Posts Tagged ‘archaeometallurgy


studies continue

As we enter the final few months of the Crossroads project, we are reaching the end of our pottery analysis. 25 kilos of sherds returned to Cotonou just this week, thanks to our friend and colleague Joseph A.

Meanwhile, the animal bone is in Brussels, the human bone in Cambridge, the carnelian beads in Leicester, the metal objects and slag in Toulouse, the charcoal in Brussels and Miami, and the glass and shell beads in Frankfurt.

The challenge now is to pull of all of this together for the book.


Work ongoing by Ronika P at the at the Palaeoanthropology Laboratory of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies


new publication

See the forthcoming issue of Journal of African Archaeology to discover more about past ironworking in Dendi…

Iron Production in Northern Benin: Excavations at Kompa Moussékoubou. 

Caroline Robion-Brunner, Anne Haour, Marie-Pierre Coustures, Louis Champion & Didier Béziat

This paper focuses on the habitation and archaeometallurgical site we investigated in 2013 near Kompa. We had chosen to test pit this site because in our 2011 survey we’d found both pottery and iron-working remains dotted about this area, an unusual combination. Find out what we learnt here: Preview_Robion-Brunner-etal-JAA13-1-2015

One thing I did for this paper was the pottery.


For information on other publications, search this blog for posts with the tag ‘Publication’.


amsterdam again

stuck again in Amsterdam, because of a late connection. At least, not with 300kgs of pottery this time. Maybe more like 120kg.

Some photos while we wait.


Getting ready to draw Sakawan sections with Agathe and Gregoire


Caroline at Kantoro giving an Archaeometallurgy 101 class


visite des oignons


Nicolas at the end of one of the test pits in modern villages. Note the ‘horizon plastique’ (modern refuse) at top


two weeks to go

This year’s field season is looming; it will run from 2 January to 22 February, with, as last year, different teams on the ground at different times.

We have about 25 students this year (11 of whom undergraduates, the rest MA and PhD), we hope to involve a new geomorphologist team, and colleagues from Niamey will be extending our scope onto the Niger side of the river. Test pitting is going to be a big priority; we plan a dozen excavations planned throughout the region, with a particular aim of seeing whether we can close the chronological gap between our archaeological data (100-1300 AD) and the foundation date of modern settlements as stated by people today (1800-1960 AD). We will also be tying up loose ends at Birnin Lafiya, with a range of sampling and prospection, continued excavation on the ‘SX complex’, and a new test pit somewhere mid-slope.  Enquiries with informants will continue to explore the history of connections into and through the region, the actors, and the commodities involved.

This is the last data-generating field season so there are quite a few things to think about. It’s also going to be quite exciting hard work…

Meanwhile, in the past 2-3 months, we have secured funding to run a series of radiocarbon dates on the Birnin Lafiya SX complex, the pottery jigsaws and pottery recording have been continuing apace involving our MA students, we’ve been pondering survey strategies, we’re working on papers on the Kompa archaeometallurgy and on dyeing, we’re drawing up lists of the objects to go into the project exhibition next year, we finally got hold of some good maps of Dendi, and Didier was here at SRU as a visiting fellow for 7 weeks during which we discussed fieldwork, future research, and Crossroads publications.


Kompa Dune pottery


Yesterday I finished the analysis of the Kompa Dune material.

Since practically nothing is known of archaeological ceramic types from this part of the world – a situation in stark contrast with other sites I’ve worked, such as Maya Belize or Roman Geneva, where a handful of sherds can give you an instant clue about chronology – we are working from scratch. Some potsherds were eroded or undecorated, and tell us relatively little without further, expensive and time-consuming, analysis such as clay characterisation; we call them ‘Category 4’. Others were good-sized rim sherds, from which we can infer the shape and size of the vessel they came from; we call those Category 1.


Now the hard graft of analysing these is done, I shall be putting down my Sharpie and callipers and dusting myself off to start looking for patterns and characteristics. This is essentially a question of playing with Access and Excel to see whether, for example, certain types of decoration only occur in certain stratigraphic layers.


Kompa has yielded five dates – three were from our main trench, roughly eighth to late twelfth centuries, and the other two from a furnace operating just the other site of a stream, early tenth to mid-twelfth century.  Read more here about our work back in January.



The trench itself was not that informative in terms of past people’s habitat. We seem to have hit a trash heap: there were no discernible structures and nor did we recover any small finds such as beads or metalwork. However, the fauna and plant remains, and the pottery, will tell us quite a lot about how people lived. Archaeology is, after all, about the day-to-day discards.

001 (2)


Finally, Kompa is unusual in one way: it’s not that common to find settlement and ironworking evidence side by side, as they were here. Partly because of this, Caroline RB and I will, over the coming months, be writing a paper with colleagues of hers concerning this site.



This week sees the departure of a  number of team members. The archaeometallurgy, survey and geoarchaeology teams have been particularly badly hit! 




Above are  Ali devastated at the rate of erosion of a mound site along the river, Caroline hunting for furnaces, Didier marking a possible site for excavation in 2014, and Paul sampling our deepest trench at BLaf, which was dug by Ali and Nicolas. However fear not, the bulk of the team will be remaining till the 13th, and we are still occupying two bases – Birnin Lafiya and Karimama.


who they all are (2)

Here is another way of looking at it; we have ten archaeologists (including an archaeometallurgist and a geoarchaeologist), two historians, two anthropologists, an architect, a film-maker and an art historian; and eleven students.



2nd steering meeting

Our second steering meeting was last week – this is the chance for all the Europe-based members of the team to get together. The idea was to take stock of what work we have done already, in the 22 months we have been running, and what work still needs to be done in line with the initial proposals made to the ERC. The project still has 28 months to run, and 3 field seasons.

It was hard work and very fun. We heard presentations by everyone – the core team members plus three new welcome additions, Victor B from Université Libre de Bruxelles who is looking at land use and settlement development in a historical perspective, Caroline R-B from Toulouse whow will handle the description and analysis of the archaeometallurgical remains within our area, and Nadia K, the Crossroads PhD student, who will develop a more regional perspective for the archaeological work using GIS, potentially combined with test pitting.

Among the things we talked about were soumbala, horses, folded strip roulettes, thermonatrite, the Wangara, test pits, magnetite, clan names, settlement morphology, Kirikongo, latrines, lantana, crushed clay, open spaces, Sorotomo, fish, phosphorus, furnaces, and Bogo-Bogo.  Among many other things.

Some parts of this now need to pulled together for the African Archaeology Research Day in Southampton in early November and for the West African Archaeological Association in Abidjan in late November. Stay tuned.

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