Posts Tagged ‘cowries



This week I travelled down to London to show archaeologist & metallurgist Prof Marcos M-T a small pot and metal pendant which we uncovered in Kinolhas: see here, where I mention the recovery of a small cache of cowrie shells. The cache also included this small pot, a pendant and several glass beads.


Using the fantastic facilities of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology we subjected the various artefacts to x-ray fluorescence analysis – which determines the elemental composition of materials – and looked at them using a scanning electron microscope, which gave us a lot more information on the way that they were made.

One of the recurring questions in the archaeology of the Maldives is – how was the object made and how did the maker obtain the necessary raw materials? These questions are recurring ones in archaeology, but particularly significant in the context of the Maldives: a small land mass with very limited clay/mineral resources, and over 300km from the nearest land mass.





three and a half weeks back

After the fieldwork, comes the post-excavation work. My network and I have not been idle: the slag has gone to France, the plant remains to Australia and the charcoal to London. We wait to see what all these objects can tell us…

The pottery will be examined in Norwich by Shiura and I, but we will definitely need help on some of the sherds, given their variety.

The shells and bone will also be examined here in Norwich, by Annalisa.


days 23 and 24, kinolhas

First to start off with the excitement of today: the Male’ ferry arrived a short while ago with a drone that is being lent to us (see here to find out how we discovered its existence), and the ingredients for the cheesecake which David wants to make on Friday.


More widely though, these have been a busy few days.

Visit by members of the island council


Recovery of a small cache of cowrie shells


Visit by a school group



Lots more stone, lots more pot



Lunchbreak swim in the medieval harbour



setting bait for cowries





We secured a coconut frond to the bottom of the sea using large rocks.

The aim is to test the veracity of the assertion made in the ninth century by Suleiman the Merchant, who had heard that in order to fish for cowries the people of the Maldives put fronds from a coconut tree into the water (see page 23 of Hogendorn and Johnson’s classic study of the cowrie trade – highly recommended). Only one informant here has mentioned this method to us so we are wondering whether it really existed.



day 6, utheemu

Brief trip to Beenafushi, an island also known as Bodu boli finolhu… that is, the island of the cowries.


Annalisa recovered 11 live moneta cowries, and we also found some eggs. Getting a much better sense of how these animals live!

Returning to Utheemu, we visit the palace – as tourists this time, after our time there excavating last year.


Then back to our trench for the final afternoon. The name of the game is cleaning and sweeping before we plan and photograph. Slabs looking mighty fine!


Day 1, Malé

This afternoon: talking to the author of a report on the etymology of the name Mulah.


Mulah (Dhivehi: މުލައް) is an island in Meemu atoll, which we visited briefly last year,  when we were based for a time on a neighbouring island.

Mulah’s full name is Boli Mulah, and Boli is the cowrie shell, so of course we were intrigued. Of the nine places with names that relate to cowries, only Mulah is an inhabited island and therefore relatively easy to visit. And ibn Battuta allegedly went there, too. Thus, last week Annalisa and Shehe returned to Mulah for a few more interviews with cowrie collectors and coir producers.

They learnt much while they were there, and were also pointed to an informant now in Malé who wrote a study of the origin of the name Mulah. He told us that the island became famous as the place for cowries because it had the right habitat for them.

Also today we went to the National Museum and carried out an inventory of our gear, after which Annalisa, David (our lucky student volunteer of the season) and I went to eat hummus and shawarma in what is billed as Malé’s first Arabic restaurant.


fieldwork -4

Our second season of fieldwork in the Maldives is imminent – in fact, some team members are already in Male’. As last year, we will combine archaeological and ethnographic work; but having already done extensive survey last year, this time we are going to stick with a smaller number of atolls and islands. Watch this space…

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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