Posts Tagged ‘society of Africanist archaeologists

09
Jul
14

Johannesburg next week

For those of you who will be at next week’s meeting of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies / Society of Africanist Archaeologists (see here for something on the last SAfA), there are plenty of opportunities to hear about Crossroads.

Sam kicks things off on Monday afternoon, introducing the important site of Birnin Lafiya and its well-preserved archaeology. Tuesday Caroline et al and Louis et al focus in on aspects of the remains recovered – metallurgy and cultivation respectively. Wednesday, we open it all back up again, with papers by Nadia, Didier, Ali and I looking at the wider landscape around our field sites, and what we might be able to say about the past of that area, and in methodological terms for archaeology more generally.

Here are the details:

Mon 13h00-14h30
AN ARCHITECTURAL COMPLEX OF THE 12TH-13TH CENTURIES AD FROM THE EASTERN ARC OF THE RIVER NIGER (REPUBLIC OF BENIN, WEST AFRICA)
Sam Nixon (University of East Anglia)

Tues 10h30-12h00
IRON AND BLACKSMITHS IN THE DENDI (NORTH BENIN)
Caroline Robion-Brunner (CNRS-Université de Toulouse), Marie-Pierre Coustures (Université de Toulouse)

Tues 15h00-16h30
RICE AND MILLETS IN EARLY BENIN: ARCHAEOBOTANICAL RESEARCH IN BENIN IN THE CONTEXT EARLY WEST AFRICAN AGRICULTURE
Louis Champion (University College London), Anne Haour (University of East Anglia), Leilani Lucas (University College London), Dorian Fuller (University College London)

Wed 10h30-12h00
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF FIRST-MILLENNIUM SETTLEMENT IN NORTHERN BENIN, WEST AFRICA
Anne Haour (University of East Anglia), Alexandre Livingstone Smith (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium)

Wed 10h30-12h00 Farmers
CONTRIBUTION OF THE ANTHROPIC MOUNDS OF ATAKORA AND THE NIGER RIVER VALLEY (NORTH BENIN) TO KNOWLEDGE ON THE HISTORY OF POPULATION SETTLEMENT
N’Dah Didier (Université Nationale du Bénin)

Wed 10h30-12h00
INTO THE UNKNOWN: USING FIELD SURVEY AND GIS TECHNIQUES IN THE NIGER RIVER VALLEY, REPUBLIC OF BENIN
Nadia Khalaf (University of East Anglia)

Find out more here

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01
Jul
12

Post-SAfA

Last week everyone dispersed after the SAfA conference to go back to their North American, European and African homes (and Perth!). Everyone seemed agreed it was a good meeting which ran smoothly, and SAfA an organisation on the up if recruitment figures are any index.

Cultural heritage management (including ‘salvage archaeology’ projects funded by organisations such as mining companies) and GIS seemed to occupy a growing portion of the programme, which is to be welcome. Developers and researchers may have different priorities in unearthing the archaeological past, and ‘salvage archaeology’ (where you might work really fast ahead of the earth-moving machinery – came across a nice picture here) is quite a unique beast, so there is a fine line to tread: that generated some discussion. The relationship between archaeologists and other ‘stakeholders’ of the African past was in fact a recurring theme at the conference – be those stakeholders disinterested undergraduates or artefact looters.

Cultural heritage management is something we in the Crossroads project tried to apply to our work on the dyeing pits at Karimama, and ultimately we hope to preserve part of the site at Birnin Lafiya. As far as GIS are concerned, we are delighted that we will be joined in September by a project PhD student, Nadia, who will consider just this. I attended the GIS session at SAfA and very much enjoyed it. Many of the technical aspects of the hard-core GIS papers went well over my head, while other presentations didn’t seem to concern GIS so much as anything computer-based generally. The key message was that one can do powerful, low-cost, investigations, and one can also tie in on a broad regional scale data and ideas which small archaeological trenches are otherwise simply unable to address.

The ‘Ceramic traditions from the Bend of the Niger to the Black Volta‘ session had a wonderful internal coherence. There were contradictions in some of the specifics of presenters’ points (e.g. whether a particular pottery-shaping technique was used in one or the other region), but in terms of theoretical background and aims the presenters all sung from the same hymn sheet… communities of practice and the way people learn to do, and do, things.

