Posts Tagged ‘china



In Durham, travelling with potsherds – as usual. I am calling on Prof Derek K and Dr Ran Z to talk about the finds we excavated last year at Kinolhas in the Maldives.


Well, our Maldivians certainly had wide-ranging connections. We already knew a bit about their Chinese imported pottery. Now, sherds which likely came from Iraq, India, Iran, and parts of South-east Asia have also been identified.

I am particularly intrigued by the so-called Martaban pottery, of which we appear to have a range of examples. The fabric is grey or pink, with a brown, black or olive glaze. We saw similar examples in resorts in the Maldives, where they are used for decorative purposes. However, this group is poorly-defined and we don’t know for a fact where these pots were made and how many different productions there were.

Durham was very scenic under a dusting of snow.


chinese pottery

A good number of our pottery finds from Kinolhas are from China or southeast Asia. As mentioned earlier we have been thinking about where these came from and we were happy, earlier this month, to receive Dr Ran Z from Durham, expert in Chinese ceramics.


He was able to identify the likely time period and place of production of some of these sherds; a number are of the type known as Longquan celadon.

This little bowl, in the meantime, bears the annotation ‘Good Fortune’.



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!




global connections

Arab sailors were probably trading to the Maldives from the 9th century, but it is a little hazy. Five centuries later things are clearer when ibn Battuta writes,

“The inhabitants of these islands buy crockery, on being imported to them, in exchange for fowls so that a pot sells in their country for five or six fowls. The vessels take from these islands the fish which has been mentioned before, coconuts, waist-wrappers, wilyan and turbans made of cotton. And people take from there copper vessels which are abundant with the Maldivians as well as cowries and qanbar, that is the fibrous covering (coir) of the coconut.”

In 1405 the Chinese dispatched a large expedition to the Maldives, with whom they’d had trade relations for some while. The Mao K’un map gives sailing directions from Malé to Mogadishu.

A little later ibn Majid’s list of destinations and distances seems to refer to know islands along the eastern side of the Maldives chain.

A lot of what I have read concerning the early history of the Maldives and its links with the world concerns the string of atolls on the west side, running from Maamakunudhoo Atoll, route of the ancient sailors where many ships run aground on their way to Bengal (including the Persia Merchant shipwrecked in August 1658 carrying chests of silver, and probably gold from West Africa – truly the stuff of legends) to North and South Nilandhoo atolls, where archaeological sites are reported on several islands – including some mysterious mounds and a fine mosque at the capital island. Also along that 400-km long  stretch are the various islands of North Maalhossmadulu (also known as Raa), including Fainu and Hulhudhuffaru where trading ships moored. Kinolhas is where Ibn Battuta first stopped. Maalhossmadulu’s claim to fame was boatbuilding and it was known for its strong currents since the lagoon sea floor is some 20 metres shallower than at other atolls, according to my Lonely Planet diving guide.

Indeed the waters around the Maldives are treacherous. The currents were strong and continuous. Some traveled huge distances. “If the current carries [sailors] to the west, they are borne straight to the Arabian coast… but most often they are dead before they get there”, wrote François Pyrard who was shipwrecked in the Maldives in the early seventeenth century.


Maldives National Museum

The National Museum is housed in a building in Sultan Park in Malé, designed, built and financed by the Chinese government and opened in 2010; it was previously located in a three-storied building just nearby, the only remaining structure of the Maldivian Royal Palace compound. It holds artefacts relating to all periods of Maldivian history – though in 2012 the pre-Islamic period objects were vandalised and some destroyed by religious fundamentalists exploiting a period of political unrest.

Artefacts on display include, among many other things, the Loamaafaanu copper plates, written in the old Maldive alphabet. This set is thought to date to the twelfth century, recording the conversion of the people of Danbidhoo, in Laamu atoll, to Islam. This involved the destruction of many Buddhist temples and monasteries.



Chinese intact ceramics recovered during the destruction of the royal palace in Malé.



You’ll have noted that destruction features quite heavily in all these stories. A topic we’ll return to…


what they did in the football field

We had been very interested to see this football field since reports had reached us that thousands of cowries had been uncovered here, as well as glass vessels and Chinese pottery.

We saw the Chinese pottery when we met with the council members.


However, that meeting also made it clear that we were not going to be able to do much archaeological work on this site. The construction of the football field involved a mechanical digger stripping off the top 2 feet of soil (which will have been the past settlement layer). Sand dredged from the lagoon was then used to fill the field to create a stable playing surface, and then a layer of the removed archaeological soil put back on top of this. All fair enough in order to play football, but the worst possible case for the archaeologist.

Actually no, the worst case would have been if nobody remembered this had happened and we went on to blithely dig and try to interpret the stratigraphy. Because the stratigraphy, which we exposed when we did a quick check and excavated to 90cm depth, looked like this:


The white dredged lagoon sand stands out vividly. On either side of it is the archaeological layer, the remains of the past site: above, greyish brown, the stuff displaced by the digger (note the perfect straight line between the two layers, always a clue that something major has happened); and below, dark brown, all that remains of the archaeological layer in its correct place (and below it the yellowish sand with no artefacts in it). The dark brown layer was too thin for us to do much with.


We described the layers and moved on elsewhere to dig.



Travel to Island 1

We had an uneventful trip to our first field site, about 300km away from Malé.






Our team consists of Shiura J, Annalisa C, and Ikram, a Maldivian archaeology student.

Upon arriving we met with members of the local council.



We talked through with them the history of use of the various parts of the island. This is a crucial step, as it allowed us to determine which areas had been least disturbed. For example it emerged that the football field in which delicate glass vessels, Chinese pots and thousands of cowries were found – and which we had therefore pined our hopes on!) has been thoroughly worked over by a mechanical digger.


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

  • 32,085 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


June 2018
« May