Back from Africa
Alexandre Livingstone Smith
Museum scientists routinely travel to Africa to conduct research and develop projects in partnership with local institutions.
|Photo: A. Haour|
His latest mission (18/01/2012-18/02/2012):
archaeological excavations and field surveys in northern Benin, along the Niger river.
The ‘Crossroads of empires’ project focuses on the great medieval polities of the Sahel. For instance, the exact nature and extent of the Songhay Empire, the Kingdom of Borgou, or the Hausa city-states remain largely a mystery.
|Photo: A. Livingstone Smith|
During an initial mission in 2011, several sites were identified. The aim of this second mission was to start excavations in two specific areas around Pekinga and Birni Lafiya. Villagers were also interviewed about history, crafts, and the vegetation related to human occupation.
Excavation results were fantastic. An ancient walled settlement was discovered near Pekinga, while another settlement mound was found in Birni Lafya. The latter is a long-term settlement (between the 6th and 13th century AD) extending over 45 hectares and reaching up to 8 metres in elevation. The archaeologists collected a large amount of information on the length of occupation and the ways of life of its inhabitants (material culture, botanical and zoological environment, etc.). Stone and glass beads should provide data on the trade networks in which the site was embedded.
The most impressive find was undoubtedly the excavation of a succession of pavements and clay floors belonging to a building that was probably destroyed before the 13th century AD.
|Detailed view of the decorated doorstep. Photo: N. Nikis - S. Nixon|
The superimposition of different levels of habitation provides an insight of how such an ‘urban’ centre may have looked like at one point. One of the levels was extensively excavated on 5 x 5 metres and revealed a circular house. The floors and door entrances are decorated with ceramic mosaics or pavements, while part of the floor surface is covered by a hardened clay layer. A subcircular structure (perhaps clay furniture) was also found in the house.
The team was composed of some twenty researchers and students from the following institutions: RMCA, University of East Anglia (United Kingdom), Université libre de Bruxelles, Université d’Abomey-Calavi (Benin), and University of Stirling (United Kingdom).
|Photo: N. Nikis - S. Nixon|
Have a look at the project's blog for more pictures!