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Sam Nixon

Postdoctoral Researcher

BA History of Art (1998) UCL; MA Archaeology (2002) UCL; Graduate attachee (2003) British Institute in Eastern Africa, Kenya; PhD Archaeology (2008) UCL; Honorary Research Associate (2009-2010) UCL; Research fellow (2011) UCL-Qatar.

Research Interests

African archaeology; Islamic archaeology; archaeology of the medieval world; the archaeology of trading societies and trading networks; trans-Saharan trade and the West African gold trade

Current Research

Since 2012 I have been working on the European Research Council-funded Crossroads of empires project led by Anne Haour from the SRU ( This project focuses upon understanding the development of ‘empires’ in West Africa during the past two millenia, principally looking at how these influenced the patterning of settlement and material culture across the landscape, and how skilled craftspeople – ‘technical specialists’ – such as potters, blacksmiths and dyers were affected by these polities. The research is focused around fieldwork in northern Benin and involves a wide range of specialists from UK and international universities. My research role in the project involves investigating the architectural traditions in this region (see photo below) and linking them into wider West African developments.

Excavation of architectural complex with circular rooms, Benin (2013)

Excavation of architectural complex with circular rooms, Benin (2013)

Alongside the excavations in Benin, I have secured funding from the Royal Anthropological Institute/Horniman Museum Collecting Initiative to commission craftwork from specialists in the region, linking this into the larger Arts Council England (ACE) project Ethnography Re-envisioned. The immediate result of this has been the production of textiles (see image below) which will become part of the Horniman Museum (London) collection, as well as being exhibited as part of the SRU’s Crossroads of empires exhibition in 2014.

Strip-woven textile commissioned in Benin (2013)

Strip-woven textile commissioned in Benin (2013)

Since 2004 I have been running the Essouk-Tadmekka Archaeological Project (see Azania publication or Current World Archaeology article). The project was developed to better understand the nature of West African trading societies associated with the early Islamic trans-Saharan trade. The focal point of the research has been excavations and survey at the early Islamic trans-Saharan trading centre of Tadmekka, in the north of Mali. Publications developed from this research include a focused study of the project’s findings related to the trans-Saharan trade in gold ( A monograph on the excavations is currently being written up, to be published this year in the Journal of African Archaeology Monograph series.

In addition to these two projects I am currently collaborating on developing new field research projects in southern Morocco, seeing this as an ideal area to continue addressing wider questions of early trans-Saharan trade. I am also Copy-Editor for the Journal of African Archaeology (

Site visit at Essouk-Tadmekka during the annual ‘Saharan nights’ festival (2005)

Site visit at Essouk-Tadmekka during the annual ‘Saharan nights’ festival (2005)



Nixon, S. (ed.) In press. Tadmekka. The Archaeology of an Early Muslim Market Town in West Africa (Republic of Mali). Frankfurt: Africa Magna Verlag.

Stevens, C., S. Nixon, M. Murray, & D. Fuller,  (eds.) 2014. Archaeology of African plant use. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Articles/Book Chapters

Nixon, S, M. Barpougani, & F. Takpara. In prep. The Ashanti-Hausa trade route and the Kingdom of Borgu: archaeological and ethnohistorical survey within the Republic of Benin.

Rehren, T, & S. Nixon. In press. Refining gold with glass – an early West African technology. Journal of Archaeological Science

Nixon, S. 2014. West Africa: Islamic archaeology. In C. Smith (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. New York: Springer. 7720-7733

Nixon, S. 2013. ‘A longing for Mecca’ : the trans-Saharan Hajj and the caravan towns of West Africa. In V. Porter & L. Saif (eds.) Hajj: Collected Essays. British Museum Press. 65-73

Nixon, S. 2013. Tadmekka: Archéologie d’une ville caravanière des premiers temps du commerce transsaharien. Afriques 04

Nixon, S. 2013. Review of ‘Oursi hu-beero. A medieval house complex in Burkina Faso, West Africa’ (ed. L. P. Petit et al 2011). Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa.

Nixon, S., T. Rehren & M. Filomena Guerra. 2011. New light on the early Islamic West African gold trade: coin moulds from Tadmekka, Mali. Antiquity 85: 1353-1368.

Nixon, S. 2011. The rising trade with Africa. In M. Carver and J. Klapste (eds). The Archaeology of Medieval Europe, Vol 2: 1200-1600. Aarhus University Press. 361-369

Nixon, S., M. Murray & D. Fuller. 2011. Archaeobotany and trans-Saharan trade in the early Islamic West African Sahel: investigating Essouk-Tadmakka (Mali). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. 20 (3) 223-239

Nixon, S. 2010. Before Timbuktu: the great trading centre of Tadmakka. Current World Archaeology 39: 40-51. Download from Current World Archaeology

Nixon, S. 2009. Excavating Essouk-Tadmakka (Mali): new archaeological investigations of Early Islamic trans-Saharan trade. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa. 44 (2): 217-255.


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