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Cowrie Shells Research Project

In 2014, Dr Anne Haour was awarded a major research grant by the Leverhulme Trust to study the distribution of cowrie shells in West African from archaeological, museological and biological perspectives.

In West African archaeology, cowries are considered a key indicator of international exchange, and it is known through historical records that a main producer was the Maldives. However, the Islamic period archaeology of the Maldives had never been examined, and the taxonomy of the various shells had not been given detailed treatment by marine biologists. Nor had the questions been answered as to why the Maldives became a key producer or why cowrie shells came to take on important ritual and social, as well as economic, functions within African communities. These were the problems examined by the research team, which consisted of Dr Haour, SRU Anniversary Fellow Dr Savage, colleagues in Environmental Studies, SRU PhD student Shiura Jaufar and Postdoctoral researcher Annalisa Christie.

Activity on the project was reported on the Crossroads of Empires blog site.

A workshop at the SRU in 2018 on the Heritage of the Western Indian Ocean included a poster presentation on the project and a display case of artefacts recovered from excavations.

Research activity on cowrie shells is being continued at the SRU by Abigail Moffett, our current Newton International Fellow.