Posts Tagged ‘ttk

09
Aug
13

Two and a half years on

As followers of this blog will know, our European Research Council-funded team is engaged in clarifying the history and archaeology of northern Benin, in West Africa. Although the project’s core is archaeological, it integrates throughout art historians, anthropologists, geoarchaeologists and historians. Team members undertake fieldwork together, and there is a continuous feedback process throughout the field season, so we keep on track.

We’re halfway through: how are we doing?

So far, we’ve undertaken three field seasons, of which the largest, earlier this year, involved fifteen researchers, sixteen students, several research assistants and 40 workmen. At the moment we are engaged in desk-, museum- and laboratory- based work until the next field season in early 2014.

Our archaeological work has focused on a site called Birnin Lafiya, where we have worked for three field seasons now – a total of perhaps 80 days. We have uncovered parts of floors made of broken potsherds and evidence of fired earth architecture, which is not so common an occurrence in the West African Sahel. We have also carried out geophysical prospection to get a better sense of the extent of the site and to identify buried features; our work is one of just a handful of examples of the application of the technique in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Birnin Lafiya has yielded varied and diagnostic pottery, and good preservation of fauna and charcoal. We have so far recovered no occupation post-dating the thirteenth century, while the earliest remains date to the fourth century AD.

We’ve also carried out test pits at four other sites throughout the valley, and very limited sampling at two further sites. These sites have yielded varied and diagnostic pottery and all fall within the same rough time range as Birnin Lafiya. At least two of the sites – Pekinga and Tin Tin Kanza – show evidence of the same tradition of pottery pavement; Tin Tin Kanza, in particular, revealed a close succession of pavements, wall bases and floor areas. At other sites, we recovered no architectural features, but the pottery analysis, which is ongoing, will allow us to suggest whether there is a degree of cultural similarity in parallel to the broad chronological simultaneity.

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So far we have run 40 radiocarbon dates (16 from Birnin Lafiya) for sites of the area, and through survey we have identified, then described, about 800 up to now totally unknown archaeological sites. These are gradually building up the archaeological map of northern Benin.

From the ethnographic side, we have carried out interviews with hundreds of potters, blacksmiths, weavers and dyers within the valley and the wider region. We also carried out intensive interviews as regards the political history of the area and the traditions relating to the abandoned sites near modern villages. Contemporary textile production has constituted an important element of our research, and one of the highlights of the 2013 field season was the commissioning of a local cloth, an operation set in motion and followed by one of the masters students associated with the project from its start (cutting the wood to make the loom) to its finish (the final textile, now part of the permanent collection of both the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Horniman Museum of London).

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Thus far the evidence recovered through fieldwork offers good prospects to answer the questions set out by the research project, namely the degree to which areas of cultural and political evidence might be visible on the ground.

The pottery, aerial imagery, and soils analysis are all in progress. The pottery analysis has also involved three students (as well as further students in the field). To date 42000 sherds of the have been placed on the database while we are also continuing manual recording. The aerial imagery analysis is being carried out by the project doctoral student; at this stage, it involves mapping the data of field survey, generating a digital elevation model (to seek correlations between terrain and site location), and using remote sensing imagery to locate sites from the air. The soils analysis aims primarily to recognise land use; to that end, samples have been taken both from archaeological trenches and from field systems and are being subjected to multi-element analysis. We’re also testing whether micromorphological analyses can provide clues as to the nature of the architectural structures recognised at Birnin Lafiya, and trialling the effectiveness of a dating technique called optically-stimulated luminescence.

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A book and four papers deal with aspects of all of this, and we’re planning a book for 2016 and some more papers.

 

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26
Jun
13

pottery jigsaw puzzles

Sam Nixon reports.

Continuing on with our pottery story, which we have posted about a few times (for example here), we have been busily engaged in reconstructing pottery, both in order to illustrate it and to include it in next year’s exhibition at the SCVA. We previously showed a couple of images of pots which were recovered intact from the excavations, but there are also a whole range of pots which are broken but can be pieced back together with care and attention.

This process is being coordinated by Stefka Bargazova of the SCVA conservation laboratory and has also involved others on the project, including Louis Champion who was working away at this throughout April and May as part of his MA thesis.

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Refitting pots often involves using some fairly common sense approaches and basic materials (including masking tape!), but Stefka’s skills as a trained ceramicist have proved invaluable in the reconstruction process which is not always so simple. The procedure becomes particularly complicated when the pieces of pottery being put back together are very small and worn – not exactly like working on a jigsaw puzzle, but similar!

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Some of the pots can only be partially reconstructed; it’s likely they were already broken when they were included in the archaeological record. Below is Louis’ ‘Pot 11’ from Tin Tin Kanza. It is 22 cm in diameter and decorated with burnishing, incision and folded strip roulette (like this sherd from Jenné-jeno in Mali).

