Posts Tagged ‘museums


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.




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.


pottery jigsaw puzzles

Sam Nixon reports.

Continuing on with our pottery story, which we have posted about a few times (for example here), we have been busily engaged in reconstructing pottery, both in order to illustrate it and to include it in next year’s exhibition at the SCVA. We previously showed a couple of images of pots which were recovered intact from the excavations, but there are also a whole range of pots which are broken but can be pieced back together with care and attention.

This process is being coordinated by Stefka Bargazova of the SCVA conservation laboratory and has also involved others on the project, including Louis Champion who was working away at this throughout April and May as part of his MA thesis.



Refitting pots often involves using some fairly common sense approaches and basic materials (including masking tape!), but Stefka’s skills as a trained ceramicist have proved invaluable in the reconstruction process which is not always so simple. The procedure becomes particularly complicated when the pieces of pottery being put back together are very small and worn – not exactly like working on a jigsaw puzzle, but similar!


Some of the pots can only be partially reconstructed; it’s likely they were already broken when they were included in the archaeological record. Below is Louis’ ‘Pot 11’ from Tin Tin Kanza. It is 22 cm in diameter and decorated with burnishing, incision and folded strip roulette (like this sherd from Jenné-jeno in Mali).

2419 V (9)


Other examples, on the other hand, are wholly reconstructable, indicating that they were whole at the time when they entered the archaeological record. Such pots mainly appear to have been broken during the collapse or destruction of houses: that is to say they were complete vessels sitting inside the house which were crushed when it collapsed.

None of these ‘complete’ pots to show you yet, but more anon!


AARD 2013

165415_449577745122764_1483995500_nWe are pleased to announce that the African Archaeology Research Day 2013 will be held at the University of East Anglia on the 1st and 2nd November 2013.

The plan is to have a couple of keynote papers (Eric Huysecom and Tim Reynolds) on the Friday, we hope to avoid parallel sessions, and we’ll have 3-4 focus discussion groups on the Saturday morning (please send suggestions; ‘archaeology and museum collections’ and ‘Saharan archaeology and landscape’ are two themes already in the running).

The website,  with the first call for papers, is here, and various social media hangouts also await you.


amsterdam 16 february

There was no let-up in discoveries in the last few days of fieldwork.


'ah... c'est pas mal'


these kids wanted me to take a picture of them, and then they took a picture of me


Drawing sections prior to backfilling


Under the TTK mango tree

We returned very happy to Cotonou, where meetings, balancing the books and packing boxes easily filled two days. Particular high points of this season have been the continued interdisciplinarity, the recovery of a fuller range of material culture from Birnin Lafiya, the execution of 5.5 test pits upriver from there, a fruitful collaboration with the Direction du Patrimoine Culturel, a much better knowledge of site distribution thanks to surveys, an improved integration with the village elders and Niger colleagues, and the fact that we now have 3 Masters and 2 doctoral theses planned to come directly or indirectly from the project.

Another major aspect of our work has been planning  the exhibition we’ll be holding next year.


Hornimann exhibition piece secured (almost)


Another exhibition-piece-to-be comes out of the ground

Yet another, over Djimet's left shoulder

Having completed the third and largest field season, we’re beginning to think of ‘what next..?’



For now, writing from Amsterdam airport with 390 kgs of pottery. Having been warned by the shipping agent about the unreliability of maritime schedules, we took all the finds for analysis with us. A particular thanks to airport staff in Cotonou who, from the Air France chef d’escale to the guy at X-rays, made the process of checking in 32 bags between the six of us more straightforward than you might expect.




Doctoral studentship in African archaeology and material culture

As mentioned, we are looking for a PhD student to join the team. The full text is on the SRU website, but briefly,

Applications are invited for a full PhD studentship in African Archaeology and material culture, to be held at the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK under the supervision of Dr Anne Haour in connection with her European Research Council funded project Crossroads of Empires. The studentship, tenable from September 2012 for a period of three years, will cover fees (Home/EU or International), living costs (along the lines set by UK Research Councils) and a contribution to fieldwork costs.

The project Crossroads of Empires centres on the Niger River valley at the border of Bénin and Niger. It is concerned, broadly, with the material signature of the political entities of the central Sahel in the second millennium AD, and with the way in which studies of craft specialists active today (dyers, potters, smiths, weavers…) can shed light on how past political entities affected skills and fashions. Applications from students proposing to conduct research along these broad topics will be welcome, but candidates are asked to develop a specific application which will include

–       a 500-word statement of intent outlining how their proposed project falls within the remit and aims of Crossroads
–       a research proposal – 1500 words maximum – explaining the key question to be considered, the methodology to be used.

In preparing these documents candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Haour, a.haour[AT], for informal discussions on aims and directions. As a preliminary indication, the following areas of research, all with specific reference to the Niger Valley between Gao and Bussa, have been identified as key priorities for Crossroads: archaeological survey and test pitting along the Niger Valley; ethnographic studies of craft practices; trade and identity along the Niger River as seen in museum holdings; and oral and historical traditions relating to settlement and migration.

As well as the two documents outlined above applications must also include a CV (not more than three pages) and the names and contact details (including email) of two referees who are currently available to provide references. All must be in English. These documents should be emailed, as a single file not more than 1 MB in size, to l.shayes[AT]

The deadline for receipt of applications is Monday 16 April 20, 2012, 5 pm UK time.


cotonou 22 feb 2012

In the past week, the team has been dispersing towards Brussels, Stirling/Spain, Maradi, Cotonou and Niamey. The final contingent – Louis, Sam, Imorou, Nicolas, Julien, two guinea fowl and I – arrived in Cotonou earlier this afternoon.

Tomorrow will be taken up with meetings, starting with Didier at 7.30, then with the Abomey Calavi students and faculty, and then with the Directeur du Patrimoine in the afternoon. These will be post-fieldwork debriefs, going over the activities and achievements of the past four weeks, helping the students structure their fieldwork reports, and seeking clearance to export material to the UK for analysis. I’ve been working on a Powerpoint which is now in Sam’s hands for editing and which will then go to Didier over breakfast.

The last three days have been devoted to largely non-archaeo-stuff. Sunday night we had our leaving party in Birnin Lafiya, which featured a whole roast sheep and a range of drinks including sodabi; this gathered the team, workmen, drivers, our local providers of onions and tomatoes Fadalou, Bhadji and Leni (they are between 3 and 12 years old), and our congenial host the Chef d’Arrondissement, as well as a considerable audience from the village.

Monday we started backfilling the trenches and took an excursion on the Niger river, having a picnic of leftover roast sheep and watching colourful birds (and spotting a few sherds). Tuesday we drove all day… an uneventful trip, somewhat long but given colour by the unexpected rain and the numerous pedestrians, animals and vehicles on the road (including a convoy of low-grade radioactive materials from Niger). This morning we visited the excellent Parc Archéologique d’Agongointo, 3 hrs north of Cotonou, where subterranean structures were excavated by a Benin-Danish team. These supposed hiding places are eerie excavations into the ground, dating to the eighteenth century; the parc archéologique showcases these, combining this, too, with explanations on a series of vodun  shrines and a butterfly park. Well worth the detour.

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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