Posts Tagged ‘anthropology

27
Apr
16

aarhus, 26 april

I have been visiting the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, an archaeological research group which aims to compare the archaeology of urbanism from medieval Northern Europe to the Ancient Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean World. Integral to doing this is the use of various techniques (isotopes, XRF, statistical analyses of radiocarbon dates) which can allow a greater precision in chronologies but also determine the origin of objects.

It’s all about context, context, context.

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I was speaking about our Crossroads work and the five-phase chronology developed to characterise our sites – underpinned by 120 radiocarbon dates but ultimately based on pottery styles and on small finds such as glass bracelets or cowries.

I was taken on a visit to the Moesgård Museum, with its very high-tech coverage of the archaeology of Bronze, Iron and Viking Age northern Europe as well as displays charting the evolution of the human species.

I was interested to learn that the Queen of Denmark is also an archaeologist.

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I was taken on a great tour of the places of Viking and medieval significance in Aarhus – former city walls, two cathedrals of which one was outside the walls, locations of former excavations. Aarhus will be European Capital of Culture next year.

At the seminar, and dinner afterwards, we talked about… network theory, the relations between trans-Saharan traders and their host communities, elite items or not at Birnin Lafiya, cowries and the Merovingian trade, PhD and postdoctoral funding opportunities, the value of having anthropologists on the team to keep archaeologists in check, ERC videoconference interviews, and ways of advancing capital over long distances.

Back to Norwich now, and on the plane will be thinking about trust in the global Middle Ages.

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10
Feb
15

fieldwork – two weeks to go

Just back from a stimulating visit to the British Institute in Eastern Africa, I turn now to plans from the other side of the continent. Only two weeks to go before I am back in Benin. This year’s fieldwork will be quite different from previous years: it will involve a smaller team, and its aims, at least in terms of my part in it, are quite distinct from the research-based ones we had in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. They are twofold:

Pass through the villages in which we worked and explain what our research uncovered. To this end we plan a series of public events in Dendi.

Outline the project activities and findings to the scientific community in Benin. To this end we plan a three-day workshop at the Universite d’Abomey Calavi.

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14
Oct
14

Steering meeting 2014

Last week, 13 of the Europe-based Crossroads team members gathered in Norwich for the yearly project meeting. We heard four powerpoints, and most participants had submitted papers beforehand, and the major focus was on discussion. In particular, we had a list of twenty questions to chew over. Below are a few… We are now thinking quite concretely about the project book which will come out of our five-year collaboration, and which we aim to publish in 2016 with the Journal of African Archaeology Monograph Series.

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In archaeology, there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of global history and global connections, and an increasing concern with the movement of practices rather than just objects (Arguably, developments driven by history and anthropology). How optimistic can we be about the chances of recovering practices through the material from Birnin Lafiya and other sites sampled by the team?

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Does the nature of the subsurface evidence (stratigraphy, geophysics) offer us any clues about whether the entirety of Birnin Lafiya was occupied at one time?

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Are there apparent ruptures in the occupation or creation of the settlements between the 4th and 14th centuries? Is there an evolution in settlement strategies ? In food practices? (What was the ratio of fish and game in diets throughout time?)

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What can we say about the ecological evolution of the area during the last two millenia ? Is there evidence of flooding or drought episodes ? Do historical studies carried out in adjacent and more remote regions point toward ‘natural disasters’?

30
Oct
13

African Archaeology Research Day 2013

After seven months of planning, we are just two days away from African Archaeology Research Days 2013, the yearly gathering of Africanists in the UK, which this year will be held at UEA. 

We have about 110 registered participants. We will have a couple of keynote papers, plenary session papers which will deal with Kenya, Tanzania, Benin, Mali, Senegal, Libya, the Sahara as a whole, the UK, Sudan, and the Western Sahara. Focus discussion groups dealing with archaeology and development, museum collections, the Indian Ocean system, and ritual in archaeology will consider those and other parts of the continent and bring the plenary session participants up to date with burning thematic developments in the field. 

The fun starts at 9.15 Friday.

