Posts Tagged ‘science

03
Oct
17

back to pots from Niger

In 2003,  together with collaborators from Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines, I carried out some excavations on a large walled site in central Niger called Kufan Kanawa, allegedly the location of the former Kano.

 

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These weren’t always the easiest conditions as it was Harmattan season: cold and dusty. But I have just now been revisiting this, and been looking through my field notes from 2003, in much more comfortable conditions this time.

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The point of this is  to identify some potsherds which I can send to Dr Sonja M in Frankfurt, who’s been using X-ray fluorescence to study clay compositions. Different types of clay may indicate different provenances: in her previous work, on a site in central/north Niger, she showed that local ceramics were chemically distinguishable from imported pottery.  Now she is including many more regions, in order to see whether there is the potential for establishing a kind of chemical map for pottery.

Kufan Kanawa and two other sites which we studied all seem to date to the period AD 1300-1650. Curiously, there are two very distinct types of pottery: distinct in their decoration and in what substances the potters added to make the clay workable. The correlation between clay fabric and decoration is very strong and we wondered whether this pointed to functional differences in the vessels – we hypothesised that one type might have been used for carrying water. But at that time, we assumed all the clay was local. Fifteen years down the line, this might be an opportunity to test that hypothesis.

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16
Mar
17

three and a half weeks back

After the fieldwork, comes the post-excavation work. My network and I have not been idle: the slag has gone to France, the plant remains to Australia and the charcoal to London. We wait to see what all these objects can tell us…

The pottery will be examined in Norwich by Shiura and I, but we will definitely need help on some of the sherds, given their variety.

The shells and bone will also be examined here in Norwich, by Annalisa.

07
Dec
16

gender stereotyping

What I am working on today, as well as cowries: I have been invited by a Careers Adviser to talk at Sprowston High School, a local secondary school, tomorrow.

The purpose is to challenge gender stereotyping for a group of 11-12 year olds – try to get them to look beyond stereotypes they may unknowingly have.

Here are some interesting facts:

Some 22 per cent of professors – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14 compared with just 15 per cent in 2003-04, according to a report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The report, titled Staff in Higher Education 2013-14, which was published on 26 February, also says 45 per cent of the UK’s 194,245 academic staff are women.

A couple of anecdotes are also relevant here. There was the time when my daughter and her friend decided to impersonate a Professor: for them, this involved a long moustache, round glasses and a hunched posture. There was the time when I tried to join a swimming class online and the drop-down menu only allowed the title ‘Professor’ if you had ticked ‘Male’ as your gender. True story!

Related content: here and here.

So, anyway, here I am thinking back to 2012 which is the last time I was put in front of an audience of 11-12 year olds.

 

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06
Dec
12

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.

29
May
12

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.

15
Mar
12

Pole aerial photography

Paul A writes:

Pole aerial photography allows a panoramic view of field sites to be established and by use of multiple images site details can be maintained and examined relative to other parts of the site in a readily understandable way.  Using a technique that examines sets of photographs to establish their spatial location relative to one another a three-dimensional photomontage of the major 2012 Birnin Lafiya excavations has been produced.  Follow this link  http://goo.gl/QDMGV  to open this image set, it may take some time to load. Once loaded, the Photosynth software allows you to drag and rotate images select images and zoom-in on details.

 

 

24
Feb
12

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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