Posts Tagged ‘architecture


rabat, 13 sept

Sam Nixon, Mabrouk Saghir, Youssouf Bokbot and I convened a session on trans-Saharan trade which brought together researchers having worked north and south of the Sahara. This returned to the long-standing questions of exchanges across the desert in the medieval and early modern periods.

We heard papers dealing with archaeological, historical and geographical studies of towns on either sides of the Sahara, specific commodities (gold, beads, cowries…) and ideas of technology transfer and religious change. It’s interesting in that context to note that modern Morocco is increasingly positing itself as an entry point to sub-Saharan Africa and a major investor in countries such as Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Gabon.








crossroads book out soon

…well, soon-ish. The book has entered production with Brill and we’re expecting the first proofs in a couple weeks. With 33 co-authors and at 208,000 words, we hope it will be a fitting reflection of the work we put in between 2011 and 2015 in the Dendi region of northern Benin.


In a study of archaeological sites, standing remains, oral traditions and craft industries, 2000 Years in Dendi, northern Benin: archaeology, history and memory offers the first account of West African region often described as a crossroads of medieval empires.



cotonou, 6 june

We have been looking for archaeological sites along the coastline…


At times, just a narrow strip of land separates sea and estuary.

It is of course not on the beach, or on that narrow strip, that sites are to be found, but slightly further inland.

The image to the left shows a former site that has been eradicated to make a football field; this brings back memories. On the right are supposed remnants of houses built by the first slaves returning from Brazil in the mid-nineteenth century.


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!

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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