Posts Tagged ‘research-funding


PhD studentship opportunities

We at the Sainsbury Research Unit (SRU) are delighted to announce scholarship opportunities for postgraduate research starting September 2018, and we’re keen to build up the Africanist student body as part of SRU’s expansion in African art & archaeology.

  • The Robert Sainsbury Scholarship is open to applicants of any nationality and covers university fees, living expenses and an allowance for fieldwork and travel. The application deadline is 1 March 2018.
  • For UK/EU students, further opportunities are available through the Consortium for Humanities and the Arts South-East (CHASE). Up to 75 studentships are available across the consortium. For UK residents, the awards consist of fees and maintenance and for EU residents they are on a fees-only basis. Under UK Research Council rules, international students are unfortunately not eligible. To be considered, candidates need to submit an application to UEA for a place on the PhD programme by 10 January 2018.

Proposed doctoral research projects may focus on any aspect of the arts and archaeology of Africa, Oceania or the Americas that is connected with one or more areas of research of SRU faculty members.

Applicants should demonstrate a track record of excellence in their field and meet the normal entry requirements for the University of East Anglia. Successful applicants will be expected to contribute to the creation of a uniquely lively and mutually enriching research environment across the SRU. See, for example, here [no Facebook account required]

For further information see and please get in touch if you are interested in applying.


more worrying news for UK research

The Royal Society reports on disciplines most dependent on EU funding. This is a new report commissioned by the UK’s four national academies (which include the British Academy: see my earlier post here). It has analysed the latest available figures (2014-2015) available from the Higher Education Statistics Authority.

It confirms what we all knew, but it is actually worse than I had realised. Natural and physical sciences and engineering dominate in absolute numbers; clinical medicine, for example, received £120 million in 2014-2015. The Royal Society remarks with typical restraint that “Given the high numbers, [such] fields may find it challenging to replace this income from other sources if the UK no longer had access to EU funds”.

Last year twenty colleagues and I wrote to Theresa May to raise some of these concerns. Never got a reply beyond a short email from her office saying they are considering the matter. I am sure they have plenty more fish to fry, of course. Various sectors will be pleading for a slice of income now that the EU source is looking like it will be turned off.

Back to the report. 68 pages long, it gives a wealth of detail about the differences across sectors and disciplines in reliance on European funding. Archaeology is particularly exposed: 38% of its research funding comes from EU government bodies. In fact archaeology warrants a box feature (page 39) discussing this. “This increasing dependency on EU funding can be in part explained by the availability of and success of UK-based archaeologists in winning competitive ERC funding, which was launched in 2007 under FP7. ERC grants are unique to the discipline because of the size of the grants (enabling sufficient funding for the salary of academics working at different career stages), the length of the grants, and the collaborative nature of the funding. The ERC grants enable collaboration and teamwork that helps advance research. For Archaeology, there are no other sources of multiannual funding of this magnitude available.”

“[The EU’s] Horizon 2020 in turn is unique, and is the only international research and innovation programme of scale anywhere in the world. Other international research programmes are orders of magnitude smaller and often more narrowly based geographically and/or thematically”. I wrote something about this a few years back. And here.  And here and here for some votes of thanks to the EU.

‘Challenging’ doesn’t begin to cover it. I might use a stronger word…



Clarify plans to protect UK Research and Universities from impacts of leaving EU

The prospect of leaving the EU has left the UK’s Higher Education and Research sectors – among the country’s most successful exporters of services – in damaging uncertainty. Can Government clarify its position on the rights of EU staff, continued research funding, and staff and student recruitment?


Open for UK residents and citizens to sign at


aarhus, 26 april

I have been visiting the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, an archaeological research group which aims to compare the archaeology of urbanism from medieval Northern Europe to the Ancient Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean World. Integral to doing this is the use of various techniques (isotopes, XRF, statistical analyses of radiocarbon dates) which can allow a greater precision in chronologies but also determine the origin of objects.

It’s all about context, context, context.


I was speaking about our Crossroads work and the five-phase chronology developed to characterise our sites – underpinned by 120 radiocarbon dates but ultimately based on pottery styles and on small finds such as glass bracelets or cowries.

I was taken on a visit to the Moesgård Museum, with its very high-tech coverage of the archaeology of Bronze, Iron and Viking Age northern Europe as well as displays charting the evolution of the human species.

I was interested to learn that the Queen of Denmark is also an archaeologist.


I was taken on a great tour of the places of Viking and medieval significance in Aarhus – former city walls, two cathedrals of which one was outside the walls, locations of former excavations. Aarhus will be European Capital of Culture next year.

At the seminar, and dinner afterwards, we talked about… network theory, the relations between trans-Saharan traders and their host communities, elite items or not at Birnin Lafiya, cowries and the Merovingian trade, PhD and postdoctoral funding opportunities, the value of having anthropologists on the team to keep archaeologists in check, ERC videoconference interviews, and ways of advancing capital over long distances.

Back to Norwich now, and on the plane will be thinking about trust in the global Middle Ages.