We shall all meet again in Johannesburg in July 2014.

20
Jun
12

SAfA, Toronto

During recent travels in New York and Colorado (thank you, Joanne, Mike, Sarah, and Bob et al) I have been thinking food and pots, in keeping with the session which I will be joining at SAfA.

I know a lot more about pots than about food (having written much about pots – perhaps the most heavily cited, yet mystifying to the non-specialist, is the book I co-edited with several colleagues of whom some are now on Crossroads). Your typical archaeologist as portrayed in the media will be quite obsessed with potsherds, and there is a good reason for that – pottery is durable and likely to convey some cultural information. But just what information it conveys, and why/how, has been the subject of continued debate. Most people now agree that pots are useful in telling us about past ways of life because they embody a set of cultural values and technological know-how:  the way they are made and the way that people learn to make them are cultural products. It makes sense then, as the panel organisers have done here, to combine pots with food – food preparation being a cultural product par excellence (this we can all agree with). Luckily enough, the past people of Birnin Lafiya had quite an interesting diet, so the site offers an interesting discussion point.

I had plenty of time to think about all this whilst travelling today. I made the trip to Toronto by train from Rochester in upstate New York. The crossing of the Niagara River was beautiful, but the crossing between the USA and Canada somewhat lengthy. We all had to come off the train and be checked with our bags. I don’t think I had been through anything like this since crossing from Slovenia to Serbia on the train in 1992 – and that had been much quicker (and I didn’t see anyone cry). It was inexplicably cumbersome. I wouldn’t mind so much, but being pro-public transport I do wonder: surely they don’t do this to people in cars?

Anyway. Glad to be back in my ville natale.

Will continue thinking about food and crafts.

18
Apr
12

Searching for ancient plants… and making progress with the bigger picture

Image

Sam Nixon reports.

We have been making good progress with the analysis of the material brought back from the recent fieldseason.

The archaeobotanical finds (see previous postings on this) have been transferred to Dr Dorian Fuller of UCL for analysis and he has already started making a provisional assessment with exciting preliminary results.

Particularly noteworthy is the finding of evidence for rice in a number of samples, mainly processing remains (quite significant amounts recovered). Rice is an important crop in the area today (see photo for an idea of the modern cultivation environment close to the river) and so it is very exciting that the archaeology is going to allow us to start tracing its cultivation back in time. More broadly this can also contribute to the very sparse data on early rice in West Africa. Sorghum is also confirmed within the samples, and amongst the other initial finds are other interesting small grasses and sedges.

Following the very preliminary initial sorting through of the archaeobotanical samples, a systematic study will be conducted which will give us a good first look at the plant remains from Birni Lafia and Pekinga. This will also include analysis of the phytolith samples collected (very small samples of soil collected to study minute remains of plants which do not show up simply by looking at carbonized remains recovered by flotation – for instance bananas).

Looking beyond the archaeobotany, we have now also made the first submission of radiocarbon samples from the 2012 season. Charcoal recovered both from Birni Lafia and Pekinga has been sent off and we hope to get these results back in a couple of months. While some samples were dated from the 2011 season this should really firm up our idea of the chronology of the site.

The studies on the other materials we brought back from Benin will also commence shortly and so some good initial results will be available for Anne’s presentation at SAfA (Society of African Archaeologists conference in Toronto in June).

Other than analysing the excavated material, we are beginning to make good headway with the background historical and archaeological literature. In addition to looking at important works written by historians (such as for instance ‘Muslim’s and chiefs in West Africa’ by Levtzion, 1968), we have also been looking at archaeology done at sites which were part of the same larger regional networks that we are studying in northern Benin. The work carried out at Begho in Ghana by Merrick Posnansky is of particular interest as a comparative study.

The complexity of the historical literature (see for instance the multiple names for Muslim traders throughout the region in Chp 1 Levtzion 1968), and the sparsity of archaeological work done mean that we have a challenging task ahead of us – but it is very rewarding when new data and insights are found!




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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