Ages project.

Ibn Hawqal is particularly impressed with the people of Sijilmasa, whom he thinks have learnt probity from their long distance contacts and their time away from home.




In the current climate, we are daily asked by our media to think about what is a migrant. I have had occasion in the past to write posts (for example here and here) alluding to the absurdly negative attitudes to people’s mobility which seem to prevail today amongst the political class.

Well. I am a migrant, and an economic one at that – from Canada to Switzerland to the UK. And a lot of migration in the family before then. Nothing exceptional there: according to some studies almost a quarter of academics in the UK are not from the UK, and some figures appear to place this as high as 40% for UCL, for example.

Migration is central to the history we’re trying to write of Dendi: kings from Gao, praise-singers from the Upper Niger, kola traders from Bornu, they all figure. Who knows – maybe your tin trader from Tripoli or your canoe-builder from the Niger Delta or your cowrie seller from Ari atoll. That’d be nice! Indeed, outsiders and immigrants are everywhere in the African past: rulers show off their foreign descent, traders migrate to new areas, potters and blacksmiths claim to be apart from society.

Migration is also absolutely central to archaeology generally speaking. 25 years ago it was argued that archaeologists were wrong to think that migration is a chaotic and poorly defined phenomenon (and thus a theme that just couldn’t be studied archaeologically). Rather, research in geography, social anthropology, demography, and statistics had shown that migration behaviour is governed by certain rules and therefore liable to be studied and predicted. With the exception of permanent migration, which appears to have in fact been quite rare historically (with some notable exceptions in our deep past), mobility seems to be organised around sustainable networks that can to some extent be predicted. Maybe it need not, therefore, seem so scary.


Outsiders and strangers: an archaeology of liminality in West Africa

I’ve now finished my book. It goes off to OUP tomorrow.  It is theoretical but feeds directly into the Crossroads project because it is focused on technical specialists, among other categories of immigrant and outsider. Outsiders, incomers and migrants feature heavily in the oral and written historical record for West Africa and so the idea in the book is to see how archaeologists can see these people. In a nutshell, that is the broad aim.  The idea first came to me three and a half years ago and it has been actually quite fun (most of the time) and therapeutic (in the past 18 months) to be writing it. All being well, it will be out within 2013.

Plenty on the Crossroads diary for the autumn. The two main jobs on the archaeological front are going to be doing the pottery analysis (look forward to a few more of the ever-popular ‘sherd of the day’ features…) and examining and mapping the survey data from 2011 and 2012. Also in the diary are several meetings – the European team members will gather in Norwich in early October, and the African-based team members in Abidjan in November. I will be giving talks in Oxford, Southampton and at UCL. An incentive to pull things together. This will all feed in directly into the next field season, slated for early next year.


mobile, marginal and technically specialist

Over the quiet Christmas season, I have been re-reading Guy-Jean Michel’s excellent Verriers et verreries en Franche-Comté au XVIIIe siècle (Erti, 1989).  The workers in these glass-blowing factories of northeastern France, who had come around AD  1700 from areas of Germany and Switzerland, were craftspeople who show interesting commonalities with the West African blacksmiths and other technical specialists whom I have been considering in the book I’m writing on the role of outsiders in the West African past.

The glass-blowing factory worked on a different rythm to that of surrounding society – not structured by the religious calendar, the seasons and by day and night but by whether the furnace was firing or not – “tiendra-t-il trois ou trente semaines? on ne peut le prévoir” (Michel 1989: 135). This firing demanded vast quantities of wood and placed the factories in remote wooded areas, away from the bulk of society – a marginal position that a different language (they still spoke German for two generations – Michel 1989: 389) and high degrees of mobility and endogamy tended to foster. This wasn’t, however, an community that was turned inwards, but one which created links – employment, last rites, wine, wheat, godfathering – with the surrounding communities.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the glassblowers started moving southwards to the Lyon area, where coal was becoming available to power their furnaces. I spent quite some time in the 1990s researching in geneaological archives the Haour family, and was able to go back to a Jean Haour born around 1700 who probably worked at the Miellin factory and whom I am pretty sure is a direct ancestor. The trail goes cold then – the family’s origin may well be in the Black Forest or the Swiss Jura, as was that of the better-known families, but the documents stay mute on this (and see Michel 1989: 388-9).

If I can find a good way to, I will put these verriers into the book.



Outsiders, incomers and migrants feature heavily in the oral and written historical record for West Africa. There is, for instance, a whole tradition of rulers coming from afar (‘stranger-kings’ in the words of Marshall Sahlins who looked at this in a wider context), with power-sharing arrangements set up between autochthonous and incoming peoples. Such is the case for example for the rulers of the Hausa, the Songhay, or Borgou. That is all very intriguing in its own right, and I think interpreting such traditions as the consequence of Islamisation, and as efforts at ‘genealogical parasitism’, might be oversimplifying the story.  I gave a talk about this at SOAS last year. Then and since then, I have been wondering (in a chapter I am currently writing for a book for OUP) how it fits in with the anthropologists’ notion of rights-in-persons. Today I am (in theory at least) finishing piecing all of this together.

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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