Posts Tagged ‘museums

05
Dec
16

north sea

Cowries again. This time, John M, artists Sarah Caputo and Brenda Unwin, and I, met to compare notes on the medieval transfer of practices and objects between the UK and Denmark. Particularly apposite in a post-Brexit context.

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We talked about Cuthbert’s pectoral cross, the respective merits of the money and ring cowries over lynx, panther and other large cowries, Kopytoff and Appadurai and the lives of objects, Aarhus and the exhibition which Brenda and Sarah are preparing. They have been awarded a bursary to research and work with Danish and British museums, art groups and artists to follow artefacts between East Anglia and Denmark during the first millennium AD.

 

14
Feb
16

Maamigili

On the island of Maamigili on the western side of Raa atoll is a resort which, as well as the usual Maldivian offerings of white beaches, greenery and beach villas, highlights the archaeological materials that were discovered when the resort was developed. It operates a museum under licence from the Maldivian Department of Heritage and it also showcases fine art and ethnographic materials. This includes a traditional house, salvaged from the island of Kandholhudhoo which was devastated in the 2004 tsunami.

We had been asked to go over to record, clean, and advise on the remains. These include two bathing tanks (vevu) made of sandstone blocs (veliga), coralstone grave markers, and at least three quadrilinear coralstone structures resembling tombs. All this lies in the central area of the island where no resort development has taken place, but routine works elsewhere on the island (plumbing, etc.) regularly uncover pottery and other past remains.

We were shown around by the collections manager, Niyaz, and given a tour of the displays situated in the entrance lobby

Ethnographic pots – bought from Sri Lanka – at the right, archaeological pot at the left

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This also gave us an opportunity to study some of the 120kg of cowries that had been recovered at the site.

A group of visitors, very interested in the Buddhist connections

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01
Feb
16

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.

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

 

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

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.

09
Aug
13

Two and a half years on

As followers of this blog will know, our European Research Council-funded team is engaged in clarifying the history and archaeology of northern Benin, in West Africa. Although the project’s core is archaeological, it integrates throughout art historians, anthropologists, geoarchaeologists and historians. Team members undertake fieldwork together, and there is a continuous feedback process throughout the field season, so we keep on track.

We’re halfway through: how are we doing?

So far, we’ve undertaken three field seasons, of which the largest, earlier this year, involved fifteen researchers, sixteen students, several research assistants and 40 workmen. At the moment we are engaged in desk-, museum- and laboratory- based work until the next field season in early 2014.

Our archaeological work has focused on a site called Birnin Lafiya, where we have worked for three field seasons now – a total of perhaps 80 days. We have uncovered parts of floors made of broken potsherds and evidence of fired earth architecture, which is not so common an occurrence in the West African Sahel. We have also carried out geophysical prospection to get a better sense of the extent of the site and to identify buried features; our work is one of just a handful of examples of the application of the technique in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Birnin Lafiya has yielded varied and diagnostic pottery, and good preservation of fauna and charcoal. We have so far recovered no occupation post-dating the thirteenth century, while the earliest remains date to the fourth century AD.

We’ve also carried out test pits at four other sites throughout the valley, and very limited sampling at two further sites. These sites have yielded varied and diagnostic pottery and all fall within the same rough time range as Birnin Lafiya. At least two of the sites – Pekinga and Tin Tin Kanza – show evidence of the same tradition of pottery pavement; Tin Tin Kanza, in particular, revealed a close succession of pavements, wall bases and floor areas. At other sites, we recovered no architectural features, but the pottery analysis, which is ongoing, will allow us to suggest whether there is a degree of cultural similarity in parallel to the broad chronological simultaneity.

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So far we have run 40 radiocarbon dates (16 from Birnin Lafiya) for sites of the area, and through survey we have identified, then described, about 800 up to now totally unknown archaeological sites. These are gradually building up the archaeological map of northern Benin.

From the ethnographic side, we have carried out interviews with hundreds of potters, blacksmiths, weavers and dyers within the valley and the wider region. We also carried out intensive interviews as regards the political history of the area and the traditions relating to the abandoned sites near modern villages. Contemporary textile production has constituted an important element of our research, and one of the highlights of the 2013 field season was the commissioning of a local cloth, an operation set in motion and followed by one of the masters students associated with the project from its start (cutting the wood to make the loom) to its finish (the final textile, now part of the permanent collection of both the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Horniman Museum of London).

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Thus far the evidence recovered through fieldwork offers good prospects to answer the questions set out by the research project, namely the degree to which areas of cultural and political evidence might be visible on the ground.

The pottery, aerial imagery, and soils analysis are all in progress. The pottery analysis has also involved three students (as well as further students in the field). To date 42000 sherds of the have been placed on the database while we are also continuing manual recording. The aerial imagery analysis is being carried out by the project doctoral student; at this stage, it involves mapping the data of field survey, generating a digital elevation model (to seek correlations between terrain and site location), and using remote sensing imagery to locate sites from the air. The soils analysis aims primarily to recognise land use; to that end, samples have been taken both from archaeological trenches and from field systems and are being subjected to multi-element analysis. We’re also testing whether micromorphological analyses can provide clues as to the nature of the architectural structures recognised at Birnin Lafiya, and trialling the effectiveness of a dating technique called optically-stimulated luminescence.

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A book and four papers deal with aspects of all of this, and we’re planning a book for 2016 and some more papers.

 

28
Jul
13

old but good (2)

Another in the series of materials excavated from the archives…

Here are some stamps I bought in Zinder, Niger, for the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford. Originally in their ‘Recycling’ exhibition, they have now found a permanent home in the Body Arts collection.

These stamps, used for printing a design on the skin, were made out of old rubber flip-flops. I remember very clearly negotiating with the stallholder. He was there to sell impressions from these stamps, not the stamps themselves. It was summer 1999 when I spent three and a half months in Niger, mainly in Zinder but culminating in a memorable trip through the Ténéré and Aïr with the then minister for tourism and about 30 representatives of (mainly French) tour agencies.

Since 1999, when I bought the stamp, I’ve been back to Zinder four times. I was obviously lucky to have chanced upon the stamp seller that first time: I never saw him again, although I looked for him (I remembered quite clearly his spot close to the market). Since 2005 I have been unable to go back to Zinder, largely because of travel restrictions. But you may recall last year’s project with Lycée Amadou Kourandaga which aimed to confront the often negative perceptions that UK pupils hold about Africa and Islam, and to create a teaching resource that can be used in classrooms across the UK to do the same. There we connected with Zinder by Skype.

 

 

11
Jul
13

Crossroads textiles in the Horniman

Textile fans amongst our readers will remember that as part of the fieldwork this year we commissioned a cloth – see earlier posts on this subject here, here, and here.

The textile in question is a ‘wedding blanket’ (Babbagi), which was made by Tanda Hamani, a retired weaver from Mamassi Peulh, who also made the loom to produce it. The piece was commissioned by Sam and the supervising researchers were Lucie and Romuald.

Read all about it, and see the whole process unfold, on the website of London’s Horniman Museum, where the textile now resides.

Speaking of museums, don’t forget you will be able to see a lot of the Crossroads material next year in an exhibition at the SCVA.




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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