AARD 2014; and European-funded Africanists

I’m in Bristol for the eleventh African Archaeology Research Day. It’s the fourth at which I have presented Crossroads materials (after London in 2011, Southampton in 2012, and Norwich in 2013) and things have been coming along as we enter the project’s final year.

I talked mainly about how we might write a history of Dendi in the longue durée thanks to the variety and richness of the sources we have for the region: maps, archaeology, language maps, oral traditions, written texts, finds analysis… all giving information on different time periods. Changes in the environment, how much the archaeology of our area resembles (or not) that of neighbouring areas, and whether Dendi saw several shifts from vacuum to crossroads, were the main three questions I threw out there.

What has been really nice this year has been the possibility to speak alongside several other, inspiring, European-funded projects. The Garamantes and their links with the wider world (including sub-Saharan Africa?), Indian Ocean maritime connections as seen through food, and markers of the Atlantic slave trade, were other topics covered – all, again, about the role of the African continent in world history and its connections beyond its shores.

Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity; and time for another vote of thanks to the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research.


two weeks to go

This year’s field season is looming; it will run from 2 January to 22 February, with, as last year, different teams on the ground at different times.

We have about 25 students this year (11 of whom undergraduates, the rest MA and PhD), we hope to involve a new geomorphologist team, and colleagues from Niamey will be extending our scope onto the Niger side of the river. Test pitting is going to be a big priority; we plan a dozen excavations planned throughout the region, with a particular aim of seeing whether we can close the chronological gap between our archaeological data (100-1300 AD) and the foundation date of modern settlements as stated by people today (1800-1960 AD). We will also be tying up loose ends at Birnin Lafiya, with a range of sampling and prospection, continued excavation on the ‘SX complex’, and a new test pit somewhere mid-slope.  Enquiries with informants will continue to explore the history of connections into and through the region, the actors, and the commodities involved.

This is the last data-generating field season so there are quite a few things to think about. It’s also going to be quite exciting hard work…

Meanwhile, in the past 2-3 months, we have secured funding to run a series of radiocarbon dates on the Birnin Lafiya SX complex, the pottery jigsaws and pottery recording have been continuing apace involving our MA students, we’ve been pondering survey strategies, we’re working on papers on the Kompa archaeometallurgy and on dyeing, we’re drawing up lists of the objects to go into the project exhibition next year, we finally got hold of some good maps of Dendi, and Didier was here at SRU as a visiting fellow for 7 weeks during which we discussed fieldwork, future research, and Crossroads publications.


research austerity 2

An update on my earlier post.

The petition “no cuts on research” now stands at over 150000 signatures. On 15 November a delegation led by Nobel laureates met the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, to urge EU leaders to secure the future budget for Horizon 2020, the European innovation and research programme to run from 2014 to 2020.

A bit of background: Horizon 2020 had been announced on 30 November 2011 by Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as a package of measures to boost research, innovation and competitiveness in Europe.  The proposed budget for the programme was €80 billion, including an increase in funding of 77% for the very successful European Research Council (ERC). The proposal then had to be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament, with a view to adoption before the end of 2013.

Back to the present… – the meetings to discuss this and other budgets was held on 22-23 November 2012 in Brussels. But European leaders walked away from the table without a deal on the European budget for the rest of the decade. “With 27 nations each pushing for their own priorities, finding an agreement on spending plans is inevitably complex, and the tight economic climate aggravated the differences even more than usual”, notes a recent editorial of Nature, commenting that the Horizon 2020 research programme comes out among the worst of the cuts proposed by Herman Van Rompuy, with a suggested 12% reduction in funding. Helga Nowotny, president of the ERC since March 2010, likewise sees a bleak future for the council under the Van Rompuy proposals.

The decision on the EU budget is now delayed until the beginning of 2013.


Research austerity

The summit of the EU heads of states on 22-23 November will be a decisive step in determining the EU research budget for the next seven years. At a time when Brussels is calling for the 27-member bloc to slash public spending, a number of national capitals are responding that if they need to tighten their belts, the EU needs to as well. The proposed €90 billion in funding for the union’s flagship seven-year research programme, Horizon 2020, will be one of the items considered at the summit.

Keen readers will recall my post dealing with the ERC position paper in July 2011:

The paper ends with the remark that “while the ERC is currently covering a much wider area of frontier research than the US National Science Foundation (NSF), its current annual budget is less than half of the funds dispersed towards research grants by the latter in 2010, representing a small percentage of EU annual public research expenditure.” The report thus argues for a doubling of the ERC’s annual budget, to a level of around €4bn per year. of course, I write this on the day that the eurozone’s big banks meet to refine their plans for a second bailout of Greece, so maybe things are not looking too likely.

Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard notes that she has “moved from a degree of uncertainty about this Euro Research Enterprise to being a huge supporter of it. (Thank God for the EU whose reaction the recession is to plough money into research, not take money away from it.)”

Now then is the time when the scientific community should act together and make our case to protect research funding, including that of the European Research Council (ERC), from cuts. An open letter signed by European Nobel Laureates has been published today this week in Nature, Le Monde and other European media.

