Posts Tagged ‘trade



In Durham, travelling with potsherds – as usual. I am calling on Prof Derek K and Dr Ran Z to talk about the finds we excavated last year at Kinolhas in the Maldives.


Well, our Maldivians certainly had wide-ranging connections. We already knew a bit about their Chinese imported pottery. Now, sherds which likely came from Iraq, India, Iran, and parts of South-east Asia have also been identified.

I am particularly intrigued by the so-called Martaban pottery, of which we appear to have a range of examples. The fabric is grey or pink, with a brown, black or olive glaze. We saw similar examples in resorts in the Maldives, where they are used for decorative purposes. However, this group is poorly-defined and we don’t know for a fact where these pots were made and how many different productions there were.

Durham was very scenic under a dusting of snow.


bahrain, 13 april

I am in Bahrain for the Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective conference.


We have been hearing papers outlining the nature of the Islamic occupations from Brunei to Morocco via Turkmenistan, Yemen, Saudi and many others. In some areas such as the Levant, these rather late, medieval, levels were dug straight through to get to the older, Classical or Biblical-era, levels that were of more interest to the excavators. I will be talking about West Africa later today; there the problem has sometimes been the opposite, where sites were excavated down to Islamic levels – enough to try and show that a site mentioned in Arabic written records had been identified – and no further. Neither approach is considered acceptable today, by the way!




north sea

Cowries again. This time, John M, artists Sarah Caputo and Brenda Unwin, and I, met to compare notes on the medieval transfer of practices and objects between the UK and Denmark. Particularly apposite in a post-Brexit context.


We talked about Cuthbert’s pectoral cross, the respective merits of the money and ring cowries over lynx, panther and other large cowries, Kopytoff and Appadurai and the lives of objects, Aarhus and the exhibition which Brenda and Sarah are preparing. They have been awarded a bursary to research and work with Danish and British museums, art groups and artists to follow artefacts between East Anglia and Denmark during the first millennium AD.



society of africanist archaeologists, 2

At the recent SAfA conference, the team on the Cowries: an early global commodity research project presented work within the ‘Trans-Saharan trade’ session. You can see our Powerpoint here:

HaourChristieJaufar_session 17


global trust

Today I have been plunged in the narratives written by al-Yaqubi, al-Bakri and ibn Said, medieval geographers who described the Sahara and Sahel. These accounts are standard fare for West African history but this time I look at them with a new eye, looking for indications of standards of trust and trustwortiness. This is in the context of collaborations on the Defining the Global Middle Ages project.

Ibn Hawqal is particularly impressed with the people of Sijilmasa, whom he thinks have learnt probity from their long distance contacts and their time away from home.



pots but no potters

What archaeological work has been carried out on the Maldives – for example the by Carswell at the old palace in Malé or the analysis by Mikkelsen of pottery from excavations by Thor Heyerdahl’s team at Nilandu – has documented the evidence of  brown pottery decorated with incisions, thought to have been in use for a long period (and thus not that useful for dating), and apparently coming from southern India and Sri Lanka. Carswell specifically linked some of the material to pottery from a site in NW Sri Lanka, suggesting a connection between it and Malé. As he notes, Sri Lanka would be the Maldives’ nearest source of clay.

We are now seeing similar sherds in the collections of the National Museum here in Malé. They also have here intact pots of the same type though nobody knows much about them.


For his part, Ibn Battuta says a cooking pot was bartered for five or six chickens.

I was just wondering whether they ever imported clay and made the pots here.


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.

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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