09
Aug
13

Two and a half years on

As followers of this blog will know, our European Research Council-funded team is engaged in clarifying the history and archaeology of northern Benin, in West Africa. Although the project’s core is archaeological, it integrates throughout art historians, anthropologists, geoarchaeologists and historians. Team members undertake fieldwork together, and there is a continuous feedback process throughout the field season, so we keep on track.

We’re halfway through: how are we doing?

So far, we’ve undertaken three field seasons, of which the largest, earlier this year, involved fifteen researchers, sixteen students, several research assistants and 40 workmen. At the moment we are engaged in desk-, museum- and laboratory- based work until the next field season in early 2014.

Our archaeological work has focused on a site called Birnin Lafiya, where we have worked for three field seasons now – a total of perhaps 80 days. We have uncovered parts of floors made of broken potsherds and evidence of fired earth architecture, which is not so common an occurrence in the West African Sahel. We have also carried out geophysical prospection to get a better sense of the extent of the site and to identify buried features; our work is one of just a handful of examples of the application of the technique in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Birnin Lafiya has yielded varied and diagnostic pottery, and good preservation of fauna and charcoal. We have so far recovered no occupation post-dating the thirteenth century, while the earliest remains date to the fourth century AD.

We’ve also carried out test pits at four other sites throughout the valley, and very limited sampling at two further sites. These sites have yielded varied and diagnostic pottery and all fall within the same rough time range as Birnin Lafiya. At least two of the sites – Pekinga and Tin Tin Kanza – show evidence of the same tradition of pottery pavement; Tin Tin Kanza, in particular, revealed a close succession of pavements, wall bases and floor areas. At other sites, we recovered no architectural features, but the pottery analysis, which is ongoing, will allow us to suggest whether there is a degree of cultural similarity in parallel to the broad chronological simultaneity.

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So far we have run 40 radiocarbon dates (16 from Birnin Lafiya) for sites of the area, and through survey we have identified, then described, about 800 up to now totally unknown archaeological sites. These are gradually building up the archaeological map of northern Benin.

From the ethnographic side, we have carried out interviews with hundreds of potters, blacksmiths, weavers and dyers within the valley and the wider region. We also carried out intensive interviews as regards the political history of the area and the traditions relating to the abandoned sites near modern villages. Contemporary textile production has constituted an important element of our research, and one of the highlights of the 2013 field season was the commissioning of a local cloth, an operation set in motion and followed by one of the masters students associated with the project from its start (cutting the wood to make the loom) to its finish (the final textile, now part of the permanent collection of both the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Horniman Museum of London).

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Thus far the evidence recovered through fieldwork offers good prospects to answer the questions set out by the research project, namely the degree to which areas of cultural and political evidence might be visible on the ground.

The pottery, aerial imagery, and soils analysis are all in progress. The pottery analysis has also involved three students (as well as further students in the field). To date 42000 sherds of the have been placed on the database while we are also continuing manual recording. The aerial imagery analysis is being carried out by the project doctoral student; at this stage, it involves mapping the data of field survey, generating a digital elevation model (to seek correlations between terrain and site location), and using remote sensing imagery to locate sites from the air. The soils analysis aims primarily to recognise land use; to that end, samples have been taken both from archaeological trenches and from field systems and are being subjected to multi-element analysis. We’re also testing whether micromorphological analyses can provide clues as to the nature of the architectural structures recognised at Birnin Lafiya, and trialling the effectiveness of a dating technique called optically-stimulated luminescence.

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A book and four papers deal with aspects of all of this, and we’re planning a book for 2016 and some more papers.

 

28
Mar
13

AARD 2013

165415_449577745122764_1483995500_nWe are pleased to announce that the African Archaeology Research Day 2013 will be held at the University of East Anglia on the 1st and 2nd November 2013.

The plan is to have a couple of keynote papers (Eric Huysecom and Tim Reynolds) on the Friday, we hope to avoid parallel sessions, and we’ll have 3-4 focus discussion groups on the Saturday morning (please send suggestions; ‘archaeology and museum collections’ and ‘Saharan archaeology and landscape’ are two themes already in the running).

The website,  with the first call for papers, is here, and various social media hangouts also await you.

04
Mar
13

Mission in Dendi 2013

 

Our colleague Olivier G’s take on the 2013 field season.




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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