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Cowrie Shells Research Project

Dr Anne Haour has been 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 has never been examined, and the taxonomy of the various shells has not been given detailed treatment by marine biologists. Nor have 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 are the problems to be examined by the research team, which will consist of Dr Haour, SRU Anniversary Fellow Dr Savage, colleagues in Environmental Studies, SRU PhD student Shiura Jaufar and Postdoc researcher Annalisa Christie.

Activity on the project is currently being reported on the Crossroads of Empires blog site.

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