An online petition has been launched to caution against cuts to the  2014–2020 EU research budget.

The Young Academy of Europe, founded by ERC Starting Grants holders to represent the “next generation of research leaders in Europe”, pointed out when the petition was launched two days ago that “the largest petition for a scientific cause in Europe in the past was signed by less than 30 000 scientists – compared to the hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions from other groups of society”.

Cheeringly, 26 493 people have signed just in the last 24 hours…  55 689 have signed in total, and a quick scan shows that within the UK it is Cambridge, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Norwich and Oxford who are leading the movement.


African connections

Back now from Cambridge where the African Archaeology Group put on an exciting and fun conference. My remit was to open up the session on connections. There were six papers with a wide geographical spread and a general aim to show how African communities were connected to other parts of the continent or other parts of the world.

My first comment was that we’re really in good company with these themes. Moving with the times. There seems to be a lot of interest recently among historians and archaeologists to approach the study of the past globally. See recent posts on this by Sam and by me, and I am also aware of forthcoming ‘global history’-type things forthcoming in Winchester, Kalamazoo and at the Courtauld.

The theme of globalisation was explicitly set out in some of yesterday’s papers, where authors drew on A. G. Frank and Bayly, and the theme clearly feeds through each paper. Together they help discredit the idea that sub-Saharan Africa was cut off from the principal flow of human cultural development. Peter Mitchell’s 2005 African Connections was, as far as I am aware, the first to set this idea out comprehensively – other earlier works which speak of large-scale socio-economic factors in the making and telling of the past, such as those by Abu-Lughod, Braudel, Wolf or Horden & Purcell only dealt tangentially with Africa, at best. In 2007 I wrote Rulers, warriors, traders, clerics which suggested there were parallels in the medieval past of both the central Sahel and northwest Europe, and actual connections too. In the papers presented yesterday we see a deliberate effort to move forward the agenda and to highlight Africa’s role in global history (I use the term history broadly here).

Partly this move forward is driven by increasing data. Knowledge of sites in southern Libya and the northern Sahel is rewriting the history of contacts across the Sahara. In both cases we can only hope that political conditions will rapidly improve: at the moment these areas are largely closed to research.

Partly, this move forward is driven by theoretical and methodological advances. More and more we’re looking at the way ideas and ways of doing things moved, rather than objects. The focus on practices rather than objects is surely a good thing. Freed from the constraints of looking for the elusive trade good or exotic potsherd  (especially since we well know that many goods were simply archaeologically invisible), we can look instead at changes in the manners in which people made things, lived, died and ate, and suggest whether these changes came around through a greater degree of contact with outside communities. Pots for example are a reasonable proxy for practices – new culinary practices, new foods, new ways of shaping.

The idea of focusing on practices is not new – Garrard’s suggestion thirty years ago for an opening up of West African trade routes in late Roman times, using the evidence of measuring systems, is still widely cited. It seems then that we must pay attention to as many aspects of the archaeological assemblage as is possible, since we do not know a priori which might serve as evidence of outside contacts, or, more precisely, the presence of outsider goods, practices or individuals. Things like diet or burial are more reliable indicators of the presence of stranger communities than are imported goods on their own. The Indian Ocean system is a useful contributor here, for scholarship has tended to consider a whole range of markers of contacts, including texts, linguistics and genetics. Madagascar is an excellent example here – contacts with southeast Asia have been proposed on linguistic, ethnographic, technological and genetic data as well as evidence from plants and animals.

One question we keep coming back to is – how much did the various partners in these connections know about each other? I am told that early Arab authors wrote treaties advising Muslims on how to be a good Muslim in the lands of unbelievers and that to them such lessons were valid just as much in China as in Africa. In this, maybe we see simply the old trope of Us versus the Other, as evidenced in Ibh Khaldun’s comment that North Europeans and West Africans were similarly uncivilised as they lived at comparable remove from the temperate Mediterranean. We are limited here to what we are told about the elites, but they are intriguing nonetheless. One wonders why the monk Bede in northwestern England gave away pepper on his deathbed in AD 735 and why Offa of Mercia minted a gold coin in imitation of an Abbasid dinar. To get a sense of what the more menial elements of the exchange chain thought – how they envisaged the boundaries of their known world and the unknown beyond – we probably have to fall back on work by our colleagues who are historians, epigraphers and art historians. There is a growing body of anthropological and sociological work on ‘worlds/spaces of experience’ (see e.g. Gosselain 2008), which I have recently trying to get the grips with in archaeological terms. That literature essentially tried to differentiate the world in which people act and live and learn how to do things and the world of which they know without any first-hand experience. It seems to have obvious relevance to African archaeology but we still need to figure out how to integrate it into our toolkit. This is something I am puzzling over at this point in time, and I am grateful to be able to bounce ideas off Olivier.

Another vote of thanks to the European Research Council, which funds several of the scholars in the Cambridge Connections session, and which is thus playing a major part in improving our understanding of Africa.


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

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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July 2020