Posts Tagged ‘british museum

07
Oct
15

british museum, london

Fiona S and I spent a happy day in the British Museum storerooms as part of our cowrie-related work. Fiona was leading this particular visit, having selected objects from Ghana – many of them Asante – which feature cowrie shells.

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We went through the objects, carefully documenting how the cowries had been used – whether they were pierced, strung, sewn, threaded… – and what other objects they were associated with.

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We also tried wherever possible to determine whether they were cypraea moneta or cypraea annulus. This is important because some have argued that moneta was the first cowrie into Ghana, brought along trans-Saharan routes, while annulus was brought in after AD 1800, with the opening of European trade with East Africa. This is one of the hypotheses that we are testing. In terms of Fiona’s work specifically, she is interested in seeing whether certain types of cowrie were selected to use in certain objects, and why.

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The objects we saw covered a range of periods, some as old as 1850 AD. Many were ritual or protective objects, that is to say commissioned by people to solve particular problems they were having, or used in ceremonies.

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08
Sep
15

Mungo Park’s cowries

At the British Museum today to see – in the Enlightenment Gallery – some cowries given to Mungo Park by the King of Bambara on 23 July 1796.

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Mungo Park was the first known European to travel to the central part of the Niger River, reaching it at Ségou (today in Mali). When he returned home to Scotland he was greeted with great enthusiasm as people had thought him dead.

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Mungo Park later embarked on a second trip to West Africa, in 1805-1806, during which he will have sailed through Dendi, perhaps past some of the towns where we have been working. He drowned in the rapids near Bussa, now in Nigeria, where there are some major rapids on the river. The whole area now lies underwater; Online Nigeria notes,

“The Kanji National Park also contains the Kainji Dam, an artificial lake which covers the town of Old Bussa. Here Mungo Park, the explorer, was said to have come to grief in 1805. Now the lake hides the scene of the accident. The lake is 136 km long and tours of the dam are available on request from the Nigeria Electric Power Authority. Boat trips on the lake can be arranged by the Borgu Game Reserve office at Wawa. To reduce the expense, it is better for several visitors to share the cost. Fishing is allowed on the lake”.

It sounds like quite a lovely place. Incidentally, the lake also covers some archaeological sites very relevant to our findings in Dendi. They include large mounds where excavations recovered grinding stones, stone beads and bracelets, iron points, hoes, jewellery, fish hooks, slag, glass crucible fragments, terracotta figurines and clay smoking pipes, as well as tens of thousands of pottery sherds and architectural structures such as granary foundations, collapsed house walls, potsherd pavements and other floors, mysterious burnt clay ditches, and burials with associated beads and jewellery. I came across publications on these sites when researching my 2007 book, and little did I know I would later be working at kind of similar sites just upriver from these.

06
Sep
13

autumn

As we gear up for a new academic term and wave good-bye to the warm Norfolk summer, in Crossroads terms we start to think about the project steering meeting next October, and the 2014 field season just after Christmas.

On our target list for test pitting in 2014 are the following two lovely sites –

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The finds from the 2012 and 2013 field seasons are with various labs and experts – in York, Cotonou, Miami, Bristol, Brussels, Paris, Cologne, Cambridge and of course Norwich, where the pottery analysis is proceeding as usual. I have nearly completed the analysis of the material from Kompa, so further posts might tell you whether or not they all make sense.

Next week I am going to the British Museum to see whether any of their holdings of so-called ‘aggrey’ and Igbo Ukwu beads resemble our Birnin Lafiya beads – back to the question of lantana which I posted about last year (here and here).

Over the past month, I have also been thinking about cowrie shells, trans-Saharan trade, the archaeology of northern Nigeria and African connections.




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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