Posts Tagged ‘african archaeology


york, 26 nov

This year’s African Archaeology Research Day attracted close to 60 attendees, with a very rich programme and gracious hosts. Good to see colleagues and catch up with news and gossip. In terms of papers,  I particularly enjoyed hearing about colleagues’ work in Somaliland and Ethiopia – medieval trade and craft centres abound – and about new research along the coast of Tanzania.

Our cowrie team presented two – and I fitted in a bit of Crossroads information too, referring back to the cowrie pond there. We are starting to really get a sense of how these shells came to be distributed across the West African landscape. Below is a map by Annalisa which shows the locations from which we have studied cowrie assemblages.


Plenty more impressions of the day can be found on Twitter: here and here



dakar, 20 may

We have concluded our week in the archives of IFAN. We will be returning to Norwich richer in data and richer in cowries and will be thinking about how to write it all up.

Being here has been a great opportunity to round off my knowledge of the archaeology of Senegal – I know best the areas farther east in West Africa.


I gave a talk to the PhD students and we discussed political boundaries and connections in medieval West Africa. Annalisa and I had lunch with Prof Ibrahim T and spoke about collections curation, underwater archaeology and Gorée Island among other things.

We say adieu to West Africa for now, until our next visit, in July for the West African Archaeological Association conference.



archaeology of the eastern arc of the Niger

Very little was known about the archaeology of the Dendi area of Bénin prior to the work of the Crossroads project. It does not figure in a fundamental source for the archaeology of the Niger Valley basins, the 1993 volume Vallées du Niger. Yet initial reports suggested that this would be a rewarding area. A survey carried out in 2001 by Didier N’Dah had identified the presence of several settlement mounds (N’Dah 2006), and brief comments on the prevalence of surface remains had been made by historians working in the area (e.g. Bako Arifari 2000, Ayouba 2000).


In looking for archaeological sites which can set within a wider context our work in Béninois Dendi, Didier and I have drafted a chapter which examines the portion of Dendi falling in Niger Republic, downstream in the Sokoto/Kebbi river system and the Kainji Lake area, and upriver in the Parc W and towards Mali, as well as in the Atakora region at the Niger River’s hinterland, all areas in which the archaeological landscape was relatively better known.

However, generally speaking, with some rare exceptions, the pottery from these sites has been poorly published. This is a problem I alluded to yesterday. Therefore, valuable as they are in terms of indicating the broad characteristics and timeline of human occupation of the areas around Dendi, the previously published archaeological data offer little that can help contextualise the finds from the Crossroads work.


On the other hand, much attention has focused on this eastern arc of the Niger River (see one recent summary here) and we hope to help move forward some questions concerning this part of the world.




pottery still

Here is the sum total of the pottery I still need to process for Crossroads. The end is in sight!


Previous posts on pottery progress…



We welcome another new contributor, Dr Annalisa Christie! Annalisa has been appointed as a Postdoctoral Researcher in African Archaeology at the Sainsbury Research Unit (UEA) to join the Cowries project.

Annalisa completed her PhD at the University of York in 2011 and comes to us from a lectureship at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She is a maritime archaeologist whose research interests have focused on examining the social context of maritime interactions and practices around the Western Indian Ocean – her PhD work dealt with the Mafia archipelago off the cost of Tanzania – and more latterly in the north Atlantic.

As part of the cowrie project she will be working to clarify the taxonomic classification of Cypraea annulus and Cypraea moneta, while conducting research into the nature and impact of Cypraea exploitation in Maldives (the reported source of Cypraea moneta across West Africa), using an anthropologically informed maritime approach.



A large part of the data we excavated in Benin (and that’s also true elsewhere) is pottery, and analysing this material has been taking a fair while. Here is an illustration of the progress:


and another, showing the bulk of the data (this is just the non-Birnin Lafiya trenches):


Thus, not the most charismatic material to blog about, which is why I have gone a little quiet, but it is all happening at this end.


Mungo Park’s cowries

At the British Museum today to see – in the Enlightenment Gallery – some cowries given to Mungo Park by the King of Bambara on 23 July 1796.


Mungo Park was the first known European to travel to the central part of the Niger River, reaching it at Ségou (today in Mali). When he returned home to Scotland he was greeted with great enthusiasm as people had thought him dead.


Mungo Park later embarked on a second trip to West Africa, in 1805-1806, during which he will have sailed through Dendi, perhaps past some of the towns where we have been working. He drowned in the rapids near Bussa, now in Nigeria, where there are some major rapids on the river. The whole area now lies underwater; Online Nigeria notes,

“The Kanji National Park also contains the Kainji Dam, an artificial lake which covers the town of Old Bussa. Here Mungo Park, the explorer, was said to have come to grief in 1805. Now the lake hides the scene of the accident. The lake is 136 km long and tours of the dam are available on request from the Nigeria Electric Power Authority. Boat trips on the lake can be arranged by the Borgu Game Reserve office at Wawa. To reduce the expense, it is better for several visitors to share the cost. Fishing is allowed on the lake”.

It sounds like quite a lovely place. Incidentally, the lake also covers some archaeological sites very relevant to our findings in Dendi. They include large mounds where excavations recovered grinding stones, stone beads and bracelets, iron points, hoes, jewellery, fish hooks, slag, glass crucible fragments, terracotta figurines and clay smoking pipes, as well as tens of thousands of pottery sherds and architectural structures such as granary foundations, collapsed house walls, potsherd pavements and other floors, mysterious burnt clay ditches, and burials with associated beads and jewellery. I came across publications on these sites when researching my 2007 book, and little did I know I would later be working at kind of similar sites just upriver from these.

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!

Please log in often, comment and/or subscribe to keep up to date with what's happening.

Blog Stats

  • 36,117 hits

Recent posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. There will be a special prize for the 50th subscriber

Join 161 other followers


January 2020
« Jun