Posts Tagged ‘sahara


dakar, 18 may

Tuesday was spent looking for cowries through dusty boxes on even dustier shelves – an activity which brought to mind a needle in a haystack, but we did find a good number of cowries, from well-known sites such as Kumbi Saleh, Tichitt, Taghaza or Guezebi. Mainly these were collected during the colonial period from the surface of archaeological sites. The provenance of these cowries is less clear than if they had been properly excavated, and you can’t date them, but still it is better than nothing since no archaeologist could go wandering in the northen Sahara nowadays.
Wednesday was spent sorting and studying Théodore Monod’s cowrie hoard, which we continued today.



monod in the majâbat al-koubrâ

This week-end, I have been watching a DVD I had bought when I was at the Musée de l’Homme with our students last month. It is a documentary on the search by French scholar Théodore Monod for fragments of a meteorite reported in one of the emptiest quarters of the Sahara desert, the Majâbat al-Koubrâ of Mauritania. This film brought this polymath researcher to the knowledge of the wider public.

His research in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ involves hundreds of kilometres walking through dunes and plateaux with no water points and no trees. The film vividly depicts the landscape. This website gives a good sense of the place by showing a series of IGN 1:200,000 maps – “Though the maps date from the 1950s it’s very unlikely that Google Earth would reveal any more detail today… the mapmakers weren’t just being lazy – there really was nothing to show”.

I understand better now the environment in which was recovered the famous ‘Lost caravan’. Discovered by Monod in the Majâbat al-Koubrâ, this was a cache of brass bars and cowrie shells, probably the abandoned load of a caravan which had lost its way as it headed south from Sijilmasa, nine hundred years ago. Monod published his discovery in 1969 in a wonderful paper, and its images show that the site appears as a small mound in a flat landscape. A sample of the shells and brass bars were taken, and the site left. It has never been found again.

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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