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to the field

Today, we are heading out back to some of the field sites which we visited on Sunday. We were on the road heading east towards Grand Popo.


Didier took us to a site he had spotted, on an island, and on which is an obvious archaeological site (as well as a present-day village).

This region is a biosphere reserve, listed in 2017 by UNESCO and a focus of activities for NGO Eco-Benin, which is working to ensure better living conditions for communities  through the promotion and the development of ecotourism and eco-development initiatives as a sustainable way of managing natural resources.


cotonou, 6 june


Nestor and I met with the third year undergraduates who are going to accompany us for our short field season in the coming ten days.

There are seven of them and they haven’t yet had any fieldwork experience so, although our work this time is going to be pretty speedy and preliminary, we hope it will be a useful learning experience for them. One of them is already employed as a guide in Ouidah museum and another is interested in standing buildings so we should be able to find something to interest them in our field site…!


Soon,then, we’ll be leaving the bright city lights and heading to the coast. [Cotonou is on the coast, of course, but you don’t see much of the sea].

At dusk, some of Cotonou’s inhabitants break their Ramadan fast, others go for a fitness walk.



cotonou, 6 june

We have been looking for archaeological sites along the coastline…


At times, just a narrow strip of land separates sea and estuary.

It is of course not on the beach, or on that narrow strip, that sites are to be found, but slightly further inland.

The image to the left shows a former site that has been eradicated to make a football field; this brings back memories. On the right are supposed remnants of houses built by the first slaves returning from Brazil in the mid-nineteenth century.


cotonou, 5 june

Back in Cotonou again. This time, meeting not just archaeologists but also colleagues in other disciplines and in government and non-government agencies linked to tourism.

Tourism is a big deal in Bénin; the World Bank, in April 2017, noted that it is Bénin’s biggest source of foreign exchange earnings behind cotton. The government aims to increase the overall share of tourism to 10% of Gross Domestic Product by 2023, from today’s 2.6%. And heritage is – yey! – squarely included in the government’s plans.




norwich 11 may

Over the past two days, we have been hosting colleagues for a workshop on the Western Indian Ocean. It’s been very exciting to hear papers ranging from Madagascar to the Maldives via Tanzania, Ethiopia, Iran and Mauritius.

We’ve been thinking about how communities from around the Western Indian Ocean lived and connected between 1500 and 200 years ago.


With a strong representation from the Maldives, both scholarly and diplomatic.

Framed by a dinner in the evening sunshine.

There is more on Twitter.


western indian ocean heritage workshop

As part of the workshop we will be hosting in the coming two days, Annalisa has, with the help of our students, been setting up a display showcasing some of our finds from our fieldwork in the Maldives.

There are, of course, a lot of potsherds. These include likely cooking pots from India, paddle-impressed sherds, blue and white Chinese porcelain, various types of celadon, Middle Eastern productions and fragments of mysterious transport jars from southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Ran Z has arrived early from Durham to continue looking at our Chinese material.




In Durham, travelling with potsherds – as usual. I am calling on Prof Derek K and Dr Ran Z to talk about the finds we excavated last year at Kinolhas in the Maldives.


Well, our Maldivians certainly had wide-ranging connections. We already knew a bit about their Chinese imported pottery. Now, sherds which likely came from Iraq, India, Iran, and parts of South-east Asia have also been identified.

I am particularly intrigued by the so-called Martaban pottery, of which we appear to have a range of examples. The fabric is grey or pink, with a brown, black or olive glaze. We saw similar examples in resorts in the Maldives, where they are used for decorative purposes. However, this group is poorly-defined and we don’t know for a fact where these pots were made and how many different productions there were.

Durham was very scenic under a dusting of snow.

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 2018
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