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Other examples, on the other hand, are wholly reconstructable, indicating that they were whole at the time when they entered the archaeological record. Such pots mainly appear to have been broken during the collapse or destruction of houses: that is to say they were complete vessels sitting inside the house which were crushed when it collapsed.

None of these ‘complete’ pots to show you yet, but more anon!

13
May
13

pots

The past month has been spent thinking about pottery. Louis, visiting from Montpellier, has spent 3 weeks with the Tin tin pottery which will be the focus of his Masters thesis and a Nyame Akuma piece: some of it is quite beautiful, with incised decorations and a deep, burnished, black colour.  Sam has been examining all our ‘intact pots’ (this is polite archaeo-speak for pots which are smashed into relatively large fragments, and thus stand a chance of fitting back together) – some will be part of the project exhibition next year, some will be tested for food/liquids remains (were they eating sorghum? brewing beer? salting fish?), and others will be star attractions in the project monograph. Nadia has been counting and describing Tin tin pots for her forthcoming Nyame Akuma paper. Ali has been keeping a close eye on things from Brussels. I have been looking through various Africanist publications to see which has the most beautiful pot illustrations, and counting and describing potsherds from Kompa. I have to admit there is definitely something to this refitting business…

Next week I am going to be presenting the Crossroads project generally to the Medieval Archaeology group in Cambridge and to the Séminaire Culture Matérielle at the Musée du Quai Branly, while today and tomorrow Olivier G and Lucie S are in Marseille talking about indigo dyeing and spinning and weaving in Dendi.

06
May
13

radiocarbon dates 2013

A first set of radiocarbon dates came back from the lab a couple of weeks ago. They were on samples which came mainly from our test pits at Tin Tin and Gorouberi. These are really interesting in that they confirm that those sites were for the most part inhabited in the latter part of the first millennium AD and the beginning of the second. Those pavements we dated at Tin Tin, for example, were apparently laid down around 1000 years ago. Gorouberi dates (six of them) range between 1100 and 1900 years bp, approximately – it’s our oldest site so far, dating from the time when Tacitus was writing his Historiae and Teotihuacan was flourishing near what is now Mexico City.

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To list as other achievements, most of the field reports are now in from the various team members, the pottery from Tin Tin, Kompa and Birnin Lafiya Trench IX are undergoing preliminary analysis, SCVA curators have been examining our earth monolith from TTK1, our MA students have made a comprehensive list of our small finds (metal points, stone beads etc.), I gave a paper on our work at our Centre for African Art and Archaeology, and we had one of the intact, earth-filled pots from Birnin Lafiya Trench X put under the X-ray. We’ve also been  thinking about sources of stone, lipids analysis, babbaji textiles and ground-penetrating radar.

16
Feb
13

amsterdam 16 february

There was no let-up in discoveries in the last few days of fieldwork.

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'ah... c'est pas mal'


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these kids wanted me to take a picture of them, and then they took a picture of me

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Drawing sections prior to backfilling

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Under the TTK mango tree

We returned very happy to Cotonou, where meetings, balancing the books and packing boxes easily filled two days. Particular high points of this season have been the continued interdisciplinarity, the recovery of a fuller range of material culture from Birnin Lafiya, the execution of 5.5 test pits upriver from there, a fruitful collaboration with the Direction du Patrimoine Culturel, a much better knowledge of site distribution thanks to surveys, an improved integration with the village elders and Niger colleagues, and the fact that we now have 3 Masters and 2 doctoral theses planned to come directly or indirectly from the project.

Another major aspect of our work has been planning  the exhibition we’ll be holding next year.


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Hornimann exhibition piece secured (almost)

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Another exhibition-piece-to-be comes out of the ground

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Yet another, over Djimet's left shoulder

Having completed the third and largest field season, we’re beginning to think of ‘what next..?’

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For now, writing from Amsterdam airport with 390 kgs of pottery. Having been warned by the shipping agent about the unreliability of maritime schedules, we took all the finds for analysis with us. A particular thanks to airport staff in Cotonou who, from the Air France chef d’escale to the guy at X-rays, made the process of checking in 32 bags between the six of us more straightforward than you might expect.

 

 

08
Feb
13

filming

An innovation this year is that we have had an embedded film-maker, Alan. His brief has been to create footage for the forthcoming project exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) – to help contextualise our work for the visitor, to show what it is like to have an archaeological project in the Sahel, the scientific process, and generally showcase the work of researchers from UEA and beyond. Below, Nadia and Alan filming the making of our sieve in Cotonou some weeks back.

 

 

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Since then, Alan has filmed interviews with Ali, Sam and Richard on their trenches, me pointing out random blobs in the landscape, the survey team hunting for sites, Louis processing archaeobotanical samples, and Lucie and Romuald commissioning textiles and Sam receiving them. He’s also taken over the pole photography and this morning is helping Nadia hoover a potsherd and cobble pavement at site TTK (which might end up published in Nyame Akuma). The camera get us a lot of attention.

 

 

 

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30
Jan
13

people (2)

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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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