Posts Tagged ‘potters

07
Jun
16

new publication

A new publication by team member Olivier G. The World Is Like a Beanstalk: Historicizing Potting Practice and Social Relations  in the Niger River Area. 

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My interest in the history of  local pottery traditions in the Niger Valley was recently reactivated. As part of the “Crossroads of  Empires” European Research Council project (Haour et al. 2011), I made a systematic study of craft activities  along the Beninese bank of the Niger River and identified the southern boundary of the polychrome pottery production zone, as well as some two- or three-generations-old vessels whose shape and décor strongly evoked vessels illustrated in Y. Urvoy (1955). … The time had come to reconsider the data collected in Niger between 2002 and 2010, and to confront them with those collected in Benin since 2011.

This is also the time to thank Olivier who, while in Dendi with us, supplied the archaeologists’ base camp with two polychrome jars from Ouna which kept our drinks nicely chilled.

 

 

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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.

 

13
Mar
12

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]uea.ac.uk, 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]uea.ac.uk

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

27
Feb
12

An ethnographic odyssey

Olivier G sends us the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE_MXODsayg

07
Feb
12

Malanville, 7 feb 2012

Malanville is the border town between Bénin and Niger, sitting on the shore of the majestic Niger River and the major settlement in these parts.

For the past two and a half weeks, the team has been intensively crisscrossing and excavating the area upriver from here. Olivier, Doulla, Mardjoua and Lucie have been talking to blacksmiths, dyers, potters and weavers and learning about immigrants from Mali, rites and trade in fish. Abubakar and Wahabou dug a test pit near Pékinga and uncovered a potsherd pavement, hinting to some degree of kinship with Birnin Lafiya. Paul and Emma have (despite the best efforts of the Air France handlers) sampled sites up and down the valley to track use of resources by past inhabitants and the way the river influences settlement now and before.

Most of the work has focused at Birnin Lafiya (where we have been wondefully welcomed, lodged in the local administrative offices and kept supplied in cool drinks and ice by the police). Adamu, Aminou and Simon, on what was supposed to be an easy student training pit, are puzzling over a deep trench with some eight interlocking pit features, including one containing several toys. Ali worked through an ashy midden with lots of fish bone and then started surveying the wider area arund the site. Sam is patiently piecing together a succession of postherd pavements, plaster-faced walls and fired brick. Carlos is carrying out a geophysics survey, systematically working over the surface of the site in 30x30m squares yet far from exhausting this extensive settlement. Nicolas and Louis are preparing to begin their own, 3x3m, trench, which will be called SVI. Julien is learning from village elders about history and past tree usage.

We are just over halfway through so await further discoveries. It’s a complex and fascinating historical landscape.




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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