Posts Tagged ‘african archaeology


goodbye Sudan, 17 feb

The end of another excellent trip was marked by a farewell lunch in a fish restaurant by the seafront in Port Sudan


and a detour, on the drive back to Khartoum, to the remarkable sites of Naqa and Musawwarat es-Sufra:

Finishing cleaning and photography for the finds


And of course the inevitable shopping. Bakri with Sudanese boomerangs:


And a lunchtime seminar at the Department of Archaeology





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.



red sea, 6 feb 2020

The Red Sea has long had a reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Two thousand years ago, the author of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea wrote of part of this shore that “Navigation is dangerous along this whole coast… which is without harbors, with bad anchorages, foul, inaccessible because of breakers and rocks, and terrible in every way”. The coastline has long unbroken coral reefs which make access difficult, and the idea is that medieval ports such as Aidhab or Badi were situated on islands or in sheltered bays.

For the past two days, we have been stopping every 20km along the coastline north of Port Sudan and checking for archaeological evidence.

We’ve been systematic at stopping at regular intervals, but we’re also checking especially carefully any points on the coastline where there appears to be a break in the reef or some other feature which might indicate a sheltered place for boats. Google Earth is great for this, although you need to weed out modern developments (salt plants, oil refineries!).


The findings have been rather slim. A few potsherds, and plenty of burial tumuli (see the bumps on the image to left, below?), but in terms of the medieval archaeology, one kind of gets the sense we haven’t been looking in the right places…

Let’s see what coming days bring.




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.



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.

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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August 2020