Posts Tagged ‘weaving


Steering meeting 2013

Most of last week was taken up with our yearly steering meeting or with its preparations.

Eight of the Europe-based team members gathered in Norwich to discuss two main things – on the one hand, progress so far and what that means we still need to do in the 2014 fieldwork; and on the other, plans for publications.

Generally speaking, pieces of the jigsaw are really starting to come together since we started our first, initial, foray into the Dendi past almost three years ago. Matters are certainly making more sense than they did then. In particular – and fantastic news, given our focus on the spatial patterning of material culture – we are seeing emerge a real division of ‘our’ region into distinct zones of material and technical practices. Weaving, ironworking, recent pottery techniques, surface ceramics, settlement foundation, all see a hiatus in the area around Guene. That area will form a particular focus of the 2014 work, partly through test pitting and partly through survey.

Another focus will be truing to close the five-century gap we currently have between our latest archaeological data (the radiocarbon dates keep coming in, and still don’t break past AD 1300) and the oral-historical information on settlement dates. This will, unavoidably, mean more test pits.

Finally, we have our job to finish at Birnin Lafiya and will be continuing soils sampling, excavation, geophysical survey, and if all goes well ground-penetrating-radar investigations.


As regards plans for publication it is now agreed that, as well as specialised journal articles, we are aiming to have a Crossroads volume as a Journal of African Archaeology monograph in 2016. The layout of the book is what we are discussing now, since we could organise it by theme, disciplinary specialism, or chronology.


MA theses 2013 (2)

Another thesis to add to the few I mentioned a short time ago, issuing directly or indirectly from our Crossroads fieldwork:

La filière artisanale du coton dans le Dendi et le Borgou (Nord Bénin). Un fait ethnographique et historique by Lucie Smolderen, Université Libre de Bruxelles



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.


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.


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).


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.


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



Crossroads textiles in the Horniman

Textile fans amongst our readers will remember that as part of the fieldwork this year we commissioned a cloth – see earlier posts on this subject here, here, and here.

The textile in question is a ‘wedding blanket’ (Babbagi), which was made by Tanda Hamani, a retired weaver from Mamassi Peulh, who also made the loom to produce it. The piece was commissioned by Sam and the supervising researchers were Lucie and Romuald.

Read all about it, and see the whole process unfold, on the website of London’s Horniman Museum, where the textile now resides.

Speaking of museums, don’t forget you will be able to see a lot of the Crossroads material next year in an exhibition at the SCVA.


Mission in Dendi 2013


Our colleague Olivier G’s take on the 2013 field season.


Karimama 7 feb 2013


In Karimama after visiting the progress of the textile commissioned from a weaver at Mamassi Peuhl. We also did an overview of progress on the survey, which is going well.

Earlier this morning, we received a visit from the elders of Birnin Lafiya to the site. They were shown around Sam and Richard’s excavations.



Brief, as dinner beckons and I am in a moving car about to lose internet connection.


Doctoral studentship in African archaeology and material culture

As mentioned, we are looking for a PhD student to join the team. The full text is on the SRU website, but briefly,

Applications are invited for a full PhD studentship in African Archaeology and material culture, to be held at the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK under the supervision of Dr Anne Haour in connection with her European Research Council funded project Crossroads of Empires. The studentship, tenable from September 2012 for a period of three years, will cover fees (Home/EU or International), living costs (along the lines set by UK Research Councils) and a contribution to fieldwork costs.

The project Crossroads of Empires centres on the Niger River valley at the border of Bénin and Niger. It is concerned, broadly, with the material signature of the political entities of the central Sahel in the second millennium AD, and with the way in which studies of craft specialists active today (dyers, potters, smiths, weavers…) can shed light on how past political entities affected skills and fashions. Applications from students proposing to conduct research along these broad topics will be welcome, but candidates are asked to develop a specific application which will include

–       a 500-word statement of intent outlining how their proposed project falls within the remit and aims of Crossroads
–       a research proposal – 1500 words maximum – explaining the key question to be considered, the methodology to be used.

In preparing these documents candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Haour, a.haour[AT], for informal discussions on aims and directions. As a preliminary indication, the following areas of research, all with specific reference to the Niger Valley between Gao and Bussa, have been identified as key priorities for Crossroads: archaeological survey and test pitting along the Niger Valley; ethnographic studies of craft practices; trade and identity along the Niger River as seen in museum holdings; and oral and historical traditions relating to settlement and migration.

As well as the two documents outlined above applications must also include a CV (not more than three pages) and the names and contact details (including email) of two referees who are currently available to provide references. All must be in English. These documents should be emailed, as a single file not more than 1 MB in size, to l.shayes[AT]

The deadline for receipt of applications is Monday 16 April 20, 2012, 5 pm UK time.

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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