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Sam Nixon

  • Sam NixonResearch Associate - African Archaeology
  • Tel0044(0)1603 597502
  • Academic background BA History of Art (1998) UCL; MA Archaeology (2002) UCL; PhD Archaeology (2008) UCL
  • Research Interests Long-distance exchange networks and ‘culture contact’ in the pre-modern world; trading societies and trading networks; medieval West Africa and the Sahara; trans-Saharan trade and early West African gold trade; early African architecture.
  • Research

    • Sam is an archaeologist whose principal research to date has focused on medieval-era societies and trading networks in West Africa and the Sahara. His PhD investigated the trading societies associated with the trans-Saharan caravan routes which supplied West African gold to the Mediterranean world throughout the medieval era, framed against his excavations at Tadmekka in the Malian Sahara  (monograph in press with Brill). He was also a Senior Research Associate at the Sainsbury Research Unit with the European Research Council-funded Crossroads of empires project, investigating medieval ‘empires’ and urban landscapes in West Africa, focused around fieldwork in the Republic of Benin. During this time his work looked specifically at how excavated evidence can allow us to reconstruct early West African architectural traditions.

      Amongst other projects, Sam has also led an archaeological survey of the Ashanti-Hausaland trade route that traversed West Africa during the late medieval and early-modern period, and a Royal Anthropological Institute/Horniman Museum Collecting Initiative-funded project documenting craft production in West Africa. He is currently co-investigator of the AHRC-funded project Global Perspectives on British Archaeology, seeking to use his experience of working in African heritage contexts to provide new perspectives on approaches to the European and Western past.

      Sam’s current book project is a wide-ranging study of the commercial, cultural, and artistic connections associated with the medieval-era trans-Saharan gold trading networks, entitled The Gold Route, to be published by Thames & Hudson. This represents the first attempt to produce a synthetic work on this crucial movement in West African history, and also attempts to position trans-Saharan commerce within the wider context of the development of the Islam world, the European ‘Age of Discovery’, and the growth of the Atlantic world.

      Complimenting his academic research, Sam has worked on a number of exhibition projects, including curating the exhibition Crossroads of empires: archaeology in West Africa at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (2014/2015), and advising on the British Museum exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam (2012). He is currently a member of the academic steering committee for the exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Trans-Saharan Exchange, a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project to run in the USA in 2019, and is also on the steering committee for the British Museum’s new Islamic galleries, advising on West Africa and the Sahara.

      Sam is currently working as a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, Sainsbury Institute, UEA. He is also Co-editor of the Journal of African Archaeology.

  • Publications

    • Nixon, S. In prep. The Gold Route: Arts, Cultures, and Commerce in Trans-Saharan Africa. London: Thames & Hudson

      Nixon, S. In prep. An excavated medieval-era architectural complex from the Republic of Benin (West Africa). Submitting to African Arts.

      Nixon, S. In prep. Saharan Africa. In: Walker, B., Insoll, T., Fenwick, C. Oxford Handbook of Islamic Archaeology. Oxford University Press.

      Haour, A, & S. Nixon. In press. Birnin Lafiya within West African Archaeology. In: A. Haour (ed.) Birnin Lafiya: 2000 years in a Dendi Village. Journal of African Archaeology Monograph series. Brill: Leiden.

      Nixon, S. In press. Architecture. In: A. Haour (ed.) Birnin Lafiya: 2000 years in a Dendi Village. Journal of African Archaeology Monograph series. Brill: Leiden.

      Haour, A., S. Nixon, A. Livingstone-Smith. In press. Pottery. In: A. Haour (ed.) Birnin Lafiya: 2000 years in a Dendi Village. Journal of African Archaeology Monograph series. Brill: Leiden.

      Nixon, S. (Ed.). In press. Along the Saharan Gold Route to West Africa: Excavations at the ruins of the early Islamic entrepôt of Tadmekka. Brill: Leiden.

      Rehren, Th., Farci, C., & S. Nixon. Submitted. Early Islamic crucible steel production at Essouk-Tadmekka (Mali). Submitted to Journal of Archaeological Science.

      Nixon, S. In press. Trans-Saharan gold trade in pre-modern times: available evidence and research agendas. In: D. J. Mattingly, V. Leitch, C. Duckworth, A. Cuenod, M. Sterry and F. Cole (eds) Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond. Trans-Saharan Archaeology Volume I. Series editor D.J. Mattingly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and The Society for Libyan Studies

      Haour, A., S. Nixon, D. N’Dah, C. Magnavita and A. Livingstone Smith. 2016. Daily life along the eastern arc of the Niger River, 4th to 13th centuries AD: investigating the settlement mound of Birnin Lafiya, Republic of Benin. Antiquity 90 (351): 695-710.

      Nixon, S., Mardjoua, B., Takpara, F. 2015. The Ashanti-Hausaland Trade Route and the Kingdom of Borgu: Archaeological and Oral Historical Survey within the Republic of Benin. Nyame Akuma 83: 48-61

      Rehren, T, & S. Nixon. 2014. Refining gold with glass – an early Islamic technology at Tadmekka, Mali. Journal of Archaeological Science. 49: 33-41

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

      Nixon, S. & A. Haour. 2014. Crossroads of empires: archaeology in West Africa. (Gallery guide). East Publishing.

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

      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. 2012. Contributions to the British Museum exhibition catalogue Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam.

      Nixon, S., M. Filomena Guerra & T. Rehren. 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.

      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

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