Posts Tagged ‘Majâbat al-Koubrâ


dakar, 16 may

We have found the Monod cowries from Majabat al Koubra! Not just the 35 we had been warned might be the sum total, but a whole 4 kilos – perhaps 3000 shells – brilliant stuff!!


More during the day on Twitter.


dakar, 15 may

Here in Dakar for the next week, to delve into the collections of the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire at  the University.  Last time I was here  was nine years ago to look at roulettes and sherds (and these helped our group a lot with writing our book). Change of scene: this time we are hunting for cowries in this vast collection which holds archaeological materials from throughout West Africa.

Our luggage being delayed on the way here provided a useful further demonstration of the Norwich, Centre of the Universe principle as our fellow inconvenienced passenger held a Masters degree from UEA. We were met at the airport and taken to our cosy accommodation with a view of the African Renaissance monument.

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Straight to business the following day: we have a wishlist of cowries from Senegal, Mali and Niger which we would like to see.


But the uncontested star of the list is Théodore Monod’s ‘Lost caravan’ from Mauritania. These are a sample of the thousands of cowries he found in a totally empty part of the Sahara, part of the abandoned cargo of an eleventh-century caravan. Monod published his discovery in 1969 in a wonderful paper, which includes descriptions of the brass bars and cowries (almost all moneta) which were the cargo, as well as the ropes and bags which were used to secured them. A sample of the shells and brass bars were taken to IFAN in Dakar, and the site left. It has never been found again.

Let’s hope we can find the cowries which made it to IFAN…


monod in the majâbat al-koubrâ

This week-end, I have been watching a DVD I had bought when I was at the Musée de l’Homme with our students last month. It is a documentary on the search by French scholar Théodore Monod for fragments of a meteorite reported in one of the emptiest quarters of the Sahara desert, the Majâbat al-Koubrâ of Mauritania. This film brought this polymath researcher to the knowledge of the wider public.

His research in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ involves hundreds of kilometres walking through dunes and plateaux with no water points and no trees. The film vividly depicts the landscape. This website gives a good sense of the place by showing a series of IGN 1:200,000 maps – “Though the maps date from the 1950s it’s very unlikely that Google Earth would reveal any more detail today… the mapmakers weren’t just being lazy – there really was nothing to show”.

I understand better now the environment in which was recovered the famous ‘Lost caravan’. Discovered by Monod in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ, this was a cache of brass bars and cowrie shells, probably the abandoned load of a caravan which had lost its way as it headed south from Sijilmasa, nine hundred years ago. Monod published his discovery in 1969 in a wonderful paper, and its images show that the site appears as a small mound in a flat landscape. A sample of the shells and brass bars were taken, and the site left. It has never been found again.

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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