Posts Tagged ‘architecture


bahrain, 13 april

I am in Bahrain for the Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective conference.


We have been hearing papers outlining the nature of the Islamic occupations from Brunei to Morocco via Turkmenistan, Yemen, Saudi and many others. In some areas such as the Levant, these rather late, medieval, levels were dug straight through to get to the older, Classical or Biblical-era, levels that were of more interest to the excavators. I will be talking about West Africa later today; there the problem has sometimes been the opposite, where sites were excavated down to Islamic levels – enough to try and show that a site mentioned in Arabic written records had been identified – and no further. Neither approach is considered acceptable today, by the way!




day 22, kinolhas

Why the enduring interest, during our excavations, in patches of dark sand, you ask? Well, largely because they might indicate rubbish pits, which typically contain a whole range of goodies (one man’s rubbish is another’s treasure, that sort of thing) – or because they might be postholes, perhaps the only surviving indication of ephemeral houses.

Their buildings are made of wood, and they arrange the floors of their houses high above the ground as a protection against damp, since the earth in their country is moist. The process of construction with them is as follows: they fashion blocks of stone two or three cubits long, place them in rows one above the other and lay upon them beams of coconut wood. Thereupon, they raise walls of wood – an art in which they are wonderfully skilled.

Ibn Battuta, writing in the 14th century about the Maldives: see here. (This comment also explains our obsession with spotting lines of stones).

Recording piles/lines of stones in the forest.


Getting complicated in Trench 631.


Meanwhile… mucho pots, bone…

Archaeobotanical samples in the breeze…



And yesterday we set some cowrie traps. Stay tuned to find out how they fare…


day 18, kinolhas

Yesterday we stayed late finishing up the cleaning and photographing of David’s trench T321.

This was the trench with a lot of stones, some possibly aligned – and now we have hit a series of circular patches of dark sand which might just be postholes.Which would be fantastic, giving a sense of the houses people built. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


Shiura’s trench T325 has reached its end, so on Saturday we will be starting a new one. Her new one, T544, up to recently heavily forested, is difficult to recognise now.


Annalisa went cowrie fishing with some young ladies.


And as usual there was plent of pot processing.


day 16, kinolhas

Excavation continues. Lots of pottery, and some surprising stones, mark today’s story so far.

A lot of stones, many not local to the Maldives, turning up in Trench 321.


Time to brush up on my geology…

Meanwhile, we hit an unexpected problem at Trench 631. The stones which we thought marked out a series of houses are not that. Once exposed a little further, it is clear that some are, in fact, gravestones. And the sandstone blocs probably delimit a mausoleum.

Ah. Not what we had hoped for!

Team meeting so that everyone gets to see the site, and no mad rumours (e.g. about ibn Battuta’s bones) start to fly.


We phone the Council president to inform him, and he comes to visit. He texts and calls two Islamic scholars, and both confirm his feeling that as long as we don’t disturb any bones, it is fine to continue to dig.


This gives us a great opportunity to better understand the funerary archaeology here. Thus far, one gravestone from Kinolhas has been published by colleagues ten years ago. Amazingly, it is a marble stone probably from Gujarat (see my post from last year).The ones we are looking at now are probably more mundane, but who knows…

A (dated) epitaph would be lovely!


day 5, utheemu

Third day working here. A Friday, but we have too much to get done to take a day off… (tomorrow being our final day on the island). Nonetheless, here is a mix of work & play images:

Excavation in the morning, finds processing in the afternoon.

Aquaerobics class!


Views of Utheemu life. Classic sunset shot. Middle: the palace; Hussein and David at breakfast. Bottom: where Shiura and I are staying.


day 3, utheemu

We arrived last night after dark in Utheemu, so had to wait till this morning to check the state of our trench, left tarpaulined and backfilled last year until we could come back and investigate the coralstone blocks.

They were still there in fine shape, and our mission for the next few days is to find out whether there are any others and of what sort of feature they might have been a part – mosque, temple, well? And what the associated material culture (=potsherds, bone, etc.) looks like.

20170118_093759_resizedSo we have a pretty big unit up and running now, and are starting to find stuff… more on this tomorrow, hopefully.




Here at UEA we are these days kept busy with a range of academic and cultural delights. This week sees Europe-based members of the Crossroads team descend on us for our yearly steering meeting. Olivier is going to talk about the long 19th century, Ali about stratigraphy, Didier (if his visa comes through) about northern Benin archaeology, Sam about mud bricks, Paul about soil elemental analysis, Victor about modern house building, Caroline about distinct ironworking traditions, Lucie about hunting, spinning and fishing and Nadia about site clustering; and I will talk about how our progress so far fits the goals set out in the initial application. Priorities for this meeting are to set out the specific plans for the 2014 field season and to decide on our publications.


In the context of this meeting we’re unpacking pots, fine-tuning the project database, making an inventory of the small finds and many other cataloguing jobs. We’re also in the process of applying for funding to run some radiocarbon dates on the exceptional ‘burnt house’ of Birnin Lafiya, and of course thinking ahead to the 2014 fieldwork.

This week we’ve taken delivery of several short films by filmmaker Alan McL, who came with us for the 2013 field season; these films will help give substance to our forthcoming Crossroads exhibition at the SCVA. We have also received 5 new dates for Trench IX, the ‘deep pit’.

On the 18th of this month we welcome a visiting speaker from Montreal, Sarah Guérin, for our regular Centre for African Art & Archaeology event; she will speak about ivory trade through the Sahara AD 900-1300. On 1-2 November we host the yearly African Archaeology Research Day at which we expect 100 delegates.

To cap it all, the Sainsbury Research Unit celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, which has seen us appoint a postdoctoral researcher – Fiona S, formerly Curator of West African collections at the British Museum – and will involve a conference next spring. Tomorrow Norman Foster, architect of the SCVA, delivers the annual Robert Sainsbury lecture followed by a dinner.

We have therefore plenty to keep us happily engaged.

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

  • 31,640 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 150 other followers


May 2018
« Mar