Posts Tagged ‘kompa


new publication

See the forthcoming issue of Journal of African Archaeology to discover more about past ironworking in Dendi…

Iron Production in Northern Benin: Excavations at Kompa Moussékoubou. 

Caroline Robion-Brunner, Anne Haour, Marie-Pierre Coustures, Louis Champion & Didier Béziat

This paper focuses on the habitation and archaeometallurgical site we investigated in 2013 near Kompa. We had chosen to test pit this site because in our 2011 survey we’d found both pottery and iron-working remains dotted about this area, an unusual combination. Find out what we learnt here: Preview_Robion-Brunner-etal-JAA13-1-2015

One thing I did for this paper was the pottery.


For information on other publications, search this blog for posts with the tag ‘Publication’.


Birnin Lafiya, 29 January

Things have speeded up lately. As well as the various activities at the main site of Birnin Lafiya (which we have been investigating since 2011) we have started test pitting other sites of the region which are said by oral tradition to fall in the 1300-1800AD bracket. We’ve now worked at a handful of sites, including two locations in or near to modern Birnin Lafiya. Except at Kompa, where the sheer materiality of archaeological data unnerved the audience, we were made very welcome. For some sites, oral tradition tells a very specific story, such as the destruction by fire wrought on the town of Boyeri, and this is a story which we seem to corroborate archaeologically by recovering a thick layer of ash and charcoal. Such contexts are nineteenth century and feel very different to the material from the Birnin Lafiya old site. The ceramics are dissimilar and objects such as cowries and metal points are relatively common.


two weeks to go

This year’s field season is looming; it will run from 2 January to 22 February, with, as last year, different teams on the ground at different times.

We have about 25 students this year (11 of whom undergraduates, the rest MA and PhD), we hope to involve a new geomorphologist team, and colleagues from Niamey will be extending our scope onto the Niger side of the river. Test pitting is going to be a big priority; we plan a dozen excavations planned throughout the region, with a particular aim of seeing whether we can close the chronological gap between our archaeological data (100-1300 AD) and the foundation date of modern settlements as stated by people today (1800-1960 AD). We will also be tying up loose ends at Birnin Lafiya, with a range of sampling and prospection, continued excavation on the ‘SX complex’, and a new test pit somewhere mid-slope.  Enquiries with informants will continue to explore the history of connections into and through the region, the actors, and the commodities involved.

This is the last data-generating field season so there are quite a few things to think about. It’s also going to be quite exciting hard work…

Meanwhile, in the past 2-3 months, we have secured funding to run a series of radiocarbon dates on the Birnin Lafiya SX complex, the pottery jigsaws and pottery recording have been continuing apace involving our MA students, we’ve been pondering survey strategies, we’re working on papers on the Kompa archaeometallurgy and on dyeing, we’re drawing up lists of the objects to go into the project exhibition next year, we finally got hold of some good maps of Dendi, and Didier was here at SRU as a visiting fellow for 7 weeks during which we discussed fieldwork, future research, and Crossroads publications.


Kompa Dune pottery


Yesterday I finished the analysis of the Kompa Dune material.

Since practically nothing is known of archaeological ceramic types from this part of the world – a situation in stark contrast with other sites I’ve worked, such as Maya Belize or Roman Geneva, where a handful of sherds can give you an instant clue about chronology – we are working from scratch. Some potsherds were eroded or undecorated, and tell us relatively little without further, expensive and time-consuming, analysis such as clay characterisation; we call them ‘Category 4’. Others were good-sized rim sherds, from which we can infer the shape and size of the vessel they came from; we call those Category 1.


Now the hard graft of analysing these is done, I shall be putting down my Sharpie and callipers and dusting myself off to start looking for patterns and characteristics. This is essentially a question of playing with Access and Excel to see whether, for example, certain types of decoration only occur in certain stratigraphic layers.


Kompa has yielded five dates – three were from our main trench, roughly eighth to late twelfth centuries, and the other two from a furnace operating just the other site of a stream, early tenth to mid-twelfth century.  Read more here about our work back in January.



The trench itself was not that informative in terms of past people’s habitat. We seem to have hit a trash heap: there were no discernible structures and nor did we recover any small finds such as beads or metalwork. However, the fauna and plant remains, and the pottery, will tell us quite a lot about how people lived. Archaeology is, after all, about the day-to-day discards.

001 (2)


Finally, Kompa is unusual in one way: it’s not that common to find settlement and ironworking evidence side by side, as they were here. Partly because of this, Caroline RB and I will, over the coming months, be writing a paper with colleagues of hers concerning this site.


karimama, 19 january

The ‘flying team’ have just completed a week’s work in the bush, on a hill north-west of Kompa. We chose to test pit this site because in our 2011 survey we’d found both pottery and iron-working remains dotted about this area, an unusual combination. Also, we had noted that there was a seasonal stream running across the site which might conceivably have cut across in situ layers of the settlement, enabling us to make a quick assessment.


In our 2013 work we met and surpassed the expectations of the first aim. Not only did we find ceramics on most of the mounds we surveyed, but they were quite often combined with slag (iron-working residue). We also mapped and cleaned some furnaces, some well-preserved providing indications of technology used. We excavated a couple of test pits which yielded a good sample of ceramics (helping us understand the settlement of the area), even though they were poor in terms of features or stratigraphy (‘just pots and sand …. like a ditch’commented Nadia).


We camped near the site and enjoyed dinner under the stars every evening.


The ‘Flying team’ was Abbas, Caroline, Louis, Nadia and I, with driver Imorou. We have two more test pits to complete, this time not far from Karimama.



malanville, 12 January

The Giratoire sous les neems is a small maquis in the centre of Malanville,which gets its name, presumably, from the big neem trees which offer a welcome shade. Ten of us arrived safely from Parakou in our trusty Land Cruiser and met Sam, who had just waved off the ‘Pekinga team’. Alan took some useful road footage along the long drive up from Cotonou, we agreed what equipment each team will grab, and talked about the aims of each team. We have two UAC students with us, Tocano Sampson who wrote a thesis on Abomey, and Abbas Diallo whose family is from this region. Currently we await our fried fish and frites and we will then do various briefings/equipment distributions before splitting into two teams for the next couple of weeks. Nadia, Caroline, Abbas, Louis and I will be in Kompa; Ali, Sam, Alan, Sampson and Richard will be at Birnin Lafiya. Way upstream will be Carlos, Paul, Sven, Mossi and Franck, in Pekinga. It sounds a bit complicated, but it is going to get more complicated still! The main thing is, we are going to be busy, hopefully productively – and so far, we’re quite busy and happy. Watching the situation in Mali of course. Most people seem to think the military intervention ‘had to happen’.

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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August 2020