Posts Tagged ‘niger river


fish and snakes

Veerle has done a first assessment of the bones from Birnin Lafiya and Pekinga, which together with the initial notes on the plant evidence starts to tell us a little more about how people at the sites lived. Detailed study will be done later, but here are some preliminary comments from her.

Generally, the fauna from trenches V and VI at Birnin Lafiya is very similar, throughout all layers and contexts. The large majority is fish, with species mainly from shallow water and marshes, but also a few Nile perch which normally are found in deeper water. In addition, turtle remains and snake vertebrae are frequent – the snakes presumably food refuse. Bird bones are very rare and may contain 1-2 chicken bones. Mammal bones are rare. There are a few small rodent remains (intrusive?), a few bones of small carnivores, a few small antelope bones. There were no domestic mammals, except for a second phalanx of cattle in the top of SVI, a piece of horse mandible halfway down SV, and a sheep/goat upper third molar in SIII. Trench VII had very little remains, mainly catfish and tilapia.

Pekinga does not have a lot of fauna. There is fish (clariid catfish, Nile perch, tilapia,..) and two or three sheep/goat bones.

The overall conclusion is a heavy use of aquatic and semi-aquatic resources, among which we should probably also count the snakes. The fauna profile is quite unusual.

“I was especially struck by the lack of domesticated animals. It is not the first site of a broadly similar age I see in West Africa with a lot of fish, but usually there are some cattle, sheep and goat to go with it. I have found the presence of turtles before – they are presumably caught with the fish, but snakes in this quantity are a first”,

writes Veerle.


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.


Golfe FM interview Crossroads

Didier N’D sends us the following, with his apologies for poor quality


cotonou 24 feb 2012

A busy past while. We spent the morning packing our 200 kilos of finds (yep mainly potsherds) and took them to the airport. Now some last bits of shopping. Yesterday’s meeting with students turned into a lecture to 60 and a radio interview – followed by a splendid lunch in the Jardin Botanique on the UAC campus.

It is fair to say we are all pretty tired, but this has been an excellent field season. 31 degrees in Cotonou


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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